Can you introduce yourself and say what you do?
My official title is Senior Partner in a small firm in Oslo called Credo Partners. I’ve been doing that for 10 years. These days we mainly focus on investments which are much like private equity investments. We take control of companies on behalf of our investors, and we have 5 or 6 companies that we steer. We aim to increase the value of these companies and then sell them again. That’s about 80% or 90% of our time. About another 10% or 20% we spend on management consulting, so advising other large or small companies on a commercial basis.
With new graduates we don’t tend to recruit directly from University. We prefer our newcomers to have at least a couple of year’s experience, preferably in a consultancy or investment bank so they already know something about strategy or finance. In my old job with McKinsey I was responsible for recruiting for many years in different offices, in Norway and Russia in fact, focusing on undergraduates and postgraduates.
What were you looking for in a new graduate?
One could answer than on very different levels. Basically, there are four categories of skills we were looking for. The first is problem solving. The second is personal impact. Third is leadership. And the fourth is drive and ambition. On some of these we would look more for experience and proven abilities, and on others we would look more for potential and early signs that these people would be developing in these respects. That was the core of what we were looking for and it could be demonstrated through eithers grades, studies, or extra-curricular activities or even work or job experience.
One thing that you don’t have on the PSC list but that I would add because it’s incredibly helpful is synthesising: being able to structure an argument if you like. One technique I’m very familiar with because it was like a religion in McKinsey is the Pyramid Principle. There’s a book by Barbara Minto. Used in the right way it’s incredibly useful because it helps you put the most important things first and then the details later. Too many people I meet have a hard time lifting themselves and synthesising what they really want to say and what they really want to focus on in their work.
What do you mean by ‘positive personal impact?’
In it’s broadest sense it’s ‘how good are you at influencing other people’. It has every aspect from how good are you at selling an idea to how you fill the room, or how do you keep the attention of others. How impactful are you? If someone gave you a task involving someone else, how good would you be at influencing that person to do what you wanted him or her to do.
Do you believe that skills that these can be learned and developed?
Absolutely. Because I think you can break them all down into their components, and whilst some of them can be learnt through experience, most of them you can work on if you have a chance.
What professional skills do you look for in your current role?
We still look for all these 4. It’s a general template you can use for the jobs we have, but in addition we look for specific technical skills like IT literacy, PowerPoint, Excel, these kinds of things… to finance to hands-on experience with strategy or business development.
Do you think the requirements for graduate skills have changed since your first graduate position?
I’m not sure. I think the basics will still be the same. In some respects it has definitely changed; two very obvious ones come to mind… the fact that, for example, people are using things like PowerPoint from the age of 7 (at least my kids did). That doesn’t necessarily mean that people have all the skills in terms of things like structuring, but at least they have basic knowledge of it. The second is the accessibility to information and data and the importance, in that sense, of being able to discern and synthesise a vast amount of data. Twenty years ago people would be struggling to get the right data, that’s not the problem anymore.
If there was a student in St Andrews thinking about joining the Professional Skills Curriculum, what would you say to them? Does it make a difference to employers?
I think it makes a real difference. I’d say definitely leadership, time management, professional conduct, resilience… all these things may not come out at the moment of recruitment. It may be hard to tell the employer “I have a certificate in time management,” and the employer may not even put value on it but I think it does come out in real life after they get hired. They would move a lot quicker in their own development if they actually knew these things because some people have to learn the hard way.