Four principles to give your students careers success


Jane Sunley, author of the new book It’s Never OK to Kiss the Interviewer, explains four key principles that will help your students onto the career superhighway.

By the end of June, an estimated six million students will have completed their A levels or GCSEs. By this point they will know what it will take to secure a place at their chosen university, which subjects they wish to continue at sixth form or college, where they are going on their gap year or which job or Apprenticeship they are going to apply for. However, how many of these have seriously considered what will make them happy? 

The most straightforward route to being happy and fulfilled is to do something you love. This might sound obvious, but so many of those stepping onto the career highway for the first time feel pressured into living up to the expectations of others or simply seek out and take the advice of others. 

This is often conflicting, confusing and, in many cases, simply wrong. It is therefore no surprise then that in the developed world, just one in three people are happy at work (Gallup).

It is vital individuals are able to examine their own wants, needs, desires and aspirations. And as teachers, careers advisors and role models you play a critical part in this process. Here I outline a four-step toolbox to help you and your students survive, thrive and high-five along the career superhighway.

Goals and aspirations

Few people would embark on a journey without deciding the end destination; so why would they start out on the career superhighway, without having an achievable goal in mind?

It is a good idea to encourage your students to start a career folder to record their thoughts along the journey. This helps with focus and direction, is a method by which to monitor progress and also affirms a great sense of achievement as advancements are made. Without limitations, they should think about:

  • What they like doing.

  • What skills they’re using when they do things they enjoy.

  • What means a lot to them.

  • What they’re good at.

  • What people admire about them (you might have to offer suggestions or probe them to get a beneficial answer).

  • What sort of people they admire and why.

  • What things they do well (maybe better than others).

  • How they’d like people to remember them (one day).

  • What they want to achieve (and to a lesser degree, what they don’t want).

Personal values

A brilliant place to start defining their career is to look at personal values – the guiding principles they operate by; what they stand for; how they operate. 

However, too often individuals focus on the “where” as opposed to the “what”. There is little point securing a dream job in a toxic culture, or a terrible role in a dream company; it will only lead to disengagement, unhappiness and potentially impact health and wellbeing. 

There is a complex, manual way for individuals to elicit and prioritise values (and this isn’t just for your students, it is a great exercise at any point of your career to review and reflect). However we’ve created a quick, easy and free tool to help. This can be found for free on my website (see further information).

Once values are understood, these should be used to define the type of role and culture the person will be successful and happy in. For example, if “trust and self-reliance” are recognised as core values, it would be difficult to survive and thrive in an environment where people are micro-managed. It happens all the time and that is why the smart people understand the importance of value alignment.


For any job-seeker, it is important to stand out from the crowd. Having a degree is no longer enough so as well as personal presentation and other attributes, individuals should add to their employability appeal through “work experience”.

One of the criticisms of the generations entering the workforce nowadays is that they are unable to present the skills and real-life experience they have gained from part-time work, from voluntary work, from sports or charitable challenges, project work and self-study – in the most positive, business-focused way.

In the book, I tell the story of Rob, a maths graduate. He took a summer job in a factory sticking labels on bottles. His CV could have said just that. However he used this experience to positively share the skills he had learned about:

  • Team dynamics: which he then expanded on at interview around the way the other workers banded together as a team, despite a pretty grim supervisor.

  • Motivation: how they organised little competitions between themselves to complete the most work, thus making a monotonous job a bit more fun and competitive.

  • Optimism: how they talked about where the bottles might go and made up increasingly more outlandish stories about their journeys.

And once Rob secured his dream job, he used his newly acquired understanding of how teams work to help him fit in with his colleagues and become productive quickly and harmoniously. 

Rob’s story is just a simple example, though if every piece of experience, however innocuous, was viewed in the context of “how could this be useful when applying for further education or within a work environment?” then it is possible to “sell” the benefits to anyone rather than dismissing it as unimportant. 


In the same way that someone choosing a new phone would seek out recommendations from friends; employers tend to favour a candidate who has been recommended to them. Therefore it is up to the job-seeker to start developing a network as soon as possible.

My mum used to say “It’s not what you know it’s who you know”; I’d expand that to “It’s not who you know, it’s who they know”. It’s a sad fact of life that some people start out better connected than others. However, the good news is that with some focus and determination, it is possible for anyone to develop a stellar network. 

Encourage your students to get out and about, attend events such as careers fairs, lectures from potential employers, open days and so on. The point is they should make contact with people while there so there is little point skulking at the back. Tell them to take a deep breath and introduce themselves – most people are nice and will welcome the contact. And if they don’t then it is their loss and time to move on.

Some educational institutes also offer mentoring programmes – connecting young people to business professionals in their local community. 

Sometimes this is carried out through online “matching” software such as Talent Toolbox: Mentoring. If you do not yet offer something like this, look into the possibility of doing so. Not only will you support your students in their development, it can give the careers support from businesses which three-quarters of teachers are crying out for (YouGov).

Another opportunity to enhance their circle is the prominence of digital networking. It is far easier to become connected to someone online via sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter and ask them for their advice, an introduction or some work experience. Kindness and generosity are attractive traits that are increasingly recognised as assets of good leaders – your students should capitalise on this.

So kick-start your students career superhighway by sharing this toolbox!

  • Jane Sunley is CEO of people engagement specialists Purple Cubed and author of It’s Never OK to Kiss The Interviewer – and other secrets to surviving, thriving and high-fiving at work. You can reach Jane on twitter @JaneSunley

Further information
Visit Jane Sunley’s website at
Discount Offer
SecEd readers can claim a discount off the cost of the eBook, It’s Never OK to Kiss the Interviewer (usual price $12.99, discount price $3.99), if they purchase the title via using the discount code BBOKO35PI4. The offer is valid until April 10, 2014.


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