Last week, the media was filled with photos and stories of young people who had done well in their ‘A’ Levels, and thereby had secured their place at University. Record results, by all accounts, so worthy of acknowledging. Well done to those who made it. Hard work rewarded.
There is a risk, though, of setting success in exams as a benchmark, and by default suggesting that anything less is ‘failure’. This can, potentially, be quite damaging.
In a previous job, as a Careers Adviser, I remember one particular pupil in a Secondary School I was attached to. During a series of meeting with him, it was apparent that he had a real talent in art. So much so, that he achieved one if the highest marks in the country when he completed his ‘A’ Level in it. Despite this, though, throughout the three years I met with him, he displayed self-doubt. It was only in my last meeting with time that he remarked that he had seen himself as a “failure” (his word, not mine) because he had not passed the 11+ seven years earlier. Seven years!
Doing well at school is a great starting point (I’m definitely not advocating slacking off), but it’s no guarantee of future happiness or career development. Doing your best, in any sphere, is more important than a piece of paper.
There is no doubt that some occupations require a heavy academic background, but the majority of jobs out there don’t. Many employers set minimum qualifications for jobs, sometimes at a level higher than the job requires, but I think over the last decade or so they are beginning to realise that they are missing a trick.
Personal skills, abilities, attitude, motivation and enthusiasm are not readily identifiable from a certificate, but very much valued by employers. Jobs are done by people, not pieces of paper.
The renowned newspaper ‘The Spectator’ no longer seeks information about academic standards, or the name of the institution attended, on job applications. Instead, they ask applicants to demonstrate the skills needed to work there. Probably harder to do than just listing grades, but I think that’s the point.
I know that achieving a degree is a demonstration that the graduate has conducted effective research, managed their time, planned their work, met deadlines, analysed information and presented conclusions. These are valuable skills, irrespective of the degree studied.
The same skills, though, can be shown by individuals who choose alternative career paths. In fact, these are skills that you probably demonstrate every day.
My recent holiday in the north of England relied on all of those skills to find appropriate accommodation, plan the driving routes, decide what to visit and make sure we didn’t miss the two ferry crossings.
Next time you work out your shopping list for the supermarket, think about how many of those skills you use.
OK, popping down to the supermarket may sound trivial, but can you apply these same skills in different settings? I reckon you can, if you acknowledge and understand that you have them in the first place.
Too often we undervalue the skills we have, seeing them as being trivial or unimportant. Don’t do yourself a disservice.
I suggest a housewife who has to manage a household on a tight budget is making as many important decisions on a daily basis as the manager of a business. The volunteer in a charity shop can display customer service skills on a par with a designer boutique employee. The carer looking after a family member is as compassionate and caring as a nurse in A&E.
The only difference is context.
Exam results may be important in some circumstances, but the examination that matters most is the one you conduct on yourself. What can you do? Where do you want to go? How are you going to get there? Who are you going to ask for help, if you need it?
Don’t base your value of yourself on the qualifications you have, or don’t have. They don’t define who you are.