James has been working in graduate recruitment for over 25 years. He shares his passion and drive for student recruitment, and his top tips for the next generation of graduate recruiters.
I love graduate recruitment, honestly love it! It has been my life now for over 25 years and is the key reason I joined, at the time, an unknown charity called Teach First in 2004. I wanted to have the freedom to run graduate recruitment the way I always believed it should be delivered. And what a journey it has been.
Over my 15 years working to eradicate educational inequity I recruited over 10,000 graduates, got to number two in the coveted ‘Times Top 100 Graduate Employers’ and helped four other inspirational graduate propositions hit the marketplace (Frontline, Police Now, Think Ahead & Unlocked). I have proudly sat on all their Boards from their conception.
But my career started in purchasing, buying meat for pet food! It really was as horrible as it sounds and whilst it taught me about people, negotiating and hard work (essential skills for student recruitment) I knew it wasn’t for me, and that is the first key learning I will share.
Learn from everything you do
Whether it’s clarity of what you like or don’t like in a role, or what type of management gets the most out of you, or what type of organisation you want to work for, get stuck in, learn as much as you can. Then move on to something that gives you more of what you want.
Purchasing wasn’t for me but United Biscuits (my second purchasing role buying cocoa) was amazing and asked if I would try graduate recruitment. I did and never looked back launching a ‘win your weight in biscuits’ campaign across the country, which certainly caught the attention of ever hungry graduates.
After a few years recruiting into a real breadth of roles in FMCG I was headhunted by Deutsche Bank to head up their global markets recruitment. At the same time I served on the Board of the then AGR (now ISE). After a few years the call of public sector was too strong and I joined Teach First.
Know when to leave a party
My second piece of advice is ‘know when to leave a party’. It can be easy to just do another season, but if you know you are not getting what you need from your role then move onwards and upwards.
For me it took 15 years (which is very rare nowadays) but I have never looked back having since founded Transform Society (UK’s only specialist network promoting careers in public service) and working 20% for Teach for All, supports over 60 programmes similar to Teach First across the world.
I am also a Trustee of Now Teach, Romodels and sit on the advisory board of the Royal National Children’s Springboard Foundation, a charity giving life-transforming education opportunities to disadvantaged and vulnerable children. Finally, I am privileged to be part of the government’s National Leadership Programme for the top-100 public sector leaders.
Student recruitment can give you an amazing career. I have been paid well to do something I thoroughly enjoy, and the opportunities if you are passionate, driven and genuinely interested in giving others exciting career opportunities are incredible.
Please do stay in the sector, we need brilliant people like you to stay and take over from us oldies, so if I can help in any way in the future please find me on LinkedIn and I will help in any way I can.
I have been hugely lucky in my career that I love what I do and I have loved who I do it for, so my final piece of advice is make sure you have a healthy mix of head and heart drivers in your life. This will change throughout your life, but keeping that balance real will ensure you do well but also feel well and enjoy everything our wonderful sector has to offer.
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