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Monday, May 15, 2017

Katie Lofthouse is TARGETcareers School Leavers' Challenge 2017 Winner!



An advocate of the TARGETcareers School Leavers' Challenge, my head of sixth form urged me to complete the online assessment in order to be in with the chance of attending the grand final. Little did I know that this would lead to me lunching on the coveted rotating level of the BT Tower, looking out over the landscape of London midway through a day of challenges, informative talks, and networking with companies and other students.

So, how did I get there? Initially, the online aptitude test required both mathematical and employability skills, with the first of these sections based around analysis of data you may encounter in the business world (no difficult algebra!) and the latter assessing thinking of a more lateral nature to see how you respond in different circumstances everyone encounters when starting a new job. For the test, it is important to leave yourself enough time – you don't want to be rushed – and have a calculator, pen, and paper ready for any working during calculation questions. Also, try not to fixate on what is the 'right' answer in the employability section – it is likely there is no set in stone correct answer to any given question, and the test is simply to understand your personality and how it transfers in a business environment.

Following a tense few months of waiting to see if I qualified for the final, I was finally invited, and a couple of weeks later found myself on an early morning train to London, headed for the landmark BT Tower. Upon arrival, it became rapidly evident that with such a large group of students from a wide range of backgrounds, all of the finalists were happy to chat and find some common ground; the friendly atmosphere really helped to build my confidence before the tasks started.

After an introductory talk, I was then whisked to the observation level of the Tower to undertake the first of two assessment tasks of the day; the aptly named 'Marble Mayhem', which required strategy, concentration, technique, and teamwork – as well as a good sense of humour! The second task, mysteriously named 'Card Exchange', took place in the afternoon, and centred on having a business-minded approach, with many creative and unorthodox negotiation tactics attempted within my group in order to ensure the highest point score. Throughout these tasks, different business sponsors were assigned to coordinate and assess the different groups of students, although I can't say I felt pressured by their presence; in fact, I hardly noticed they were there.

The grand final also incorporated more general advice and informative sessions regarding personal branding, the different pathways available for school leavers, and the history of BT as a company. These, I found, were very useful in expanding my knowledge of areas I had not previously before considered, broadening my horizons and outlook of the somewhat intimidating world of work waiting for when studying was over.

The most invaluable aspects of my day were, no doubt, networking with new friends and companies whilst observing the breathtaking view of London, and the knowledge I have gained from all the sponsors and volunteers who helped to organise the event. To anyone who is considering entering the School Leavers’ Challenge next year – just do it, be yourself, learn from every experience it offers, and have fun. You never know where it will take you; as for myself, the next place will be the BT Headquarters, and this time next year, that may be you.