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What do young behavioural scientists want in a job?

Apr 17 2024 • 4 min read

Have you ever wondered what factors are most important to you in a job? Maybe it’s the money? Or the calibre of people you might get to work with? Or perhaps the perks that go along with the role (the travel or the free bar?). Have you also wondered why you have so rarely been asked this question by someone that might want to offer you a job?

We decided that it would be worth addressing this oversight by asking this question to hundreds of Behavioural Science Masters students who attended the recent careers fair, jointly organised by the universities of Warwick, Cambridge, UCL, and LSE (and sponsored by CogCo).

We asked students “What factors are really important to you in the jobs you apply to”, and gathered responses with our own, in-house tool (“Ekota”), which lets participants offer their views by responding to the headline question, and to very quickly “agree”, “pass”, or “disagree” with the many opinions submitted by others (see the three screenshots below from the mobile version of the platform).

We wanted to share what we discovered, in the spirit of helping anyone interested in recruiting behavioural scientists to focus on the things that are most important. And to feed back to those of you reading this who took part in the Ekota ‘conversation’.

There were three things that almost all Behavioural Science Masters students said were really important to them.

The first thing on the list was on-the-job learning and mentoring. The behavioural science students who participated in the Ekota conversation were unanimous in their view that being given opportunities to “expand skills/interests” was really important in a new job. But they also made it clear that this ideally needs to be accompanied by “expert guidance” and support to develop these skills was equally important, in particular when they are first starting out. These sentiments echo recent findings from the PwC Global Workforce Survey, which showed that the vast majority of Gen Z (12-27) are looking to acquire new skills. But we think that it is typically under-emphasised in job adverts for graduate jobs, which tend to focus on expectations from the new recruits, rather than what they might expect to learn when starting out.

The second area that students emphasised as being really important focused on a positive work environment. This was picked up by behavioural science students across a number of different responses. But it included stressing the importance of a strong “work culture”; a “willingness to understand mental health issues”; and “ethical considerations for project work”. These sentiments echo recent work for Forbes on different ways in which companies can create a positive work environment, which focus on the importance of a clear ethos and values for the organisation. And clear working practices that enable employees to live up to these values. Otherwise, as is too often the case, a company’s values become words written on a wall, rather than a set of principles that guide and underpin all working practices.

The third thing that students called for was openness and transparency. So while 78% of the students said that it was important to receive a “competitive salary”, there was even higher support (93%) for the idea that the job offer should mention “the exact salary on offer, instead of saying it is ‘competitive”. Similar support was expressed for roles in which there are “clear progression opportunities”. In other words, they don’t just want to know what a salary and job description is on day one, but clarity and openness about where a new job will lead them to in one or two year’s time. This is why at CogCo we have complete transparency about pay (applicants know what the salary for a role is; and employees know exactly what people at different levels will be paid); and a clear set of expectations about when individuals can expect to be considered for promotion.

There were, of course, some more practical considerations that were put forward by respondents. For some people, but not others, for example, the ability to sponsor a visa is really important. For some people, but not others, the location of the office is a critical factor. But what was striking about the findings from this Ekota conversation was how much emphasis was placed on those issues which have a direct effect upon employee wellbeing. Such as the support you receive from your colleagues, doing work you find interesting, and having the chance to learn new skills.

So you will no doubt be delighted to learn that these are exactly the kinds of opportunities you do routinely receive as a new recruit at CogCo. We might just start emphasising them all a bit more in our upcoming job adverts!

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