Bridging the student to employee gap – Q&A with NxtStep

Our experience with teachers, kids, young adults, and parents has been incredibly eye-opening when it comes to taking that “next step” for young people.

We’re talking about the next step from being a student, when it’s time to stop having 2-minute noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner and stride into employment with confidence. We’ve learned how difficult it can be to know where to start, and how mystifying the world of applying for jobs and interviewing can be.

So we sat down with Poncho Rivera-Pavon, General Manager at NxtStep, providers of career advice and employment opportunities for interns and grads, to learn some of his top tips. 

(For reference, a general manager is in charge of running the main day-to-day business activities of a company, they’re pretty vital people!)

What are the top 3 things that employers are looking for? 

“I think in these times, they are looking for people who are ready to roll-up their sleeves, someone who is keen to learn and someone that will thrive in that particular workplace,” says Poncho. 

“The last one is hard, but it’s important to be aware that sometimes employers and candidates don’t always fit well together.”

What we can take from that is how important it is to be your authentic self when applying and interviewing for a role. Losing out on a job because it wouldn’t utilise your strongest skills, or celebrate who you are, isn’t a bad thing. That’s the kind of thing both you and the interviewer need to consider, it has to be the right fit from both sides.

Knowing who your authentic self is, and how to bring this to the surface, is a challenge in itself. The Mind Lab recently ran a “personal purpose” session for On Being Bold, a one-day conference to empower young women across Tāmaki Makaurau. We used a module from our HeyFuture! programme to help almost 100 young women define their personal values, which is a great first step in this journey.

In terms of rolling up your sleeves, go into any new role with a can-do attitude to maximise your learning and figure out where you best thrive. 

What is the biggest deal-breaker for employers in an interview? 

Poncho says “It depends on the interviewer, but some common mistakes are bad-mouthing a previous employer, and not being prepared for the interview. This could be not having the right examples or failing to adequately research the employer.”

These are incredible tips that represent two of the most vital parts of preparing for a job interview. Preparation and research. 

You might look at the word “examples” and shrug, you’ve just finished learning, what examples do you have that are relevant to working? The answer is, heaps. 

Try to think about it another way, what examples do you have that show your skills.

  • Problem-solving: was there something around the house you needed to get crafty to fix, or were you on a trip with friends or family where things went pear-shaped and you needed to think quick to come up with a resolution?
  • Communication & collaboration: have you ever helped resolve a communication breakdown between friends, relatives or fellow students, or what are some of the examples of group-work you’ve done in school (or university) where you’ve needed to use your collaboration skills?

These are all valid, you can prepare examples of when you’ve truly excelled from any experiences you have. Also, taking time during the interview to pause, ponder and understand what the interviewer is really asking to find the right example is not a mark against your name.

When it comes to bad experiences, shape the learnings around what you took from it, rather than focusing on negative comments, the interviewer doesn’t expect you to be flawless!

Finally, research – it’s vital that you’ve looked up the organisation you are interviewing for. Firstly to ensure you want to work there, but also to show them you’re taking it seriously and have applied for a role at their organisation for a reason, not just because it was the top of the list on NxtStep or Seek. 

Make sure you know who’s interviewing you, their role, the values of the organisation (and if any of your personal values align) and some of the key products, services, clients etc. This also helps when crafting your questions to ask during the interview.

At the end of an interview, when an employer asks if you have any questions – what sort of questions do they want to hear? 

“This comes up very often,” shares Poncho. “You can ask about the role itself, the employer or even the interviewer. I would ask how they measure success, what the work culture is like and why the interviewer likes working there. The main point is to always have at least one question. Ideally, you should have a range of them ready before you even go into the interview.”

This Q&A time is important to show your level of research, as well as what is important to you. Workplace culture is a big one, and more and more this will open into the interviewer talking about organisation values and purpose, which is how you can bring more of your authentic self to the table. Be brave, ask questions you really want to know, let your character shine.

One of the ways we’ve established this practice here at The Mind Lab is through our “fireside chats” which is how we run panel discussions in our HeyFuture! programme. These open, relaxed chats give our participants the chance to ask questions to all sorts of people, from all sorts of backgrounds, with a “no question is a silly question” atmosphere. Just start asking questions, you’ll be amazed how people will open up and be willing to share with you!

Big shout out to Poncho from NxtStep for these epic top tips, Poncho will also be joining us for our February intake of HeyFuture! to share more about bridging the graduate to employee gap. Cheers Poncho!

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