One of the main reasons given by students for going to university is to get a good job afterwards, but with around 500,000 people graduating each year the job market is extremely competitive. A university course will help you develop some of the skills that employers are looking for, but you need more than a degree certificate to get a graduate-level job.
Companies want to see other achievements as well as qualifications, and they also want to make sure you have the right employability skills to be able to do the job – such as being a good communicator, an ability to work in a team and being able to solve problems. A positive attitude, enthusiasm and adaptability are also seen as important as you will have a lot to learn when you start your first graduate job.
Here are ten tips to help make yourself more employable and stand out from the crowd.
1. Get involved in university life
Whether you enjoy sport, culture, dance or just going out and having fun, your university will have a club or society just for you. Besides meeting new people you can learn new skills, particularly if you are involved in organising events or take on a leadership role in the society.
2. Ask careers for professional advice
Many people leave visiting the careers service until they have nearly finished their course but it is better if you can work with it from your first year. It can help you choose a suitable career and advise what employers are looking for in a new recruit. Also make sure you get advice on your CV and attend a session to practice your interview or assessment techniques. First impressions are important and a simple spelling mistake or poor presentation can mean your CV ends up in the reject pile.
3. Keep a record
It is easy to forget all that you have learnt while you are at university. You will have a record of your grades but you also need to be able to tell employers the skills you have developed and how you use them. Employers like practical examples so it is useful to keep a record of your personal development highlighting activities you have been involved in and what you have gained from them.
Get involved. Soundsnaps/www.shutterstock.com
4. Work hard and get good grades
While high grades aren’t everything many organisations, such as Unilever, still ask for a 2.1 degree as a minimum. Also check out if the company asks for specific UCAS points as it will immediately reject you if you fall below its minimum entry criteria.
Companies like employing people who have given their time for free as it shows you are prepared to help others to try to make a difference. You can volunteer through the university or contact local organisations. If you don’t have time to volunteer every week you may be able to help out on a special project such as renovating a community centre or running a fundraising event.
6. Work experience
Many students work part-time but gaining work experience as part of your degree really improves your employment opportunities. Whether it is a short internship or a 12-month sandwich placement you will be gaining hands-on, practical experience. It can lead to jobs too: a third of students employed by the top 100 graduate recruiters have already worked for the organisation.
It’s not what you know it’s who you know. Attend careers fairs and company presentations to speak to the people involved in recruiting graduates. Also create a professional social media profile. LinkedIn is the largest network though there may be others specific to the industry you want to enter, for example the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development if you want to work in HR.
8. Understand the graduate job market
Each organisation has its own approach to recruitment so research the company and tailor your application to it. Top graduate recruiters such as PwC, Unilever and DHL have early closing dates before Christmas while smaller companies looking for individual graduates will want you to start work almost immediately after you finish your degree in the summer. Timing your applications and fitting them around your exams/ coursework is therefore important.
9. Be flexible and mobile
If you are prepared to move you will increase the number of jobs that you can apply for. Many of the large graduate schemes will move you around the organisation during training so being mobile is essential for them.
10. Be confident
If you get through to the later stages of interviews and assessment centres remember you have earned the right to be there. The company has seen potential in you and wants to find out more. If you don’t get offered the job, ask for feedback on your performance, learn from it and move on. There is a job out there for everyone you just need to be persistent to find the right one for you.
2020 isn’t that far away. As a professional, have you been paying attention to the changes happening in your workplace and how they are affecting you? How has your role evolved over the past five years? Do you consider yourself skilled for the jobs of the future? Do you even know what those jobs might be?
The World Economic Forum reports that you need the ten skills listed below to thrive in 2020:
- Complex problem solving.
- Critical thinking.
- People management.
- Coordinating with others.
- Emotional intelligence.
- Judgment and decision making.
- Service orientation.
- Cognitive flexibility.
The ten skills on this list make sense for the age that we are living in. But are those skills enough for you to succeed?
In 2014, I attended a lecture at the University of Toronto, where Marty Neumeier talked about the Rules of Genius. An important insight from his lecture was the definition of the four types of work. These are:
Creative: Unique, imaginative, non-routine, and autonomous.
Skilled: Standardized, talent-driven, professional, and directed.
Rote: Interchangeable, routinized, outsourceable, and managed.
Robotic: Algorithmic, computerized, efficient, and purchased.
Of these, you want to focus on creative work, because that is where you are likely to remain employable. Every professional can be creative in the work she does. When you work your craft, you are creating art. In his speech, Neumeier said:
“It is important to keep learning. Others cannot duplicate or reproduce your original work. If you want to be original, you have to become an inventor and build the foundation to the structure of your invention from scratch.”
You might have started to realize that you will need more than the ten skills listed earlier. Alvin Toffler once said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
In some instances, relearning could be adapting what you know to a new reality. Take cell phones as an example. When they first came out, they were used solely as communications devices. Convergence happened, and now our smartphones are minicomputers. People had to relearn how to use a phone.
In terms of work, you will have to adapt some of your skills to the jobs of the future, and you will also have to learn new skills. Here are the additional skills that you will need to succeed in 2020.
Learning how to learn.
Since skills are constantly changing, you have to learn how to learn. This concept is so important that they had a dedicated course on Coursera.
Speed reading and reading intelligently.
Don’t stop reading. Since continuous learning has to be a part of your life, and I recommend that you include reading books, you must learn how to speed read and read intelligently.
Note-taking is a form of learning, and there is an art to it. It also leads directly to the next skill on the list.
When you take good and detailed notes, you can review them to pick out the big ideas, understand, and make sense of information.
Spotting patterns and trends.
I recommend that you combine ideas from the different books that you read. By doing this, you may be able to spot ideas and trends. The beauty of technology is that you can copy and paste, move blocks of text around, and group information differently, giving you a new perspective.
Communicating – written and oral.
Even with very different books, you can combine ideas that once seemed unrelated. With your newfound ideas, you have to be able to communicate them to influencers, who can help you to shape and implement them.
Understanding and leveraging technology.
Technology is changing at an unprecedented pace, so you need to understand and keep on top of it. Sometimes it’s better to read articles in respected technology journals, as books may become quickly outdated.
Cultural awareness and sensitivity.
As a black woman, this is very important to me. As workplaces become globalized, we have to learn how to get along with those who are different from us. There is a lot of fear-mongering happening today, and different groups are marginalized. Imagine what would happen if you explored books that focused on other people and cultures. Read books to understand other experiences.
You may be familiar with reading challenges already, but have you ever participated in one? I created the Strategic Reading Challenge, wherein you read books for career development to master a list of professional skills needed in the workplace. I invite you to join a reading challenge and invite friends to join with you, so you can discuss the books you read with them. This will help accelerate your learning.
I know of successful people who read for three to four hours each day, but in the real world, few people can do that. You will accomplish a lot by reading for about an hour every day.
Will you take up the challenge?