By Joe Twyman
And so the world of football is bidding farewell to Six Alex Ferguson. After a very long and hugely successful career he is retiring from his role of manager of Manchester United.
You may very well be wondering what this has to do with looking for a job (unless of course you’re planning to apply for the managerial position at Man U and are looking for advice). The reason is that Sir Alex understood the importance not just of preparation, but also pre-preparation.
In the football context he was one of the first British managers to place emphasis on physical conditioning far beyond simply what occurred on the training ground. Before Ferguson, Manchester United was famous for its drinking culture, but he changed all of that. Out went players like Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside and in came an emphasis on nutrition and sports science that was in many ways years ahead of its time.
Over the next few weeks we are going to explore many ways in which you can prepare to apply for jobs and prepare for interviews, but first we have to do what Sir Alex did and consider pre-preparation – specifically the five skills you should already have developed before you start even preparing to apply.
It probably goes without saying that it will be assumed that can will be able to read and write English. That’s a given – and if you’re reading this then you are probably most of the way there already.
Nowadays the spell check facility in word processors and internet browsers make it easy to spot spelling mistakes, but you need to make sure you do not get complacent. Wrong words and grammatical errors are all too common and you always need to be careful that silly mistakes do not creep in when you’re writing CVs, covering letters, application forms or anything else.
In a lot of cases one mistake, no matter how small, will mean rejection, so it goes without saying that you should get someone to check what you’ve written – particularly if your know grate sheiks in this area.
Remember, a strong grasp of literacy is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.
In Britain (particularly) some people think it’s almost a badge of honour to say ‘I’m terrible at maths’, as if that is in any way something of which to be proud. It really isn’t.
While it is true that, nowadays, for most professional positions you will not need to be a mathematical genius, almost all roles will require an understanding of numbers. The result is that very few people will avoid maths completely in their career, no matter what area they work in.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be able to solve quadratic equations in your head while discussing the final points of calculus. What is does mean is that basic operations, averages, percentages, fractions and a bit of probability – essentially GCSE maths – are a pre-requisite.
Jerry Seinfeld does a whole routine about the fact that statistics consistently show public speaking is people’s greatest fear. Their second greatest fear is dying. Therefore, so the joke goes, most people at a funeral would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
So public speaking is hard, but few employers will be expecting you to be able to perform in front of an audience like you’re Freddie Mercury at Live Aid – in fact I would actively advise against trying this. However, what will almost always be required is the ability to present to a small group and effectively communicate with your audience, getting your point across clearly and concisely.
4. Microsoft (Windows, Word, Excel and Powerpoint)
You don’t need to be Bill Gates, but you need to know, for example, that Excel is not just for alphabetising lists and drawing tables.
Despite the growth of an array of new technology, including everything from iPads to Galaxy mobiles, Windows and Office are still the basis for most corporate IT systems and you will be expected to be familiar with at least the basics of file management, word processing, spread sheets, formulas and presentations.
5. The Internet
The very fact that you’re reading this suggests that you either already know how the internet works or you have very pushy parents who are sick of you ‘treating this place like a hotel’ and went to the trouble of printing this out for you.
Either way, there is more to the internet than simply knowing how to find pictures of cats wearing Star Wars costumes, downloading music and uploading pictures of your genitals.
You will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of how the internet fits into the wider world. For example, how to search for data and sources quickly and effective, and also how to critically evaluate information found on the internet. Remember, sometimes things you read on the internet are not entirely true, as Abraham Lincoln once famously said to Kim Kardashian.If you feel you are perhaps lacking in one or more of these areas, don’t worry. Use the time you have now – any spare time – to learn and to practice.
For example, if you are still at university, take every opportunity you can to present in classes and seminars to gain experience.
If you haven’t known your way around a GCSE maths problem since you sat your GCSE maths exam now is the time to revise. The BBC Bitesize revision site is a great place to start.
If you don’t really understand Excel there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of free help guides on the internet, many with accompanying videos to guide you through. You just have to identify the areas where you’re not as strong and then work at it.
Getting pre-prepared is just the start, but it’s a good start. Once you’re there, you’ll be ready to go.
And you’ll be set for the next stage, but more on that next time.
You can contact Joe via twitter @JoeTwyman