Vocate Blog

Trust Your Strengths to Find Your Career – Tips From David Shindler

Expert Interview Series

David Shindler

Creator, Learning to Leap

David Shindler is a career coach, the creator of the online school Career Navigating for Young Professionals, and author of 5-star Amazon book Learning to Leap: A Guide To Being More Employable. We had a chance to talk with David about how college graduates can channel their strengths into finding an employment opportunity that allows them to grow and flourish.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to start a career coaching and education service?

I’ve been involved in people development for the last 30 years in one form or another, but I think it really took off when I earned a Masters degree in my late 30s when working within the police service and then moved into consultancy.  I became heavily involved in leadership and management development, culture change, and personal development, and I found I had a talent for coaching.  I kept coming across people in their 40s and 50s who were dissatisfied with their current situations and often lamenting about something being missing from their careers. They’d look back to when they were younger and say “If I knew then what I know now about myself, I’d have done things differently.”  I don’t want young people to fall into that trap; I do want them to feel empowered in their careers.

We all need to learn to leap by developing new skills and knowledge while adapting our mindset and behaviors for changing personal and business circumstances. In a nutshell: lifelong and lifewide learning.

I developed my approach, Learning to Leap, based on my experience as an employee and consultant in multiple workplace contexts, including startups, corporates, public service, government departments and agencies, and professional institutions. We all need to learn to leap by developing new skills and knowledge while adapting our mindset and behaviors for changing personal and business circumstances. In a nutshell: lifelong and lifewide learning.

My energy and commitment are dedicated to supporting students and graduates who wish to make the transition from student to professional life; educators and employers who want to bridge the employability gap; and professionals at all life stages who want to improve job performance, find career direction, and change careers. 

How has the path from college to employment changed when compared to previous generations?

It has changed massively in my lifetime. Only about 5% of young people went to college when I earned a degree in the late 1970s. In the UK, it's now nearer to 50%. The world of work was more stable, and it was easier to get work experience before leaving full-time education. And we didn't have the Internet. Now, there are far more job types in the world. Yet, they will disappear and new ones will appear quicker than in the past. 

The exponential growth of data and information in the digital age means greater choice, but also greater complexity. Navigating a career path is less linear, more diffuse, and fragmented. That's what I mean about learning to leap in different directions at different times and being equipped to make a change no matter what the prevailing conditions. 

There is also a paradigm shift happening today about the meaning of work, what a job is, what it means to be an employee, and the changing nature of a working life. We are working and living longer, so it's crazy to think of education as a single decade at the beginning of our lives when we might have seven or eight more! As the gig economy shows, there are different employment patterns. We don't yet know the implications of artificial intelligence and automation on jobs. All of us may have multiple careers instead of staying in the same place for years. 

What do you see is the biggest challenge for most young adults who are trying to transition from college to working life?

There are many challenges including understanding the differences between being a student and being an employee in work. But I think the biggest personal challenge is self-confidence. That comes from developing self-awareness, having some successes, and being able to manage yourself well so you are resilient when facing the inevitable knockbacks.

My experience with many young adults is they can't see what's right about them, what they can do, what their emerging talents are, and how they have shown their capabilities so far.  They don't recognize and value what comes naturally, what they do well, and what they love doing. If they don't value themselves, how will they convince an employer they are worth it? 

Some challenges are less within a young adult's control, such as opportunities to get work experience. Unfortunately, the Catch-22 is they won't get hired without work experience. Another big challenge is the expectations gap between young adults and employers. Both parties have accurate perceptions and misperceptions of each other. For example, there can be a conflict between employers hiring a young adult to fit in with the company culture and the reality experienced on the job. That's one reason for job hopping and retention problems. Young adults can sometimes have over-inflated expectations of how quickly they will get promoted and the type of work they find themselves doing initially. 

If a young adult were to say to you, "I've just graduated from college and I still don't know what kind of work I want to do," how might you respond?

That's OK! Most of us don't end up where we thought we would later in life. I earned a law degree and started out as a film cameraman. Two-thirds of graduates do not enter the workplace in a job related to the degree they studied. 

Graduates should take the weight of their expectations (and other people's) off their shoulders by spending time exploring. The "dream job" and "follow your passion" are marketing hype. Instead, be purposeful to get a sense of your purpose. Throw your energy and commitment into a cause you believe in or something that appeals to you. That might mean a combination of researching, volunteering, part-time work, and/or an internship. Your purpose and a meaningful work identity are more likely to emerge through taking action rather than waiting for it to arrive as if by magic. You will know and feel what's right for you. That's what Vocate's tagline means: unlocking human potential. It's a process of discovery.

And remember that not everyone gets their purpose just from work. That's what I mean by lifewide learning. Some people find a personal interest that becomes a viable route to making a living.

Finish this sentence: "The most common (hidden?) hindrance that tends to keep college graduates from being employable is…"

There is a temptation for graduates to give greater credence to the so-called hard technical or functional skills wanted by employers (for example, using a specific software) which might get you employed but can become quickly outdated. Whereas it is the soft skills – mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors you need to be effective in work – that make you more employable over the long term.  

And let's be clear: soft skills are tough! I created my online school to help students and graduates understand what they are, why employers want them, and how to develop and show them. 

In your opinion, what do new college graduates place too much emphasis on when trying to find that all-important first job? 

One common error I see from new graduates is placing too much emphasis on what they can get for themselves rather than what they can offer an employer. That requires a mindset shift from "Me" to "You." Some graduates still think their qualifications speak for themselves., but they're not enough anymore. Getting that first job is all about what the employer wants and needs and how you are going to contribute to a specific business challenge or add value to the role and company. 

What are some of the "hidden talents" that you frequently see in young adults that they often don't know they have?

It's true that young adults can undersell themselves in the job application process, thereby thwarting potential and depriving employers of untapped talent. Yet young adults bring fresh eyes to challenges and ideas to solve problems. They understand their generation best and can use that advantage in what works to communicate and engage with this audience or in reverse mentoring with older colleagues.

Young adults will have shown sought-after skills and attitudes in all aspects of their lives to date, from the bar job and playing sports to playing a music gig, fundraising for a charity, or helping out someone less fortunate. In each scenario, there will be stories to tell about their employability, including customer-focus, a drive for results, teamwork, initiative, commercial awareness, emotional intelligence, and so on. Two people doing the same task or job will do it in their own unique way. With support, a young adult can learn to recognize, value, develop, and use their unique talents.

A young adult can leverage and make visible their talents through self-awareness and application. For example, one person can learn how to play the guitar up to a certain standard. That's a competence (can do). Another person can pick up a guitar and play by ear without being able to read music. That's a talent (comes naturally). However, it may remain hidden or untapped if they don't put considerable effort into practicing. Then it becomes a strength that is valued. My daughter turned her natural talent for playing the guitar into a strength and earned money while at school from teaching younger children to play. No one ever needed to persuade her to practice. 

Once someone lands that first job after graduating, what are some steps that he or she can take to become a valued employee and colleague?

I'd ask myself, "What do I want my colleagues to be saying about me in six months' time?" Write down a few statements about how you would like to be known and how you want to feel by then. Then work backward by asking, "What do I need to do and how do I need to be to make that happen?"

Most people at work want to work with people they like and respect and who make them feel good. Nobody wants to be around someone who is a pain or inept. Here are six areas to work on when you land that first job:

  1. Look, sound, and be the part
  2. Bring positivity and the best of you to work
  3. Take ownership and responsibility to build trust
  4. Shift your mindset from "Me" to "We"
  5. Make a difference and deliver ethically
  6. Keep growing and commit to lifelong learning

How will you know you are valued? Notice how people treat you. Ask people, "What am I doing well and should continue doing? What could I do better or differently? What are the two or three things that will help me move forward?"

What jobs, internships, and other employment opportunities are out there right now? Sign up for Vocate today and find out.

Zack Andresen

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