A talk about the c word – confidence

Before the end of the summer term I took part of a year 10 assembly at the Harris Academy in Greenwich. At Saatchi & Saatchi we have created a programme with Harris to encourage young people from very varied backgrounds to see the power of and role of creativity and perhaps consider the creative industries as a potential career. We call it Saatchi Ignite.

As part of this collaboration I had the privilege to give a talk on confidence to year 10 in preparation for their work experience.

You will find this pretty basic stuff I’m sure but who knows there might be something in here that strikes a chord.

My name is Richard. Not Mr Huntington or Sir but Richard.

I need you to know this and the reason will become clear a little later

I am the Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi which is a mouthful and a very grand title.

But really, I’m just Richard.

And I work with the amazing Saatchi Ignite crew you have met to make great advertising for our clients.

And because I have done it for quite a long time, they gave me a very big title.

Now I am really excited to be able to talk to you today. I promise I won’t take up too much of your time.

I am going to try and be helpful but I thought I should start by telling you a bit about myself.

Doing what I am doing is a long way from where I started, at a school like Harris in South-West England. I wasn’t very academic at all to begin with and I did a bad job of my GCSEs which I really wouldn’t recommend.

But I found my groove in year 12 and I worked really hard for my A levels. As a result I did well and I got into Cambridge University. I was amazed because my school didn’t normally send people to places like Cambridge. And during that time, I got to do some work experience in an ad agency and I was totally hooked. From there I got my first job in advertising after a few false starts and knock backs and loads and loads of interviews. I love advertising, always have done. And I still do. And because I have always done a job I like, I have been quite successful and been able to build a whole career in it. Now that idea of one career your whole life might fill you with horror, but doing a job love should not.

That’s enough about me, let’s talk about you. You are about to do your work experience next week and as part of that you are going to need to talk about yourselves to complete strangers and share your qualities, achievements, dreams and your personality.

That is never, ever easy.

But it’s a really important skill.

Any job will have at least one interview, sometimes many more. You may be asked for interview to get into Uni, not always but sometimes. You may be interviewed to join a club, a band, a team of volunteers on a project. You may even be interviewed on TV one day when your business is getting off the ground, you have an amazing exhibition of your art, or you stand to be a local MP.

And even if not, you are certainly going to meet new people all the time who you will want or need to impress, often in quite a short space of time.

So, I thought I’d give you a little bit of advice about representing yourselves well, whether on your work experience, in interviews or any other situation.  And to have a little conversation about confidence – what it is and whether it matters.

The first thing to say is that work experience and interviews are not supposed to be scary.

You may feel a little intimidated or nervous but the fact is that in almost every interview you take part in the people on the other side of the table you want you to do well. Real interviews are nothing like Dragons Den or The Apprentice. And the reason is that the people talking to you all want something.

As much as you might want a job or a place on a course, they really really want a great new employee or a wonderful new student for their college. They may come across quite formally or ask some difficult questions, but they want you to succeed. Nobody starts an interview or takes on someone for work experience hoping that they will be rubbish or not up to it.

So please, above all things remember, if you are doing work experience or being interviewed that means they want to spend time with you, get to know you and find out how good you are. Your job is to help them see all that good stuff and make it easy for them to chose you.

Which brings us to nerves

I’m going to say it, nerves are good. Anxiety and stress are bad but feeling nervous is something I want you to try and embrace. Being nervous is a sign that something really matters to you, that you want it. Every actor going on stage or in front of the cameras has a few nerves because they want to do a really good job. And if you aren’t a little nervous I would question how much something really means to you. So, when you feel you have a dry mouth, butterflies in the stomach or maybe even blushing a little, this is just your mind telling you care.

I have been interviewed on live TV about controversial advertising we have made and presented to the heads of massive businesses, MPs and Prime Ministers. And even now I get nerves every time, every time. And yes, I am a little nervous today, because I want this talk to be helpful and I am worried that you might think what I am saying is pointless or boring.

And you know what, the people you meet will expect you to be a little nervous for the same reason. And they will try and make you comfortable so that you settle in and can show them who you really are beyond the butterflies.

Channel that energy and make people realise that it’s because you care and you are passionate about the opportunity they are offering you. It is far better that you are a little nervous than someone that seems so confident that it feels like they are just chatting to their mates.

Of course, some people do seem to be super confident don’t they?

Some people are really outgoing and self-assured while others are more reserved and shy. Whichever you are, both are great. We are all different and the world needs both extroverts and introverts. The truth is that I’m more of the latter. As an introvert I get my energy from spending time on my own or one to one with people, where extroverts get their energy from time spent with lots of other people. You don’t need to be one or the other to succeed, it’s just who you are.

In truth confidence is something that comes to us in situations where we feel comfortable rather than a permanent state of existence. Everyone you meet feels both confident and unconfident depending on the situation.

And the best way to feel more confident in any situation is to make sure that you are prepared. You know this, when you go into a test or an exam and you have prepared well you feel far more confident than if you decide to wing it. I feel more confident this morning because I spent some time this week thinking about what I wanted to say and writing a talk. And I wrote it out because I didn’t want to rely on my memory or read off a presentation, I just feel more confident that way. And I rehearsed too. Because that helps my confidence.

So, try and prepare.

And when it comes to talking about yourself, think about a few things.

What is it that you want them to know about you?

Personal statements are still to come, I think. But right now, you should start to have a feeling about what it is you want people to understand about you. The people you meet will have no idea about you except perhaps which school you are at and after next year your GCSE results. They have no clue about your spider collection, that you are fanatical about music or your popularity on tik tok. So, it’s going to be up to you to get those things across.

When I am being interviewed by the media, I write down the three things that I want to make sure I say about the subject, say a new ad campaign, if I say nothing else. Three is a good number because we can usually remember three things and keep them in our heads.

Part of this is how you answer questions. An interview is not like an exam where you get asked a set of questions and your job is to answer them and do nothing more or less. In an interview the questions that people will ask you are just a guide for them. Ways of unlocking something about you that is different or interesting or enables you to talk about the work experience you did that would be really relevant or a time when you learned something important about yourself.

I want you to try and be alive in interviews and when you meet people you don’t know. What I mean is not to simply let people ask questions and then answer each question in turn until the time is over. Think about what it is that you want them to know about you and make sure you use those questions to get this across. If they ask you where you see yourself in 5 years time, don’t just say that you want to be running your own business, tell them that you’d love this to have something to do with animals because you love dogs and though you don’t have a dog, you offer to walk your neighbour’s each weekend because she doesn’t get out much these days. Suddenly I have a far richer and interesting picture of you and more than that it helps me ask follow-up questions that will let me get to know you even better. Above all please try not to answer questions with yes or no, this makes it impossible to get to know you properly.

Secondly what is it you love about the opportunity that they are offering and why might you be a good fit?

Presumably you are interested in the opportunity you are being interviewed for or the business you are doing work experience in. Think about the reasons that this career appeals to you, why it is a good fit with the things that you love and why you might be really good at it. And think about that stuff now rather than when you are asked so you have your answers to hand.

And don’t worry at this stage if these links are a bit loose, people are not necessarily looking for direct skills or a lifelong interest in their line of work, a lot of the stuff you love or do will actually be really helpful. For instance, that spider collection of yours may seem a bit irrelevant but it is proof that you are responsible because you are able to care for animals with complex needs and because you have had to learn a load about spiders it shows that you are able to pick up new skills quickly. Suddenly those spiders make you a shoe-in for the job.

And finally what do you want to know about them?

Think about the questions you want to ask them. Whenever you have the opportunity to present yourself in this way, it will end with people asking if you have any questions. Asking a few questions shows you are inquisitive and eager and guess what, they will love talking about their business or their course. It could be a really down to earth question like what the pay is or will there be accommodation in the first year at college. It could be more punchy like, what do they love most about the business they work in or what the employment opportunities are like for people finishing the course. Never say, ‘no I think you have covered everything I wanted to know’, its sounds like you don’t really care.

With a bit of preparation, whatever your nerves are doing and however much of an introvert or extrovert you are, you will feel far more confident in your core.

And please know that people are rarely looking for confidence itself, they know that confidence comes when you are comfortable in what you are doing. They are looking for far more important qualities – ability, aptitude, honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, friendliness.

There is a phrase I love which is that people say you need the confidence of your convictions but you don’t need as much confidence if you have conviction. Have conviction about yourself.

Above remember they are trying to understand the authentic you.

Not what you think they want to hear but the actual you.

And your job is to communicate this. No exaggeration, no fibbing. The real you is already great. Just let her or him out.

But never let an opportunity escape in which you can help people see who you really are.

And finally, there is a secret I want to let you into.

If there is one thing I have learned in life is that we are all playing a role.

My role is the chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi but really I am just Richard. Inside I’m just a kids from the west country with a bit of a mischievous mind that thinks he has lucked out and like he is an imposter.

And they will hate me for saying this but I know for certain that every one of your teachers is playing the role of teacher when they are at school, I’m sure they are very different outside school. So, remember that the person on the other side of the table in an interview or any other formal situation is also playing a role and in reality they are just a normal human being like you. Even Harry Kane has a poo every single day.

So, respect the people you meet on work experience or in an interview but try not to be intimidated by them, they are just playing a role. I know that’s hard but I have a little trick I use. Whenever I am in a situation with people that I feel intimidated by or nervous with, I try and look at them and say in my head (not out loud mind you) ‘I understand the role you are playing and I am going to love you rather than fear you’, or even just ‘I am going to love you rather than fear you’. It works every time for me, it calms me down and I end up treating that person differently.

OK that’s as much as I can help. Channel your nerves, prepare so you feel more confident, let the real you escape so they can see and hear you and remember, they are just playing a role.

And there is one last thing to remember. Every new and unfamiliar situation we are in helps us learn more about ourselves. And even if we aren’t at first successful at something we learn from it and improve. So never, ever, ever take no for an answer.

After all, 30 years ago I was rejected by Saatchi & Saatchi after an interview for my first ever job. Every experience we have makes us stronger.

So good luck, enjoy next week and enjoy your summer, you deserve it.

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