Take A Good Look At Yourself
Now you know what employers are looking for, you should start to think about situations where you have acquired, or might do so in future, these much sought-after skills. Ideally, you will be able to draw upon a variety of activities to show off your expertise and experience: your academic studies, extra curricular activities, sporting achievements, volunteering and holiday/ weekend jobs. Remember, employers don’t want you to tell them that you have these skills – they want to see that you have them.
Start Your Employability Checklist Now
It is never too early to start working on your employability skills. Think about each skills area and start a Checklist: where you can, pick relevant examples of experience that you have gained to date and write them down. Use the Checklist to identify gaps and set about filling them. Make sure the Checklist is dynamic- as you get more/ better examples keep updating the Checklist. Remember, the more examples the better because you may want to use different examples for different job applications in future.
Verbal Communication Skills: don’t rely on what you have done in your studies to show off these skills ( as everyone will have done the same!). Useful ways to demonstrate these skills include extra curricular activities (drama groups, public speaking, debating clubs, student radio presenter, class rep, student mentor) and practical work experience: working as a receptionist, in telesales or market research, demonstrating products in store. Look for opportunities to speak in front of an audience and, if need be, make your own opportunities: volunteer to talk at a local school about what you learnt on your gap year or host a presentation to raise money for charity on a topic about which you are really passionate. If you are involved in a charity, try and persuade a Company to support it – nothing impresses employers more than a good salesman!
Written Communication Skills:again, using just coursework to demonstrate your skills might not impress. Writing a dissertation looks good but do try and have a range of other examples in your portfolio: as Secretary of a club you will have written minutes and reports:if you volunteer for a charity offer to write some promotional material or a letter seeking sponsorship; write articles for the student or local press, on-line magazines or blogs or, better still, start your own blog. You could write a speech for a friend, instructions for a piece of kit or game, get a letter published in the Times, If you have a part time job, offer to write a press release for the local paper. If you haven’t had to do much writing in your studies, think about taking a short course such as this free one from MIT or find a good book such as Penguin Writers’ Guides: Writing for Business by Chris Shevlin.
Teamwork: playing in a team or orchestra, being part of a drama production and completing the Duke of Edinburgh Award are obvious quick wins here but do think about the kind of information employers might be looking for. Try and find other examples too: have you worked in an office or shop supporting a team? Maybe you have taken part in a voluntary project where you had a specific role? Maybe you have worked on a collaborative project such as Greenpower? Being able and willing to collaborate is something all employers will want to see – just make sure you have something to say here! If you haven’t got much experience of team working, get together with friends and brainstorm some ideas: put on a charity event, organise a clear up of litter from the school or college campus, tackle a local environmental issue, set up a student swop shop. Look to have a team of 8-10 and give each person a defined role and allocated tasks. Draw up a project plan –and away you go.The project doesn’t have to go smoothly as long as you learn from the experience and everyone contributes.
Commercial Awareness: we talk a lot about this because it is so important nowadays. Not only do you need to read the papers (including the business sections), you should start to pick up (and understand) some of the jargon: mission statements, competitive advantage, customer value proposition, stakeholders, IPO, liquidity, benchmarking – to name just a few. If you have been involved in Young Enterprise you will score well here and being the Treasurer of a club looks good on your CV too. The most important thing you can do is get a part time job because it gives you first hand experience and the opportunity to ask questions. Look for opportunities where you can save money or increase sales for your employer and ask them about the major business issues they face. If you work in a local cafe or shop, you will be surprised at how many issues even a small company faces today. And don’t forget your parents and their friends. Talk to them about what they do and what issues their organisation faces – they will provide great input into the the bigger commercial picture that you should start framing in your head. They may also form the foundations of your early ‘business network‘ – when you look at them in that light, maybe they are not so boring after all!
Analysis and Research: this is one area where you may struggle to find extra curricular examples. If you have taken part in a Raleigh International project, that looks good, as does playing chess, getting a vacation job in market research and analysing your own website stats. If need be, undertake your own piece of research and analysis or volunteer to get involved locally: maybe your local Council needs some help with their Local Plan, a local charity could use some help better understanding their donor market or perhaps you could work with a local school to assess traffic problems at drop off time?
Planning and Organising: organising your revision schedule, especially if you have lots of extra curricular commitments, is an obvious example. But again, look for examples outside the academic sphere. Have you been stage manager for a play? Have you organised a charity event, a concert, student union activities (although protests don’t always go down well with employers!)? Maybe you have planned and undertaken a gap year trip involving lots of independent travel? Remember what employers are looking for here and, if you haven’t organised a large scale activity, start planning one now! Find a local charity and pool the skills/ talents of your friends: a charity talent show, sponsored activity, fun day for disadvantaged children, concert for the elderly, poetry slam for local teenagers. Use your imagination and go for it!
Time Management: taking on extra activities whilst studying hard really does show that you can manage your time well (as well as showing that you are not just a swot!). Have you made time outside of your studies to learn something new (whether it be a sport, language, technical skill)? Maybe you have combined studying with caring duties or a part time job? Or perhaps you make time each weekend to follow your passion whether that be a sport, art, theatre or music? What you do in your vacations also matters: just hanging out with mates all the time doesn’t look good – it shows a lack of drive and a desire to coast, neither of which will go down well with employers. If you are stuck for something to do – take a course, volunteer at your local charity shop or get a job. But make sure you do something!
Numeracy: the chances are that if you prepare yourself in the other areas, you will be using some maths in a practical context. If you have a part time job, ask to help with cashing up at the end of the day. If you have organised a charity event, you will have had to work out the costs and the profit made on ticket sales. If you help with some market research you should be familiar with basic stats. If you are already a student, budgeting and managing your loan are important (unless you are always overdrawn which doesn’t look good!). If maths has never been a strong point, try The Economist’s Numbers Guide for a straightforward introduction to what you might be expected to know – it really isn’t that difficult.
IT: hopefully you will have no problems here! Many employers feel that students are over qualified in this area but that they focus their energy and talent too much on social media. You will be expected to be able to produce basic spreadsheets so get in the habit of using them to plan your budget, record and analyse your expenditure, as well as using them for any fund raising activities you take part in. If you don’t already, use a simple database for all your personal and ‘business’ contacts. Make sure you are well versed in at least one presentation package and ideally, you should be able to put together graphic material such as posters, invitations, infographics. Obviously, some careers will demand a much higher level of IT skills but they make it very clear before you apply. Again, if you are not sufficiently techsavvy – make doing a short course a holiday priority. But please note: your CV is not the place to show off your IT skills!
Self Motivation and Drive: if you can provide several examples in all of the above areas – or you are prepared to do something to plug the gaps, then you are probably doing OK here. What really impresses employers is when you can show that you really stick at something, even when you are not enjoying it. Have you taken part time jobs that you didn’t enjoy but still managed to do to the best of your ability? Maybe you started studying a subject for A level and found that you really didn’t like it – but you still managed to get a good grade? Perhaps you have trained for a half marathon even though you hate running – but kept at it because you had been sponsored to do it? Pushing yourself that extra mile, especially when you don’t need too – that’s what impresses employers!
Adaptable and Open-Minded: Independent travel, doing shift work, stepping in to a play/ team/band/job at the last minute are all good examples of being flexible. So are learning something completely new, volunteering in an uncomfortable environment (and it doesn’t have to be somewhere exotic!), working with people you would not normally spend time with (e.g the elderly) and working abroad. If you have collaborated on major projects or worked in an area where you need to research and test something, you have probably had to keep an open mind about the process and the outcome. Or maybe you have visited a controversial country or interviewed a controversial figure to check them out for yourself? Perhaps you have attended a meeting about an unpopular issue – not because you wanted to champion one side of the argument but because you genuinely wanted to hear both sides? It doesn’t always have to be about the big things but be prepared for questions in an interview that seek out whether you can adapt to change, are willing to work with all sorts of different people and are not going to bring a load of baggage with you when you join the company.
Creative Thinking: we are thinking more Edward de Bono than Damien Hirst here! Employers want creative problem solvers, people who can see better ways of doing things and are prepared to get up and do something about it. If you volunteer with a charity come up with a new way of fund raising or recruiting more people like you. If you have a part time job, make suggestions (politely) about how things could be improved – don’t just moan about the way things are done now. If you haven’t been able to find a job,start a small ebay business. If there isn’t a local club, society or blog in an area you are passionate about, start one yourself. If there is a issue at school/Uni that you and your friends get worked up about, sit down together with the powers that be and find a workable solution. For a great example of creative thinking, check out how Formula 1 pit stops helps to save lives at Great Ormond Street hospital.
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