Thursday, 5 June 2014

Great Expectations: Junior BCM Professionals

How sure are we that our own expectations align with those of the senior professionals looking to recruit us? I've often witnessed junior professionals in our industry seemingly underperform in their newly acquired roles simply because they fronted an over-optimistic view of their actual capability at interview (don't we all). I’ve also seen recruiting managers sit in disbelief and frustration months after recruitment because the new starter isn’t able to contribute in the way they expected them to.

In an attempt to clear the muddy waters, I’ve created a collaborative piece which will explore both ends of the professional spectrum to see how different these expectations really are...

Introducing “The Rookie”…
In order to fully appreciate a fresh perspective in 2014 I decided to get in touch with Lee Ashby, an impressive undergraduate I came across at the BCI World event who was about to embark on their first full job in the industry for their placement year. I decided to give them a broad set of questions from which the most notable points are summarised below:

1. How do you want to be seen and described by the company once you get there?
“There's a running joke that all students who have placements are just there to make tea and coffee, I don’t want that to be me. I want to be treated professionally from day one and respected in equal standing with other employees. During my time there I will take every opportunity to leave a lasting impression and prove myself to be a valued member of staff. I want to be seen as a capable employee who goes above and beyond what is expected of them."
2. What are your expectations of what you might gain during the experience?
"The placement will hopefully act as a stepping stone into the working world, either broadening my prospects outside of the company or opening up opportunities within it. I am hoping that I’ll further develop my understanding of how business continuity, risk management and crisis management work with in a large and complex organisation. The experience will not only assist with my professional development but my academic skills as well. I expect there to be opportunities to take part in training courses, and living in London I will be presented with a lot of networking opportunities."
3. What does you think your manager will expect from you in terms of output, behaviour etc.?
"I know that there will be leniency at first because of the nature of the placement, but at the end of the day this is an important job. Professional behaviour and a high standard work will be expected. As I progress I expect to be given more responsibility."
4. What level and type of support do you think you will get from the managers along the year?
"As I will be reporting directly to the director of Business Continuity, there might be some challenges with getting enough air time with someone so high up. However, in fairness it was this particular individual who decided to embed an internship scheme into his directorate in the first place and ultimately chose me to be that intern so it shouldn’t be an issue."
5. In your opinion, what do you think is the share between learning and actually carrying out the work will be when you start?
"For me it will be one in the same, so there won’t necessarily be any divide. As an intern I will constantly be learning, but my course and previous work experiences have taught me the fundamentals for doing the job and I have been told that I am expected to learn as I go but to ask questions when necessary."
6. How different do you think the expectations will be from this placement when compared to your first role following graduation? I.e. will there be more responsibility and pressure as you'd be qualified now?
"Due to the fact I am doing this placement year and will have the experience under my belt I would expect my first job to have more responsibility. There will be higher expectations due to the fact I have previous experience and not because I have completed a relevant degree. Experience is becoming increasingly important alongside a degree; simply going to university is not enough for some employers any more. I think my first role will be a lot tougher than the placement year, but by doing this I will have more success when taking on challenging roles."
Rookie Summary
It’s clear to see from this individual’s responses that they’re deeply enthusiastic about putting their best foot forward in their new role. They also seem to be fully convinced of the level of responsibility they might face. They also tend to focus primarily on the anticipated expectations of their professional image and less on the actual skills required to fulfil their actual role which I think this is entirely natural at this stage.

I also find it interesting that Lee wants to be treated as an equal straight from the off. Can you really walk in as an equal? Some might argue that professional organisations will always treat employees fairly and equally. However, in my experience, respect and professional equality is earned over time assuming you work hard and present the right attitude (all of which our above candidate rightly displays). This links in to the running joke about making the tea, which in some cases is i'm afraid to say is a reality for some. Most of the individuals in my peer group have a undergone a placement year and have often shared stories of being comically labelled the “office junior” or working 12 hours days to produce work that is signed off and presented by a full time employee taking full credit. Ultimately, I think we all do a shift as the shoe-shine boy.

The Seasoned Veterans
I decided to seek out the views from some of our industry's thought-leaders who I believe to have a strong online presence. I asked them for their opinion on what they’d expect in recruiting a newly qualified individual. Here are some of the responses I received:

Denis Goulet, a widely known award-winning figure in the industry shared his thoughts on what he would expect from a newcomer...
“There are 2 very important qualities that they must develop. The first one is patience because BCM acceptance and implementation always goes at a very slow pace. BCM is always long-term stuff. And, because of that, the second quality has to be persistence. If it does not work the first time (and there is a good chance it won’t), always come back again with a different approach, a new twist, a different angle… until it works.

Of course, there are a bunch of other things you need like creativity, credibility, teamwork, sound business knowledge, etc. But, patience and persistence are the basis, as far as I am concerned.”
I would have to whole-heartedly agree with the above comments and in hindsight I only wish I had developed them sooner. Note to all!

Ken Simpson, also a widely known figure in the industry who was recently involved in the 2014 Business Continuity Awareness Week with his notable contribution in facilitating the FlashBlog event. Upon questioning he said…

So, in terms of the selection criteria – character. Do they fit and do I want to work with them? It would also be nice if they complemented my own style - not mimicked it, but that together we cover all the bases.

Secondly they need basic skills to get things done.

More importantly it is called "Business" Continuity. They need to know something about business, otherwise they will struggle.”
Ken neatly links in to the rookie’s comments on presence and character but also refers to having the right skills and an understanding of "business". I’m sure if asked to elaborate on what skills he would have alluded to report writing and presentation skills etc.

Finally Paul Kirvan, a member of the Board and Secretary of The Business Continuity Institute USA Chapter also kindly passed on his thoughts…
“The principal characteristics I would look for include quiet confidence, integrity, dependability, initiative, honesty, willingness to take risks, ability to defend his/her ideas, excellent speaking and writing skills, and an obvious commitment to the company and passion for the profession. I'd also like to see evidence that the individual is focused both on today's assignments and looking toward the next opportunities, both corporate and professional.”
Similarly Paul focuses on the personality type and less on the skills required in fulfilling the role. He appears to place a significant value on the individual’s mind-set and enthusiasm for the subject suggesting that the rest will come with development.

Summary
So as the above responses would suggest, senior professionals appear to focus primarily on individuals having the right character/attitude at the very beginning of their career. Our rookie certainly appears to be on the right path. However, there is reference to having the basic skills also. I believe that getting a head start in developing your fundamental admin skills will also go a very long way. I can’t tell you how many graduates I’ve seen come in to my world and claim higher levels of IT proficiency than they actually have. The issue we have here is that many senior professionals are self-proclaimed “technophobes” and naively assume that we are a generation are IT wizards, which I’m afraid to say isn’t entirely the case. Having an active Twitter or Facebook account does not actually mean the person will know how to use data validation techniques or macros on Excel, or how to page break or mail merge on Word. For example, the ability to quickly and confidently set up a high-spec PowerPoint presentation at short notice with custom animations is a massively undervalued skill-set and will go a long way with your manager.

As a trained military administrator, I was fortunate enough to have a head start but my suggestion to you is to take on as much training as you can at the earliest opportunity. As it happens, an online company called Webucator are running an education campaign focusing on Microsoft, because they also think it’s an essential skill for a modern worker. This event is running through until the end of June 2014 and they’re also offering a free PowerPoint and/or Excel classes as part of the campaign so take a look. Failing that there are numerous Microsoft Specialist Courses on offer or even the European Computer Driving Licence.

It would look as if the general consensus here is if you have the right professional characteristics, the basic skills can be developed over time. However, based on the feedback above, it would also be wise to also take a look at your basic skills and read up on on how businesses operate!

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