All Students

How to Become a Professional, Future-Proof Graduate

theuniversityblog professional future-proof graduate

When you’re stressed out and too busy to do all the things, what’s the first thing you would drop?

Students shun extra-curricular activities in favour of good grades, according to a GetRevising poll. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they felt pressured by others to drop activities so they could perform better in exams and coursework.

When worried parents tell me their child puts professional projects first, they think it’s a bad thing.

Who is right? Those who ignore the activities or those who prioritise them?

How about understanding priorities across the board?

Priorities do change and you need to keep in mind WHY you’re doing all the things you’ve chosen to do. If it’s not good use of your time and you spend too much time on frivolous activities and fun, drop something!

But when you’re developing important new skills and building a portfolio of great work, why would you want to drop that?

You want the best grade possible. You also want to spend enough time doing new things. I’d choose a 2:1 and relatable experiences over a First and little else to showcase.

I’ll tell you what this DOES NOT mean:

  • Doing new things for the sake of new;
  • Too many new activities all at once;
  • No engagement with study because you’re spending all your time on other work.

What I DO mean is working toward one or two targeted activities that you can capitalise on.

Whatever ‘capitalise’ means for you, that is a big deal. I’m not just talking money, but experience, relationships, learning, and so on.

looking beyond

Looking beyond the degree

You’re paying for the academic side of university. You may think non-academic ventures could be conducted some other time. But university is a great place to encounter these frameworks.

What you get from university is far more than what you actually pay for. Not everything grows on fees.

Maybe this is a contextual problem. Perhaps the ‘degree’ should be packaged as more than the degree. Pathik Pathak suggests:

“I’d argue that the best way for universities to foster borderless skills is by embedding opportunities for entrepreneurship into a student’s experience of higher education. To do so, university curricula will need to evolve to fuse disciplinary knowledge with applications outside the classroom, fostering an appetite for continuous learning where skills are constantly reconfigured to match the size and shape of new problems.”

Universities could do more than extol the virtues of university life beyond study.

By bringing more into play for students, professional development can become an intrinsic choice.

Would you feel more at ease if you could make extra-curricular activities part of your academic intention while you’re in higher education?

University life should continue embracing learning for the sake of learning. Future employability is important for many, but shouldn’t overtake learning at its core.

At the same time, by introducing optional modules and activities with inherent industry benefit, these elements can be part of the ‘degree process’ even when they’re not explicitly part of your subject.

This matters for employers as well as students. A Guardian editorial last year makes the case:

“…a fifth of graduates are not in graduate-level employment three years after leaving university, employers complain that they still struggle to recruit people with the skills and qualifications they need, and the next generation of final-year school students will be looking with dismay at some universities’ student satisfaction ratings while contemplating the burden of leaving university with a debt of at least £27,000. And from next September, the grants that supported the poorest students and have done so much to widen access are being replaced with loans.”

This is why you need to make the most of your time at university.

Everything you do makes a difference. It’s not worth waiting to get your act into gear just before (or worse, after) you graduate. The time to strike is right now.

big picture story

Stories and big pictures

What are the two or three big items on your agenda for impact? This is more about planning than passion.

You don’t always need to name-drop big companies on your CV. You need a narrative.

Build the story of you and tell it from the rooftops.

More could be done to help you do this. Tristram Hooley states:

“What is lacking is access to the career education, advice and guidance that might help young people to actually engage with it and make sense of it.”

If you can’t make sense of things yourself, how do you make anything clear to employers?

It’s no wonder grades get precedence over everything else. It sounds right, it makes sense, and it’s what you pay for. But it can also be limiting, misunderstood, and wrong in some cases.

There’s a difference between struggling with academic work and spending less time on academic work. Struggling needs urgent treatment and support, while consciously limiting time is a subjective matter.

I’ve seen some students plan out their moves like a game of chess. They are several moves ahead and playing the long game. Study only suffers a little, but the payoff is much bigger in the grand scheme of things. The pros outweigh the cons by a wide margin.

A big picture attitude is hard to fake. You don’t fall into it by accident. It needs work and willpower. But it’s worth making a few small changes so you can focus on the outcomes you want from student and graduate life.

In other words, current priorities have to tie in with future priorities, otherwise you have a mismatch.

Without a match, you get into trouble when you reach the next point on your roadmap. You realise too late that your priorities don’t reflect the person you wanted to be after graduation.

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Separate to shape

One way to begin shaping your narrative and honing your professional persona could be to separate the extra-curricular and the professional.

I tend to call anything outside the degree as ‘extra-curricular’. This could be a mistake.

A survey asked recruiters what they are looking for in graduates. Recruiters (and the survey) saw ‘professional experience’ as separate to ‘extra-curricular activities’.

That’s not to say you can’t get professional experience from clubs and societies. But it does highlight the need to tell your story effectively. Especially when activities aren’t always considered so important by employers.

Over 40% of recruiters want to see professional experience from graduate applicants. Yet a mere 10% were interested in extra-curricular activities.

To impress recruiters, emphasise the business qualities of your experiences, wherever they occurred.

That means highlighting your achievements and framing what you’ve done through examples and a narrative flow. You’ll impress more when you frame your achievements in the context of professional development.

Language makes a difference. And story captures more than a list of facts.

At the same time, recruiters also said in the survey that cover letters are the least interesting thing in their search for candidates.

What, no cover letters!?

Isn’t that where you can bring your story out most?

Don’t let the mixed message confuse you. I wouldn’t suggest you abandon cover letters yet.

Just make sure to work on story and flow in your CV and other supporting documents too. At the least, give examples of your skills through professional examples.

And find ways to express them in something other than a list format. A short sentence to provide detail of each of your most important skills may be all you need to set yourself apart.

Better still, build your online portfolio and provide access to your achievements in different formats. Not every role out there comes about through a CV or application form.

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Keep refining your story

You may still be uncertain whether to focus all your time on study, or whether to dedicate a bit more time on building a professional portfolio. The survey did find that UK employers are more likely to focus on grades than recruiters elsewhere in the world. Yet that still only accounted for less than a seventh of respondents.

You’ll always find some people who look at a single metric and won’t deviate. And some applications slip through because a computer rejects a certain piece of information. But these are not the norm and you don’t know the criteria anyway. Unknowns like these shouldn’t sway your long-term priorities.

Keep refining your story and keep developing your skillset. Although your degree results are important, they are just one part of the bigger picture.

Consider all your priorities and make sure they match with each other.

The second part of TheUniversityBlog’s tagline says, “Be the student you deserve to be“. To do that you must go way beyond academic work.

That’s why the first part of the tagline says, “Life shouldn’t stop when you study“.

Why Bias Begins Long Before University Applications

How much applicant information do you need to remove before university admissions lose all bias?

Trick question. There’s always some sort of bias.

Anything attempting to level the playing field is better than nothing, but inequalities cannot be removed as easily as removing a name, or grades, or an institution.

As with Deloitte’s decision to ignore which university applicants studied at, the removal of names from UCAS forms is positive, but there is more to consider.

As Vikki Boliver says in The Conversation:

“Admissions selectors will still see each applicant’s home address, the school they attended, what they have written about themselves in their personal statement and what their teacher has written about them in their reference. All of this may provide subliminal clues as to an applicant’s ethnic and social background. Where applicants are interviewed as part of the selection process, the scope for unconscious bias becomes wider still.”

Social background can make a huge difference to applications. Lauren Rivera, author of “Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs“, explains:

“Whether intentionally or not, elite parents expose their children to different experiences and styles of interacting that are useful for getting ahead in society.” – [SOURCE]

In exactly the areas where people are meant to stand out, some find it easier to do than others. Inequality starts early and may not even be deliberate. People want to do the best they can for their children with the resources they have access to.

Those with a disadvantaged upbringing in some way are less likely to succeed in using the systems in place to build an impressive personal statement. And if they do manage to attend their university of choice and graduate, there are further hurdles to cross in creating CVs and making job applications.

For example, extra-curricular activities are often dropped in favour of getting the academic work done. Rivera has studied this too and she believes there should be “less weight [given] to extracurricular activities” as they are “a huge source of class inequality whether it’s in university admissions or in interviews”.

Striving for a First gets in the way of making do with a 2:1 while building up other achievements and industry experience. Yet these differences are what employers differentiate on.

When it comes to making name- and qualification-blind decisions, it may appear over time that the same people as before are getting the university places and job offers.

The danger here is that some people may see this as proof that some people are naturally more accomplished than others. They will conclude that the cream really does rise to the top.

If a lack of change is apparent, that doesn’t mean these new approaches to university and job applications will have failed. But it will show that applications are not the original source of inequality. Bias begins long before university applications. There are many variables, which begin much earlier in life and can be difficult to overcome.

Top 20 Email Newsletters You Need To Know About

Top 20 Newsletters

Education, story-telling, and personal development.

These three things are roughly what I’m looking for in a good email newsletter.

I want to be entertained, to be challenged, to be informed, to be intrigued, and to be taken to places I may not have already gone to through my own curated feeds.

Does that sound like something you want in on too? Well, let me give you my current Top 20 email updates. In no particular order, here’s what I’m happy to see in my inbox:

1. Quartz Daily Brief

Since Quartz started this news update, it’s been the first thing I read each day. I don’t pay much attention to the news during the day, so this is the nearest I get to a briefing. And it’s fab.

The short weekend essay they send on Saturday is consistently winning too.

2. Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel

Productivity, education, and web links worth exploring every Sunday.

3. Oliver Quinlan’s Quinlearning

Oliver Quinlan recently introduced this newsletter after enjoying Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel. Similar in nature to Doug’s, but with different edulinks and recommendations for you, Oliver has started his newsletter off with a bang.

4. A Millennial Type

In Declan and Erica’s own words, “Empowering Millennials to LIVE, CREATE, PERSEVERE, and DREAM”. I can’t improve on that…they even use an Oxford comma.😉

5. Almost Timely (@cspenn)

Full of links on social marketing, technology, society, and all sorts of other things.

Penn’s premium content adds a nice touch to proceedings, with actionable advice on how to be one step ahead of the rest. Just keep it to yourself, he urges!

6. Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan’s Sunday newsletter is a friendly kick up the bum to help support you as an owner, preceded by a comment on what he’s drinking. Be sure to tell him what tipple you’re enjoying.

7. Primility

Jerod Morris already does a great job co-hosting podcasts like The Showrunner and The Lede (check these out too!).

Jerod has recently started a Primility movement, for balancing pride and humility. His newsletter gives you a dose of inspiration to start each week, as well as a roundup of all the daily Primility shows you can listen to.

Wrist bump!

8. Educating Modern Learners

The EML newsletter showcases exclusive content and comment on education issues, as well as great edulinks elsewhere on the web. Some great thought pieces to explore.

9. Hack Education

One of the co-founders of EML, Audrey Watters, also has her own fantastic weekly update. Hack Education doesn’t focus on just the positive stuff and the hype, and that makes it a breath of fresh air. Yours in struggle.

10. On Tap Education News Digest

I mainly use this on days when I’m not checking my own curated news feeds. But if you don’t already have education news ‘on tap’, this is a great daily email for you.

Mainstream media links, government and other sources, plus international stories, all ready for you to click or tap on and be informed about.

11. Annie Murphy Paul: The Brilliant Report

I first encountered Annie Murphy Paul in 2010 when I read her book, “Origins: How the nine months before birth shape the rest of our lives“. Her newsletter has engaging content on learning, based on cognitive science, neuroscience, and psychology.

12. Further

Brian Clark of Copyblogger writes about personal development each week.

He features a big topic in every issue and includes other links on health, wealth and wisdom. It’s my favourite Brian Clark thing (closely followed by Unemployable).

13. Harvard Business Review Management Tip of the Day

HBR has lots of email alerts, including a daily roundup of all that day’s stories published on the site. But the Management Tip of the Day is useful for more than managers. As a student, you can also get a dose of useful advice on taking action, persuading others, and being your best self.

Sign up at: https://hbr.org/email-newsletters

14. James Clear

On how to improve performance and form habits, James Clear’s articles are incredibly popular (200k+ subscribers). Worth a read for a part-story, part-evidence-based, part self-help way to give you a physical and mental boost.

15. The One Thing

Each week, Iñaki Escudero says, “There are many things going on, these are a few of my favorite ones”.

A quirky, informative, and fun email. “The One Tradition I wish I had”, “The One Business lesson to learn from a 13 year old girl”, “The One Thing nobody can do”, “The One Chart to question our assumptions”…Lots of stuff that’ll stick with you.

16. No Sidebar

At work, at home, and in your soul…No Sidebar is an informative look at calming down your life so you can do more with less.

17. Storythings

A selection of stories from the week that you may not have read about. They helpfully tell you how long each piece should take to read.

18. The Daily Water Cooler

This is awesome if only for the two animated gifs you get each day. Coming from someone who doesn’t enjoy much about animated gifs, it’s high praise!

You’re also treated to links worth sharing, as well as a (US-centric) look at news in business, politics, sports, and culture.

19. The Long + Short

From innovation charity Nesta, a free online/mobile magazine that “tells stories of innovation that are thoughtful, hopeful and questioning”. Some are long reads and some are short. Hence, the Long + Short.

The weekly newsletter also has other stories of innovation from elsewhere on the web that are well worth a read.

20. University World News

Not content with your own national higher education news? Get a briefing on what’s happening all over the world, with useful comment pieces too, from University World News.

BONUS! – 21. Nuzzel

It’s not quite an email subscription, but a great alert service. Customise it to show you the most popular links being shared by people you follow on Twitter. The online service is great and the powerful email alerts tell you when a certain number of people have tweeted the same link.

You can also get daily email updates of the most popular links from the previous day.

What have I missed? Let me know what newsletters you look forward to getting. Tweet me up…I’m @universityboy.

6 Big Reasons For Second Year Woe & How To Wash The Woe Away

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In my last post on getting motivated when you get back to uni, I said about the shock of the second year.

We need to talk about more than motivation… We need to talk about conquering your Second Year Woe.

Yes, Fresher life can push you in every direction until your head is spinning. That’s covered.

But it can be just as much of a whirlwind for second year students too. It’s not fair to expect you to take everything in your stride when you’ve still got so many new challenges of your own.

So let’s address a few of these things right now. Get it sussed before you get stressed.

Like my previous post, I’ve asked Bethany Wren, VP Academic Experience at University of Brighton Students’ Union for some help with this. You can reach Bethany on Facebook and on Twitter too.

So, here are 6 Second Year Woes and how you can deal with them:

over

1. The honeymoon period is over

When you start anything new, everything is shiny and exciting and woo. By the time you finish your first year, it’s easy to feel that the freshness has gone.

This is where you need to be proactive. There are loads of activities to explore, new situations to dive into, and many ways to rekindle your excitement.

Attitude makes a huge difference to how you feel. When you decide something is boring or you feel like your situation won’t be as exciting this year, you set yourself up for a foregone conclusion.

Continue where you left off. Write down what you want to achieve and experience in your second year. Commit to something you were meaning to do, but never got around to in the first year.

Try to get others involved if you can. The power in numbers will spur you on.

And with ALL THE THINGS going on, it’s easy to forget about YOU. One of Bethany’s personal student survival tips gets you to focus back where it counts. She says, “Look after yourself. Sounds simple now, but it truly [is] the most important thing to do”.

Simple–but crucial–things like food are worth thinking about, explains Bethany:

“Your diet will change how much you can study and how positive you’re feeling, so don’t forget your veggies!”

For more healthy foodie hints, check these TUB links in the archives:

house

2. There is more housing admin and travelling to do

If you’ve been living on campus (or near to it) in your first year, everything was practically on your doorstep.

What’s it like now you’ve moved further away? Got a longer walk or a bus journey to add to your plans? Sigh.

And what about those housing issues you’ll have that you didn’t encounter in your uni accommodation?

All this takes time.

So factor in something productive when you’re commuting, even if it’s only a few minutes extra walk. Listen to audio of a lecture as you walk, or stick on a relevant podcast. If you take a bus to campus, do some reading or writing so you’re not just looking at your phone doing nothing in particular.

And keep a communal diary for stuff to do with your home. When the bins go out, cleaning rotas, bill payment deadlines, and so on. A bit of joint legwork when you first move in will save you a lot of time over the rest of the year.

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3. Work/Life balance is hard to organise

I don’t like the term work/life balance, because it’s not about finding equal amounts of the two things. What you really need is a personal stability that keeps you happy and productive in all aspects of life.

Arrangement is crucial. You can’t wing it any more. Sort out your time, your schedule, your social life, your research, your priorities, and so on. If you go with the flow and let other people dictate when you go out at the last minute, you’ll have less fun than if you had your social time mapped out.

You don’t have to be too strict, but you’re setting yourself up for a fall if you go with the flow all week. An impromptu get-together is fine every now and then. But every other night? Danger.

Then you’ve got extra-curricular activities. It sounds like a lot of extra bother, but it’s not as bad as you’d think and it’s worthwhile for all sorts of reasons. Here’s Bethany:

“Use second year to gain some really valuable work or volunteering experience! I myself did this and am now able to not only say it was one of my greatest memories of university but I can also use it practically for anecdotes in interviews.
“For those who are going into second year who had taken out a year for an internship and are potentially feeling like they have lost touch with peers they made friends with in the first year, I urge you to join a society or a sports team or look at the huge range of activities that park life put on. Amber our Activities and Participation SABB at Brighton will be around putting on loads of great events and activities so watch out for them. You are guaranteed to find something you’ll enjoy!”

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4. You were hit by “First year doesn’t count-itis”

Yep, you’re not alone. This still happens to SO many students.

Your Fresher year is a great time to get to grips with university life and meeting new people.

But that year is also useful for getting to grips with degree study and meeting new concepts.

If you didn’t put in as much effort as you wish you’d done, prepare for catch-up time.

Okay, it’s painful.

And yes, it’s frustrating.

But don’t panic just yet!

All you need to sacrifice is an hour or two each week. Spend that time revisiting the content and textbook material from your first year. Read up on academic essays. Prepare in advance for the work ahead of you. See lecturers at the earliest opportunity if you’ve got any concerns so you can get them dealt with and out of the way.

Basically, get clued up now so you don’t continue playing catch-up all year.

You can make up for lost time, so long as you don’t choose to procrastinate and ignore it.

First year doesn’t count-itis may be inconvenient, but it’s no disaster when you grapple with the issues head on.

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5. No more “cute, fluffy, first year subjects”

Even if you took the work in your Fresher year dead seriously, your next challenge won’t be more introductory modules. By now, your tutors have taken off your stabilisers, removed the safety rail, and disconnected the sat-nav.

But fear not, because your tutors are still on hand to help you where you need it. They’re not monsters, even the scarier ones.

Don’t feel shy or weak when you feel lost. Be honest about your situation and ask for advice.

Here’s more from Bethany:

“Remember what you have learnt from the first year. Look back over the feedback you got. Can you identify any trends coming up for example, ‘lack of structure’ or ‘undeveloped area’?
“I would suggest that you seek out your personal tutor in the first semester, to not only touch base with them but to also ask if they can advise you on these particular reoccurring themes in the feedback and how to develop or work on them in your assignments this year.”

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6. Second year doesn’t get the dynamic focus as first and last years do

There’s so much focus on Freshers and final year students who are about to graduate, that the in-between years are sometimes left behind.

Speak to your students’ union and get the specific issues of second year students heard. That’s why Bethany and other Sabbatical Officers are there at your SU…To listen to you and help take action where it matters.

What do you feel is missing from your second year? How could you be supported better? Are tutors fully aware and supportive of your second-year circumstances?

Basically, don’t suffer in silence. The more voices that can put their point across, the more likely second year students will be seen with just as much importance and not as those in a forgotten year between first and final.

Own your second year with confidence. You’ll go from ‘Woe’ to ‘Grow’ in no time.

Many thanks to Bethany for the great advice. I’ll leave the final word of encouragement to her:

“From me and the SU, I wish all students the biggest and best of luck this year! Go for it!