A Future in Feedback

Thursday 29 January 2015

Last week I wrote a blog for the Huffington Post about the importance of employers providing feedback to young people, those most likely to be applying for entry level jobs.  I quoted Gemma who wrote the Blog for YWT about the difference receiving tailored feedback about her own (unsuccessful) application made to her confidence and subsequent successful job application.

This week I talked to two of the people who have generously volunteered their time, usually on a Sunday, to provide feedback to entry level candidates for jobs at Young Women’s Trust.  Between them, over the last year of so, they have provided feedback to over 150 young people- mainly young women. 

The most striking thing they have found is that young people are not great at selling themselves.  Some, it is true, do not seem to pay attention to detail – applications are badly presented and full of errors.  But the main issue they identified is a lack of ability amongst candidates to describe their own skills and competencies and explain how what they have done in the past is relevant to the job for which they are applying.

Having read many of the applications myself I would agree that it seems that young people are sending applications with little apparent regard for the role they are applying for or with a lack of research about the organisation seeking employees.  This could be put down to a half- hearted attempt at job seeking OR it could be explained by an increasing level of despondency and a vicious spiral of increasing lack of confidence and pessimism based on repeated rejections or having applications totally ignored.

Young women I have spoken to confirm that they are very despondent and feel it is not worth making an effort – despite their strong desire to get work.

We must also acknowledge the role that JobCentre Plus is playing in forcing claimants to apply for a fixed number of jobs each week.  We have heard numerous stories from young women being forced to apply for anything between 5 and 48 jobs each week.  I heard from young women who say that they apply for tens of jobs per week but receive not even an acknowledgement, let alone any feedback on the content of their applications. I cannot see how this current approach by JobCentre Plus makes any sense at all.  Surely it would be more sensible for young people to be encouraged to select a small number of jobs in which they are really interested and spend more time crafting their applications to the specific roles. 

It has also become apparent from providing candidates to YWT with tailored individual feedback that generic guidance and advice is not good enough.  It may be a starting point but it is with experience and maturity that it is possible to translate this sort of advice – such as “demonstrate how your skills are relevant to the role” into specific information about one’s own experience.  Many, many young people cannot manage this without help and guidance.

So what can be done about it? 

We need to have a culture where applying for jobs is something people are encouraged to take appropriate time over and offered suitable support to do so.  We need Job Centres to scrap the arbitrary and meaningless targets of “numbers of jobs per week to apply for” imposed on claimants. 

On the other side, I would like employers to find ways of providing, at bare minimum, an acknowledgement of applications.  At best I would like every young person to receive more detailed feedback on their applications so that they are not repeating the same errors and so that they can feel confident and optimistic the next time they submit an application.