We sat down with Barry Dawson, Operations Director from security services company Wilson James, to reflect on how he built a successful career and his advice for those who are just starting out. Wilson James is a corporate partner of the DofE.
How did you find your career path?
“When I left education at 19, I wanted a career in the insurance sector, and hadn’t thought about security services. I fell into my career through sheer luck and, although it was contrary to what I thought I wanted, I began to really enjoy my role.”
“By finding the industry and role that suited me, I’ve been able to stay in the sector for 32 years, growing my technical knowledge and progressing in seniority. My advice would be to explore all industries and avenues that interest you, and find what elements are necessary for you to be satisfied in a career, then ensure any roles you apply for include these elements.”
Do you need to go to university? What qualifications do you need to be successful in your industry?
“I didn’t go to university and went straight into my first role. I don’t believe university is the only important element to put on a CV. I’ve been in the security industry for a long time and don’t have a single professional security qualification to my name.”
“There are lots of options out there for young people today to gather skills and experience. It’s best to do your research and find out what qualifications and experience you need to pursue the career you want. Having practical experience, knowledge and passion have helped me in being successful in my career.”
When you’re interviewing candidates who are just starting out, what skills, qualities and experience do you look for?
“People who can demonstrate they have experience, knowledge, passion and honesty are always top on my list when interviewing. It’s important to understand that someone who is just starting their career isn’t going to have a huge amount of experience, but if they can demonstrate they have the right skill set to help them succeed, this provides a good insight into how they would perform in the role.”
“It’s also important that there is a good cultural fit between the company and the candidate. At the end of an interview I always ask, “how would your friends describe you in only three words?”. This helps give an indication into how the candidate views themselves and what their top priorities are.”
What advice would you give someone who is worried their anxiety will stop them being successful at work?
“I used to worry about networking, delivering presentations and felt intimidated by others because of their job title. Now, after growing in confidence, I’m not so anxious about meeting new people or delivering presentations to 200 people. I still get nervous and that’s a good thing because it keeps me focused. I have friends who have had anxiety but now lead their own companies or are in high pressure senior roles.”
“It’s important to know that as well as working hard, you also need to know when to switch off and relax. When people start out in their career, I suggest finding a hobby to help them unwind.”
How do you think doing the DofE can help with respect to careers?
“The DofE is an incredible learning opportunity when you are young, it fills in the gaps which a textbook can’t. It provides a safe space to learn new skills, try new activities, make mistakes and learn from them. All of these skills are hugely beneficial in different work environments.”
“I also feel strongly that throughout life, you need to discover who you are, your passions and your talents, and committing to your DofE can help you to find out what your values are. Trying new activities, volunteering for a cause and even just getting some fresh air – all will help you to become a more rounded individual, which employers like me are looking for.”
What advice would you give your past self?
“Take every opportunity offered to you! From attending networking events, to taking on new roles and responsibilities, or starting your DofE journey, making the most of chances to develop and learn is key to succeeding in any career. I was offered lots of opportunities in my early career and didn’t make the most of this. I now grab every learning and development opportunity that I can and it’s helped me get to where I am now.”