You don’t need to rehearse being you : 3 tips for school leavers

It was a cold winter morning and I was sitting on the relentlessly polished wooden floor of Sheringham High School assembly hall.

Assembly was generally the same each time so I would usually drift off, but about half-way thorough this specific assembly I distinctly recall the words of Mr. Goodwin our Headmaster “These are the greatest days of your lives” he said and these words stayed with me, not because I found them inspiring or insightful, but because I didn’t want them to be true, were these really the greatest days of my life, is this it?


Career Advice

Shortly after that assembly I had a meeting with our career advisor. “What do you want to do when you leave school?” and with great confidence I answered “I want to be an actor”

The career advisor, curiously asked me why? “Well”, I said…

– They make good money
– They have beautiful girlfriends
– and, most importantly, to a chubby, spotty, 14 year old me, was they got better looking with age!

I’d already done the research, footballer was too sporty, computer game designer was to techy so logically becoming an Actor seemed like a solid career choice.  I could see it now my name in lights, Oscars, lucrative co-lead roles starring alongside Tom Hanks. However, in response I got….“James, you will not become an actor.”

I left the careers advisor feeling confused and uncertain. I ended up finishing school with average grades and subsequently Sixth Form with below average grades; these were definitely not the greatest days of my life.  I wasn’t academic; I wasn’t a sportsman.  I was friendly, polite & humorous, like an actor but had no script & no stage.

In 2001 I attended University, but halfway through the year I decided it wasn’t for me. I was studying Drama, so the decision was a hard one; I just wasn’t academic enough for this type of study.  I was waving goodbye to the decent pay, the beautiful women and the better looks.  Again also not the greatest days of my life.

I needed a new plan, I was going to have to get a job.


A New Plan

I could have been downtrodden, but I wasn’t, I was excited.

Over the next year or so I had a number of jobs. I worked in an off-licence, I worked in a hotel and I worked at JD Sports. None of these roles got me going; I didn’t have the passion for it.  Definitely, not the greatest days of my life either.

However, whilst at JD Sports a friend told me about a job at a finance company he worked for in the city. I updated my CV, wrote an excellent covering letter, sent it off and got an interview.

With my new Top Man suit, and pre prepared answers for questions regarding grades, I go in, smile, shake hands & sit down.  First question is fired at me – Tell me about yourself?

Amazing I thought, not interested in jobs, grades, they just wanted to know about me, this I can do…It was going well, second question ‘what do you feel you can bring to the company? Bang, I’d done my research I knew how I could fit in, I was on a role. The whole interview lasted between 30/45 mins and they just wanted to know about me.


Taking to the stage

I got the job, and started with Central Trust in 2003 as a Loan Advisor.  A year later I was managing a department of 50 people and the best bit was I was happy, and then it dawned on me….

I was the actor I wanted to be, the skills I had wanted to put to use where in full swing, my theatre was the bank of desks, my monologue was the mentoring and training I would give, my team meetings where dynamic and engaging, I basked in the adulation of my audience and I was loving it.

In 2009 the recession hit and the curtain closed on my role at Central Trust.

An opportunity came up at Indigo Swan, I joined and about a year and a half ago I became the Head of Client Experience at Indigo Swan and I am able to lead, inspire and coach a team of people every single day.

Over the years I have learnt that it is extremely difficult to change someone’s personality & attitude, so make sure you are mindful of how yours are developing. This is one of the most important things to remember when at school and looking for a job.

The company that is looking to employ you wants to know about you.  Are you the right person, are you the right fit? Pretty much everything else can be taught, personality and attitude is a lot more difficult.

Indigo Swan sponsored an EDP Award this year, the Skills of Tomorrow Award, which aimed to recognise, promote & congratulate organisations that are equipping the young minds of tomorrow with the right skills.

This year’s winner was Inspired Youth, a social enterprise that facilitates so much good activity surrounding this; here are a few words from Robert Whitwood (Founder & Chair) about the potential challenges facing school leavers…


“The biggest challenge facing school leavers today is the breadth of opportunity that exists. Within each industry there is a huge range of opportunities, so is it any wonder when a young person gets asked “what do you want to do when you grow up”, the response is either limited or in most cases a shrug of the shoulders followed by “I don’t know”.

The whole purpose of me starting Inspired Youth has been to broaden the horizons of young people, and to bring all those opportunities to them through the stories of people who work in those industries every day.  Our advice is very much based on “what do you enjoy doing, and what you think you are good at.” From here we find what might play to those strengths.  In James’s case, it was not the job he was really looking for when he grew up, it was the opportunity to do what he enjoyed and what he was good at.  The job found him.”


The Oscar goes to…

So what am I trying to say to you…

Be aware of who you actually are, not who you think you should be.  Figuring this out is one of the toughest things I’ve had to do, so here are a few tips… These can be applied at School and more importantly when you leave and you look for to take the next step in your journey.

  1. Be confident not arrogant, there’s a big difference
  2. It’s ok to mess up – people relate more with your messes, than your successes
  3. Have an answer ready – be prepared to answer open ended questions, no one will learn anything about you from a yes or no answer.

School is great, but the greatest days of our lives are yet to come and it’s being you that will make them great.

I didn’t become a famous actor. But I do get paid well, I do have a beautiful wife, I am happy and thankfully I am little bit better looking than I was 15 years ago.

Posted by James Groves in Schools