On one of those dismal wet Sundays on what has now been confirmed as the wettest winter on record, I curled up with a mound of 28 applications on my lap. These were from people applying to join Building Foundations, Moat's new personal development course designed for people at the early stages of their careers.
Each had been asked to write 500 words summarising why they deserved a place on this much coveted foundation course. Having given some thought to my own set of shortlisting criteria, I decided to score marks out of ten for applications that were engaging and easy to read and for narratives that gripped me from beginning to end. I also awarded marks where enthusiasm, excitement and passion were evident - criteria matching what I look for in new recruits to my team. Other criteria included willingness to learn and develop, as well as a sense of ambition or drive to succeed.
Highlighter in hand, I read through and marked up each of the applications. Engaging? Check. Easy to read? More like thoroughly absorbing. Narratives that gripped me? You bet. Top scores abounded. This was proving more fun than I'd anticipated but the selection process was getting tougher with each read.
The amount of talent brimming from each of the applications was impressive. Most of the candidates had never gone to university but were studying for NVQs, or had achieved them and were adding more to their collection. Interestingly, applications from Moat's intake of young apprentices stood head and shoulders above most of the others - with some exceptions, obviously!.
Some things I read invoked an unexpected response. I'd find myself grabbing a woollen jumper to combat the goose bumps inspired by talent shining through or when I recognised myself, some years ago, in these young people at the early stages of their careers. Talent in abundance. Ambition and drive overflowing. Desire to develop and grow. If ever there was evidence that young people are the antithesis of the lazy, lethargic stereotype in the media, this was it.
On the other hand, hints of low confidence and self-esteem were also prevalent. This didn't surprise me, given the age and career profile of most of the candidates. Whatever your age, I'm sure you can think back to your own uncertainties and anxieties when you started out. Despite my career since, recognised as one of the 2013 finalists in the First Women Awards in association with Lloyds Banking Group last year; back in the day I had all the ambition but without the confidence borne of experience. I've highlighted this issue of building confidence since shortlisting, so that provision is made in the content of Building Foundations.
It's human nature to apply some bias when going through any kind of official judging process and I'm not immune. I tried hard not to be biased towards people in my own team - of which there was a significant proportion - or towards people I know vs those I don't. But to be honest, that stopped being an issue once I'd read a few applications and immersed myself in the wealth of talent on offer.
One of the young people included a quote in her application; poignant words captured from Moat's chief executive at our annual staff conference:
"Do not wait for solutions. Play your part in creating them."
A few days later when I joined others on the shortlisting panel, there wasn't unanimous agreement on who should go through. With only 12 places on offer, and all of us passionate about the applications we'd read, the ensuing discussion was proof positive of these young people's promise, ambition and talent. 17 of the original 28 were shortlisted and these will soon present to a panel (me included) who will choose 12 to go forwards into the programme.
I look forward to this next round. I'm confident that those in who I saw a spark of something special won't disappoint. I shall watch these people from the side-lines as their talent, and their careers develop and they morph into our future leaders. If this bunch of young people is typical across the industry then we can breathe easy - our future is in safe hands.
The First Women Awards in association with Lloyds Banking Group are calling for entries until Friday 4 April.