With 26% of graduates now earning a first class degree alongside another 49% achieving a 2.1, it’s very difficult to stand out from the crowd. This means that alongside your academic success, you need to demonstrate to employers that you are suitable for the role you are applying for through the skills that you’ve got. (Please see our blog ‘What skills do you need as a graduate’ for more info on these.) Your degree gives you some of those skills and you’ll also gain them from any extra-curricular activities and work experience that you do. Here we have a look at how you’ll gain skills throughout your university degree and how you can develop those you feel are your weaknesses.
Inside the classroom
Research is the ability to collate, synthesise, analyse and clearly present information found and this skill can add value to all organisations. All degrees will involve an element of research and independent learning, and this can be talked about in interviews.
It’s likely that some of your project work at university will centre around group projects. By doing these you’ll develop team working skills, projects management skills, leadership, enterprise, persuasion and other verbal communication skills. Use your group work to think about what role suits you best within the team and how this relates to the world of work, and what you would like to develop.
Presentations are likely to be the bane of your life, however once you’ve powered through they give you lots of new skills. These include resilience (you never thought you would do so well!), self management, verbal and written communication to get across your key points effectively and efficiently and application of IT.
Exams can help you demonstrate to employers how you are able to work under pressure. Firstly you have the time constraint of your actual exam, however you’ll also be using your self management skills to use your time wisely so that you’ve revised as best you can for each exam.
Case study/problem based analysis
You may be on a degree course, such as law, medicine or business, where you are presented with a scenario and then have to use your critical thinking, analytical and problem solving skills not only to identify key challenges, but to make recommendations based on your current knowledge. Similar case studies are directly used in graduate interviews, and, demanding on the case study at hand, they can demonstrate to employers your problem solving skills, application of numeracy and data analysis, enterprise, and research skills and ability to use a range of sources of information.
Essays & reports
Essays and reports underpin a lot of university study and can be used to demonstrate a number of skills to potential employers. Underpinning these essays and reports is the use of written communication, being about to put your message and argument across in a clear and concise manner. If you’ve a number of essays and reports to juggle, you can also tell your employers how you dealt with this to evidence your time management, while you’ll also be able to talk about your research skills and ability to use a range of sources of information.
In the sciences, you might spend some of your university life in the lab and they are a great way to gain valuable, sought after skills. It’s likely that you won’t be undertaking your experiments on your own so there’s firstly an element of team work and verbal communication skills. And what if it all goes wrong? As long as you can justify your answers, you can also talk to employers about your problem solving skills, research, enterprise and creativity, time management, ability to work under pressure, and resilience. And remember that lab work doesn’t stop in the lab - you also have to write up your findings. Here you can use lab work to evidence your written communication and ability to write in scientific paper format for a specific audience, and your ability to use data analysis software in determining your results.
With global awareness being an important factor in the 21st century, there’s no better way to gain this by taking a year abroad to either work or study. You’ll gain an insight into how other people live, the markets and other forces that affect them and develop strategies for communication that you don’t have the opportunity to at home.
Most universities offer a number of workshops to help you find your feet in academic life. These may include:
- Study skills, such as critical thinking and writing, speed reading techniques, note taking and learning how to organise your time.
- Writing skills, such as essay writing, literature reviews and scientific writing
- Referencing skills
- Researching skills, such as how to use academic journals and archives
- Research and analysis skills, such as how to design surveys and use programmes such as SPSS
- Presentation skills
- IT skills
If you feel as though any of these skills are not up to scratch, take the opportunity to sign up for one of these workshops.
Nowadays companies such as General assembly, EdX, Lynda, Udemy, FutureLearn, Coursera offer the ability to learn new skills and knowledge at little to no extra cost. As knowledge and technology is changing so quickly, what you learn in the classroom might not necessarily be relevant. Are there any short courses that can be beneficial to your future career or complement your degree? These could include language courses, programming courses, marketing courses or courses in business planning? Find out more through our online course homepage.
Outside the classroom
Enterprise hubs & societies
Do you have an idea you want to explore? Most universities now have an enterprise centre where you can test out ideas and gain business support. Even if your plan doesn't work, you can show employers what you have achieved, and demonstrate your ability to research an idea, communicate that idea of potential customers and clients, problem solve, be creative and entrepreneurial, be resilient to set backs, and have the motivation to do something a little bit different.
Student union societies and clubs
Your students’ union will have a wealth of activities you can join in with depending on what your interests are, what you are studying or what you want to learn. It’s also a great way to meet new people. General skills you’ll develop include team working, verbal communication, self management and emotional intelligence. Most societies also elected or appointed posts, such as president, marketing, treasurer, or events coordinator etc. and if you apply for one of these posts you could develop leadership skills, project management, events management, budgeting, and networking skills. If you think you are lacking a skill and have an interest in a particular area, student union societies, including the student union council, sports clubs and student media, are the best places to hone them.
Being a course rep involves being the voice of students on your course at academic course management meetings. Course reps are encouraged to seek out the views and opinions of their fellow students and let the course team know what issues students are facing. Being a course rep is a great way to develop your management skills such as gathering and preparing information before a meeting, informing students of your role and your willingness to represent them, your ability to communicate with senior course management, network, listen, gather opinions and communicate at various levels.
Travelling and working abroad is a great way to demonstrate your global awareness. As well as they general skills you’ll develop, travelling can show that you are resilient and willing to seize an opportunity. You’ll also return with a better appreciation of cultural differences, and gain an insight into how other people live, the markets and other forces that affect them, and develop strategies for communication that you don’t have the opportunity to at home.
Don’t undermine the fact that you spend a few hours of your week behind a bar or stacking supermarket shelves. They may not be glamorous, and give you experience directly related to the career you are interested in, but a part-time job will do wonders for your CV. A part-time job shows that you are reliable, and with an especially long service record can show that you can communicate with both customers and fellow staff, work well in a team, can juggle your time, and in some cases offer you that all important business and customer awareness. Take the opportunity to volunteer for extra responsibilities to show your commitment, dedication and ability to excel. A part-time job is also a great way to gain that all important first reference.
Whether you volunteer once a week for an hour or a couple of days over Christmas, volunteering offers you a wide range of opportunities to undertake and develop an array of skills and the chance experience various career options. It can also give you a sense of achievement and boost your confidence. As there are so many different elements to volunteering, think about what you want to get out of your experience, what specific skill or experience will be useful to you in your working life? For example, if you are thinking of becoming a primary schoolteacher you could volunteer at a holiday club, where your experience can help you talk about the ways in which you’ve learnt to communicate with children and help them through tricky situations such as arguments or help them to gain confidence. You can find volunteering opportunities through your university career service and websites such as Do It.
With relevant work experience being one of the most important factors that graduate employers look for, previous work experience in a relevant field is necessary, regardless of the degree grade you are going to achieve. Work experience could take the form of a placement, internship or work shadowing.
As well as the general skills you’ll gain through work experience, you’ll also gain valuable business and commercial awareness. This includes understanding key competitors and their position in the market, an ability to convert constantly about market trends and speculate about the future and knowledge of historical cyclical trends which shapes the marketplace in your chosen industry.
Work experience is also a great way to understand what your strengths are and where there’s room for improvement, as well as being a way to test drive your career choices.
Personal development planning
In work, at the end of every 6 months or a year, you’ll have a review with your boss, where you can reflect on where and how you’ve come along in that time, what you need to improve and what you are doing well at, and what goals you should set yourself for the following year. The ability to carry out these tasks, think about your future, and grow are great assets to have, and there is no better time than in uni to set yourself challenges to work to. Personal development planning can help you develop your resilience in the fact of set backs, problem solving skills, and self management.