What are they actually saying?
School leavers and even some university graduates are unemployable because:
- they cannot speak confidently to adults
- they can’t turn up for work on time
- they speak abruptly to customers
- they don’t look people in the eye
- they fiddle with their phones all the time
- they are unable to perform simple maths
- they are unable to write clearly (presumably more comfortable with text speak)
John Longworth, the Director General of the BCoC has called for schools, and employers, to do more to help teenagers develop the “soft skills” demanded by employers and prepare them for interviews.
He also wants schools to enhance their careers services by forging better links with employers. (Do schools still have careers services?)
The chambers of commerce produced a survey showing that over 2/3 of employers thought that schools were not effective at preparing teenagers for work. Approximately the same proportion wanted improved literacy and numeracy and almost 90% wanted better communication skills. Over half wanted better computing skills and teamwork.
Mr Longworth said “It’s a scandal that we have nearly one million under-25s unemployed in the UK. Communication skills are a real problem both at interview and in the workplace where students cannot speak articulately and don’t know how to deal with people in a polite way. Then there is the whole business of punctuality where they won’t turn up for work on time and they don’t think that’s a problem”
As career coaches my colleague and I have delivered workshops to prepare graduates for employment for several years – but in Lithuania where they realise how important this aspect of their education is.
My colleague has also worked with a number of UK universities, on a voluntary basis, preparing students for interviews via mock assessment days. He has experienced most of the above things plus inappropriate dress and lack of preparation.
According to a study of 2,000 British workers by a personalised telephone case company 20% of employees up to their mid-30s say having a splash of colour helped them get a promotion or a pay rise.
I’m not sure how they know that but wearing colourful clothes will make you stand out, and might help you to give the impression that you are more confident or creative. (1 in 3 British workers said they felt more positive wearing brighter clothes and 1 in 4 said it made them feel more confident).
Surely it all depends on where you work and the prevailing standards. If you work in a fashion or creative industry then it will be like a peacock’s tea-party and you might be better off wearing plain black a la Steve Jobs.
Experts (not sure who) cited Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and John Snow, the newsreader as high flyers known for wearing a splash of colour to make a positive statement. I can think of dozens of other high flyers who prefer a staid, although probably expensive, corporate look.
After 5 minutes they were given a 40 second break during which they were shown a view of a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings. Half of them saw a plain rooftop the other half a roof covered with a green flowering meadow.
Both groups then resumed the task. After the break concentration levels fell by 8% among those who saw the concrete roof as their performance grew less inconsistent. Those who saw the meadow showed a 6% increase in concentration and a steady performance.
The researchers suggest that having a green break – whether a walk in the park, looking out the window or even just a screensaver of this kind – is beneficial in improving performance and attention in the workplace.
The measure used: “Sustained attention to response task (SART)” had previously been mapped against brain imaging so they knew that the brain responds in predictable ways in these situations. People need to be able to both maintain focus and block out distractions to perform well.
The underlying theory is called Attention Restoration theory which suggests that natural environments have benefits for people. Nature is effortlessly fascinating and captures your attention without your having to consciously focus on it and thus allows you to replenish your stores of attention control.
The 40 seconds was based on a trial during which that was the average time people looked at the meadow scene. Whether such a micro-break is the optimal length is not known.
Other aspects of this research suggest that people would be more likely to help each other after a green break. It all sounds very positive and builds on previous research which shows that having access to nature helps reduce stress levels.
Source: HBR September 2015
Your personality traits, your leadership abilities and your potential criminality can also be deduced from your facial appearance.
Psychologists have argued about this for some time but new evidence from Rollins College in Florida suggests it might be true.
Marc Fetscherin, a professor at the International Business School found a correlation between company profits and the shape of the Chief Executive’s face.
He said “Facial width to height ratio correlates with real world measures of aggressive and ambitious behaviour and is associated with a psychological sense of power. It is therefore possible that it could predict leadership performance“.
Similar results were found by researchers at Sussex University where they analysed the faces of FTSE100 Chief Executives.
The researchers there thought underpinning this was a high level of testosterone which is associated with aggression and pursuit of dominance and which also influences the growth of muscle and bone.
Research from Finland among military personnel suggests that this view of wide-faced men being leaders might not be universally applicable in different kinds of organisations however.
It’s also been known for centuries that tall, attractive people were more likely to be in leadership positions. For one thing good-looking people tend to be brighter and being well-nourished in times past probably meant you came from a privileged background – always a good starting point.
The idea that we can read people just by looking at them for 1/10th of a second has been around for a long time and was associated with physiognomy and eugenics which became disreputable.
Today however it is still relevant when it comes to career progression. Apart from the research on CEOs, which is based predominantly on men, the research on women suggests that you can be too good-looking to get an interview.
Bar room jokes aside there are several interesting studies on the impact that size has on the way we perceive people and the way they behave.
They wanted to know whether or not your workspace would have an effect on your honesty.
What they found was that the bigger and larger the space and seating, which encouraged expansive gestures, the more likely it was that people would pocket overpayments, cheat on a test, and break the rules in a driving simulator.
In the first test they deliberately overpaid people for participating in the test and found that 78% of those with the bigger chairs kept it compared with 38% of people working in cramped spaces.
They also observed illegally parked cars in New York and found that when a driver’s seat increased by 1 standard deviation from the mean the probability that a car would be double parked increased from 51% to 71%.
The researchers say that when we have more space we can adopt more expansive postures and these often project high power whereas people working in constrictive spaces where they have to keep their limbs close to their bodies project low power.
The findings were not influenced by the height of the person nor by how corrupt the person might have been before the experiment as they were randomly assigned. The posture was the only variable.
This is interesting as I would have thought that people working in constricted or uncomfortable environments might be likely to cheat just to get back at their employer – a kind of organisational justice.
But we also know that power corrupts.
Yapp and his colleagues admit there might be cultural differences e.g. Asian norms of modesty and humility are inconsistent with the power posturing.
The research replicates that done at Columbia University (see below) on the size of desks (and illegal parking in New York).
Main source: “Big chairs create big cheats” HBR November 2013
Researchers at the Robert H Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland measured the signatures of 650 CEOs on 10 years’ worth of annual reports from almost 400 top 500 companies.
Large signatures, which have been linked to narcissistic personality traits such as dominance and an outsize ego, were positively associated with overspending, lower return on assets, but higher CEO pay relative to other industry peers.
The companies of these CEOs spend more on capital goods and acquisitions but had worse sales and sales growth over several years. They also had fewer patents suggesting a lack of innovation.
This is probably because narcissistic leaders dominate discussions, ignore criticism and belittle other employees.
The assumption about big signatures and narcissism is based on research by Richard Zweigenhaft which showed that people with higher self-esteem and more dominant personalities had large signatures.
It’s also the case that the CEO population is more narcissistic than the general population as well as having other dark triad characteristics.
Source: HBR May 2013
Researchers at Columbia Business School think sprawling across an over-size desk makes people feel more self-confident and more likely to behave dishonestly to further their careers.
The researchers manipulated the size of workspaces and found that people were more dishonest on tests when their environment allowed them to stretch out.
In another study they found that drivers given bigger car seats were more likely to be involved in “hit and run” incidents when incentivised to go faster in a driving simulation.
They also checked 126 cars on New York City streets, half of which were parked illegally. They found that drivers with large car seats were more likely to be breaking the law.
Research conducted for Brother Europe, when it was promoting its new A3 printer range across Europe, seems to prove that.
Professor Richard Wiseman, a leading human behaviour psychologist and author of; “:59 seconds. Think a little Change a lot”, carried out the research and he found that in “Dragons’ Den-style” pitch scenarios, businesses using A3 marketing materials appeared ‘significantly bigger, more successful and professional’ than those using standard A4 prints.
Moving from size to weight, in a paper published by researchers at MIT, Harvard and Yale universities; “Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgements and decisions” it appears that our sense of touch (the haptic impressions) also influences our thoughts.
They asked people to scrutinise a job candidate by looking at a resume (CV) placed on either heavy or light clipboards. The people using heavy clipboards viewed the candidate as possessing a more serious interest in the job and as more likely to succeed than those holding a light clipboard. They conclude that; “First impressions are liable to be influenced by one’s tactile environment”.
They say that understanding how the tactile environment influences perception could be relevant in; “almost any situation where you are trying to present information about yourself or attempting to influence people“.
My colleague and I have always advised candidates to use heavy-duty paper for their CVs and covering letters rather than 70/80 gm supermarket special photocopy paper. This was based on creating a good impression (because first impressions count) but now it seems it’s not just how good it looks but how heavy.
As the researchers say; “physical experiences are mentally tied to metaphors …. when you activate something physically it starts up the metaphor related to that experience in people’s heads” eg heavy = solid, reliable, serious, and so on.”
And next time someone puts a clipboard into my hands ….
These posts appeared separately on SGANDA previously
They tend to be the centre of attention and take over discussions and are perceived as more effective by both supervisors and subordinates.
In the US only 50% of the population is extraverted, despite what you might believe about Americans, but 96% of managers and executives display extraverted personalities (the percentages showing high levels of extraversion increase from 30% of supervisors to 60% at executive level).
But people can learn extravert behaviours. In fact I remember some research which showed that when introverts were taught extraverted behaviour they could behave in more extravert ways than natural extraverts. And most managers have to learn to stand up and deliver presentations and run meetings.
However work by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Harvard Business School, and North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, shows that in some situations an introvert may be a better leader than an extravert without having to change their behaviours.
It seems that in a dynamic, unpredictable environment introverts are often more effective, particularly if they have proactive workers on the their teams who are prepared to put forward suggestions to improve the business.
This type of behaviour can make extraverted leaders feel threatened (I think especially so if the leaders are narcissistic). Whereas introverted leaders are more likely to listen carefully and show more receptivity thus making them effective leaders of more vocal teams.
Putting extraverted bosses in charge of talkative teams isn’t a good recipe. Extraverts seem to do better as bosses of teams that perform best when they do as they are told!
To succeed as leaders introverts have to overcome a strong cultural bias as in America at least two out of three senior executives viewed introversion as a barrier in a 2006 survey. And in politics highly extraverted Presidents are seen as more effective.
Source: HBR December 2010
We stay focussed until we get distracted by social media alerts, our computer or smartphones.
Over a day it has a detrimental effect on your productivity. Microsoft research suggests there is a “switch cost” as it takes 15 to 25 minutes to get our mind focussed on what we were doing before an interruption.
The microsoft survey placed attention span into three categories: sustained i.e. prolonged focus, selective i.e. avoiding distraction, and alternating i.e. switching between tasks.
You might think you can multitask but that’s a myth. You might be able to deal with a handful of things but what you are actually doing is switching attention between them. And each time you do it you lose time re-focussing.
Microsoft estimates that it takes 15 to 25 minutes to get back to where you were before you were distracted.
David Rock, a neuropsychologist, thinks we can probably manage, at the most, 4 demanding things. This is fewer than the famous 7 plus or minus two that George Miller hypothesised back in the 1950s. So are we getting stupider? Microsoft’s research in 2000 found that the average human attention span was 12 seconds, compared to 8 seconds today.
What seems to be happening is that our brain is not keeping pace with modern technological demands even creating a phenomenon known as “phantom text syndrome” where we believe we have heard an alert from our phone or tablet. This particularly affects teenagers who typically text their friends twice as often as speaking to them face to face and are more dependent on the technology.
Factors affecting our attention span are: media consumption, social media usage, technology adoption (something Professor Sir Cary Cooper has spoken about recently), and multiscreen behaviour e.g. texting while watching TV.
I’ve posted elsewhere about FOMO and related anxiety-related conditions.
The only way to deal with this type of problem is to turn off your phone or computer at regular intervals. It will not only reduce anxiety but increase productivity by improving your focus.
Being focussed uses the pre-frontal cortex which is where you can be more creative and control your emotions better.
People who have trouble focussing make more emotional decisions and pay less attention to emotional cues.
If you are a regular technology user take regular breaks, go for a walk in the park, and talk to your colleagues face to face!
Scientist in Finland have been researching some WW2 archives relating to the “Winter War” in 1939-40 ( a great feat of arms by the Finnish army resisting overwhelming soviet forces and well worth reading about).
The archives have details on almost 800 soldiers in three Finnish regiments including photographs, number of children, and the rank attained.
Wider-faced men tended to have more children but usually attained a lower military rank.
In men face shape is influenced by testosterone levels making it a proxy for evolutionary success hence the fact that generally speaking men with broader and shorter faces are more aggressive but less trustworthy.
The researchers point out that dominance in the military may be better predicted by leadership qualities other than aggressiveness. “The military relies on a strict hierarchy, which requires trust and fear of punishment to be maintained”
See also “Take me to your leader”
Some researchers in Canada (a very PC country in my opinion) have replicated the research done in Israel a few years ago.
Men might think that women have the advantage when job-seeking if they are attractive but research from Israel, published by the Royal Economic Society, showed just the opposite in fact.
Researchers sent out over 5,300 CVs for over 2,500 jobs. Two applications were sent for each vacancy – one with a photograph of either an attractive or plain person and an identical one without a photo.
Attractive women who sent in a photograph with their CVs were less likely to get an interview than plainer women who sent a photo and women who sent no photo at all.
For men it was the other way round. Attractive men who sent photos did better than the attractive women but plain men and those who didn’t send photos fared worse than their female counterparts.
Statistically it means that an attractive male only needs to send out 5 CVs to get an interview compared with the 11 a plain-looking male needs to send. Attractive women would be better off not sending a photo as it reduces their chances of getting an interview by 20 – 30%.
The researchers at Ben-Gurion university said it was a case of “beauty discrimination” which reflected the double standards in company HR departments. They checked and found that 96% of the people who screened the CVs were female, typically 23 and 24 years old , and 70% of them were single.
They theorised that these recruiters were jealous of any potential rivals in their workplace and rejected them instantly. There was less discrimination if the recruitment was being handled by an employment agency. Attractive women were no worse off than plain candidates and only slightly worse off than candidate who didn’t send a picture.
Professor Cary Cooper from Lancaster University Management School was more generous about the recruiters suggesting that unconsciously they might think that the less attractive women is the underdog and want to give her a chance. Nice thought Cary but what about the no-photo applications?
Sending photos with CVs is not common in the UK (unless applying for a job relating specifically to your appearance) but is in other parts of Europe. In Israel where the experiment was carried out it’s up to the individual.
In Lithuania our colleagues who are recruiters tell us that young people often send inappropriate pictures with their CVs eg shots on a beach or other holiday locations.
Of course once you’ve got the job good looks seem to effect both men and women equally with unattractive people earning up to 15% less than their more attractive counterparts.
First posted on SGANDA