How employers can get a true sense of young talent

Kim Slater is a digital marketing apprentice and Media & Communications Executive at FD Works, a firm of accountants, advisors and Xero specialists based in Bristol and Bath. We talk to Kim about why good candidates cancel interviews, how employers can better check for culture fit and why it’s worth putting in the time to ask questions and set tasks that give people a chance to show what they can really do.

“I was being given the opportunity to point out my skills”

What was it like looking for graduate jobs during the pandemic?

I did a public relations and journalism degree with the intention of going into public relations and media communications. But I graduated in 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic so I thought, you know what, I just need a job! I’ve got 10 years of management experience in restaurants so I got an entry-level job at a restaurant and kept my eyes open. 

While I carried on looking for jobs in the communications industry, I was quite picky about the ones I was applying for rather than just trying to get my foot in the door with anything. But there was a massive dip in the last six months of last year. There were maybe one or two coming up a month.

I was finding that even for entry-level roles they wanted you to have six different skill sets: copywriting, graphic design, web development… So I kept my eye on it, but didn’t really apply for much, then found at the beginning of this year more started to become available.

How was the recruitment process?

I went through the recruitment process for a couple of places where I was asked to complete a task relevant to the role, but I was being given these tasks by people who work in HR. They didn’t really know what communications jobs entail. 

I found myself getting into the tasks and realising that I was missing loads of information. A couple of times I went back to the HR person with a question and they’d say, “Well, that’s really for you to decide.” And I thought, if I was in this job, I would go and get more information from the client or whoever set the brief! 

I actually canceled two interviews because of that kind of experience. I thought, I don’t want to go into a job where I don’t have the resources or the information to do the job well. I’ll get stressed out immediately and feel like I’m not good at my job. Whereas in reality, it’s actually that I don’t have what I need to do well.

How was your experience with Working Knowledge?

The difference I found with Working Knowledge was having Amy as a point of contact – she  was just amazing. The support that I got from Amy, [in] giving me the guidance that I needed meant I completely understood what the client was looking for, so I could show I had those skills.

The task meant that you could show off what you wanted to show off you could write a blog piece or use graphic design skills. In other places I felt like they were trying to catch me out. Whereas with this process, it felt like I was being given the opportunity to point out my skills, and use those skills in the best way. 

Can you talk a little about the Assessment Day? 

I was so nervous, but honestly it couldn’t have gone better. I was nervous because I really wanted to put my best self forward, but I don’t like virtual interviews when you’ve got more than three or four people on the call. There were going to be four candidates, three people from the company as well as Amy & Jo running it. I thought, ‘How on earth am I going to get a word in?!’ 

But from the beginning, Jo managed it so well. She made us feel so comfortable. We had an hour at the beginning where she spoke about the apprenticeship side, and we had a couple of practices using the tech and making sure we felt comfortable with the other candidates. So when it came to things like the group task, we had an impression of each other already, which was really great. 

By the time the FD Works guys came in, I felt so comfortable and confident, it felt like I’d been speaking to Jo and Amy and the other candidates for weeks. I’ve definitely gone into interviews before and had a bit of a shaky voice and that’s just not me at all. I’m not getting myself across at all in those situations, and Jo definitely helped with that side of things, which was fantastic. 

She was really clear on what we were going to do, but she also left it open enough for our unique interpretation to come across, which I think is a skill in recruitment and interviewing. 

And I came out of it honestly, feeling not that confident because the other candidates were so great! I felt that I really enjoyed the experience and would be completely fine if I didn’t get it because one of those guys got it. They were great. They were impressive.

What was it like meeting the employer virtually

I was nervous about it, but I think particularly with FD Works, their mission is more important than what they wear. They were very relaxed, and they had really insightful questions. It felt like they had really put some thought into the questions that had come from thinking about why they wanted to hire for this role and what they were going to get out of it as a company.

They’d obviously put some effort behind it, which made me feel more secure to be open and honest with everything they had done the work and I had also done my research. 

The whole selection day went so quickly and I came out in a really positive mood, which is definitely rare for interviews! 

So then you got the job! How does that feel?

Amazing. I’m really happy. Everything just feels so right and that’s continued now that I’ve actually been offered the job. Everything’s turning out how I hoped so I’m really excited.

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