Question: Our engineering company is hiring and I am in charge of selecting interview candidates. My sister told me her son (my nephew) is applying and that he could do with the confidence boost, as he has been unemployed since finishing college two years ago. The problem is he doesn’t have any experience. How can I tell him he is not suitable without affecting his confidence? Also, what advice can I offer him?
Answer: This is a very common dilemma faced by professionals, particularly in management or HR positions. It is important to consider the potential impact on your career, your reputation, your team – and your nephew. While he may receive an immediate confidence boost, gaining a role that is beyond his capability may have a more damaging effect on his esteem in the long term.
Evaluate your nephew’s potential ‘fit’ as a suitable candidate for the role objectively: Encourage your nephew to apply for the role as any other candidate might. Explain that he will not receive any preferential treatment. This will allow you to consider his application objectively. Is he a potential junior option? Are there other roles that may be suitable in the future? There may be aspects of your nephew’s ability that you have not witnessed as your relationship with him has been personal only.
If you decide not to progress with his application, you can stand over your decision, content that you have given his application due consideration. From your nephew’s perspective, he has gained the experience of applying to a role, preparing his CV and cover letter and considering his ‘fit’ to the organisation.
Provide feedback: The real benefit to your nephew is the feedback you can provide.
Organise a face-to-face professional meeting where you can focus on the structure, content and tone of his CV and application.
Meet at your office or professional environment, not at your home or your sister’s home.
Outline the purpose of the meeting and provide your decision without apology.
Emphasise that you are meeting him in your capacity as a manager, not as his aunt.
Adopt a coaching approach. This will allow him space to think about his career and help him generate suggested actions. Avoid negative language, focusing on improvements.
Encourage work experience: Securing a first “real job” can be very difficult. Lack of experience impacts a candidate’s confidence, their ability to speak fluently about examples of their competency at interview and renders them as a less suitable candidate for a role.
Simply having experience in a work environment – dealing with co-workers and customers, being accountable for your work, arriving on time each day – all boost a graduate’s employability. If your nephew has worked part-time during school or college or has held a summer job, he should include this in his CV. If this is not the case, perhaps he has volunteered at local festivals. Helping him view this experience as valuable will also build his confidence and improve his likelihood to make more applications.
If he has completed research projects as part of his college course, perhaps there are avenues to work experience that he has not yet explored. An organisation that has already been exposed, even in a very small way, to his expertise is more willing to consider taking him on board on a short-term project-based role or in a voluntary capacity. It is important to strike the balance between experience and de-valuing his application. While he should be open to unpaid work, his focus should remain on suitable paid positions.
Direct applications: The “hidden job market” continues to be an entry point for many onto the career ladder.
While job boards and newspapers will contain some roles, it is more likely that his first role will come from a direct application to an organisation. Read the business section of newspapers with his career in mind. An announcement of an award or a sales boost often indicates that new jobs are following. Develop of list of target companies in his desired location. Many do not advertise roles, relying instead on speculative applications. This approach will require patience and persistence but managed correctly could lead to success.
This article was originally published in the business section of The Sunday Independent on the 29th of October 2017, and the original version can be found here.
Senior Occupational Psychology Consultant