Graduate

What it means to work well on your own and as part of a team

“I work equally well on my own and as part of a team.”

This type of sentence features on so many CVs. If you haven’t used it yourself, I’m sure you’re aware of it. But what does the statement really mean? Is it simply a generic way of saying that you’re great in all working situations?

Working

Before going any further, the best way to demonstrate is to give examples and tell stories. Don’t just tell everyone you can do something. Go further. Prove it!

Before you do that, check out the following 8 ideas behind what it means to work well, no matter what your circumstances are. Work out what it means to have the ability at both ends and demonstrate how you achieved these things by using examples. Use the ideas below as a framework to your own stories.

  1. You understand different needs – Some tasks are all about YOU. The less you can bother others and interrupt their day, the better. Other tasks are joint efforts. The point is to include and to allow everyone a say. When you can comfortably assess what is required in each situation as it comes up, you’re moving towards great things.
  2. You know when to delegate – “If you want a job done well, do it yourself.” – This comment won’t win you a prize on a team effort. First, you’re (hopefully) not arrogant enough to think that you’re better than everybody else. Second, if you keep all the work to yourself on a joint task, you’re liable to burning out and not being appreciated by anyone else in the group. When you know how to work to your strengths and encourage others to work to theirs, that is a leadership quality right there.
  3. You can deal with many personalities – Working with others can be colourful at times. Rise above petty arguments, calm situations before they get heated, and happily handle difficult characters so that people want you on their side.
  4. You are self-starting when working alone and empathetic when working with others – The way you work as an individual is different to how you behave within a team. When you say you’re equally comfortable working on your own as you are with a group, that doesn’t mean you act in the same way. Far from it. It’s not about consistency, it’s about adapting to specific needs.
  5. You don’t always need your hand held – When you can be trusted to deliver without constant checking, you’re doing something right. People don’t want to have to chase you up every few minutes. They value a self-starting attitude that looks several steps ahead and predicts what people will want from a project.
  6. You stand out without relentlessly stamping your own brand on to everything – Teams may have a leader and that leader may not always be you. Can you deal with that? And when a team has no direct leader, would you rather take control or help everyone play to their strengths? If you’re an invisible leader who brings out the best in everyone without anyone noticing (perhaps not even yourself), then all the better.
  7. You acknowledge your weaknesses as well as your strengths – This helps you delegate where necessary, ask for help when needed, and show that you’re serious. Admitting you don’t know is not a weakness; acknowledging the weakness is a strength that can help you grow stronger each day. It’s easy to bluff your way through, but that doesn’t help anyone. At best, you’ll learn nothing and get away with a poor decision. At worst…well, all sorts can happen and it could impact more people than just yourself.
  8. You’re willing to engage, not argue – By accepting others and maintaining an open mind, there is no harm in questioning other people’s decisions, so long as you question your own and take on board anything that you hadn’t considered. When you realise that confirmation is a danger we all have to overcome, you’re in a much better position to fight it. You’ll be surprised at how freeing it can be to notice new things that have the power to change your view. Help others to realise that where you can. It’s difficult, but doable. Don’t let uphill struggles put you off!

After checking through this list, I’m sure you can think of some great examples from your own life to tell your story effectively. What stories are you going to tell?

Jobs, Time, and Shifting Expectations

How many job applications will you have to send off before you land a job as a graduate?

While sixth form students expect to fill out 17 job applications after they graduate from university, those already studying in higher education expect to apply for 26 jobs before finding success.

These findings come from a YouGov report on first jobs.

I wonder if students much closer to graduating are more acutely aware of what is to come. For a sixth former, there is still a lot of time stretching before them. A graduate job seems far removed from their current position. They aren’t even at university. Expectations can be more casual, even when taken seriously.

clock (photo by fiddle oak)

Photo by fiddle oak via Compfight (cc)

Would a fresher expect to fill out a slightly higher number of applications and a final year student consider the number higher still? As the clock ticks ever closer to your time, the reality (and worry) is bound to kick in.

Look at the question of potential salary. Again, sixth form students believe, on average, that earnings will be around £23,000. Compare that with those at university and the figure drops to £20,250.

Then you have work experience. Not quite two thirds (64%) of sixth formers surveyed were concerned about a lack of work experience. On the other hand, more than three quarters (76%) of university students thought that no experience would get in the way of working in their preferred field.

The results read as if expectations drop the closer students get to graduation. Students are considering their future from a different viewpoint. That future is no longer so distant. There is less time to be casual.

As perspective changes, so can expectation.

Here are some ideas of what might cause university students to be less positive in their expectations:

  • More understanding of expected salaries based on increasing research as graduation approaches;
  • Fear of being let down;
  • Fear of letting themselves down with a lower salary;
  • Realism trumping hope.

That’s not to say the majority of soon-to-be graduates aren’t hopeful and willing to engage. But it does highlight how many people alter their position as things are imminent. For better or for worse, concepts of time–and time left remaining–can shift our thoughts.

What do you expect of the future? Do you prefer to convey a realistic, possibly even understated, projection? Or do you continue to confidently anticipate quick job success and good earnings to boot?

Find and Highlight Your Transferable Skills

You develop at uni in so many ways. It just happens. You won’t notice it the whole time.

Not being aware of all the skills you’re acquiring makes it difficult to talk about those skills. But these are important for the future, especially when you’re looking for work. As Prospects explains, “Every vacancy requires a unique set of competencies but some transferable skills are commonly requested”.

Paintbrushes (photo by Viewminder) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

So much potential, so much choice, so many stories to tell. (photo by Viewminder)

To get you thinking about what you have already achieved and what else you might achieve over these years, here are a few thoughts on those common transferable skills and how you can point them out:

Willingness to learn

You’re working off your own back. The more you put in, the more you’re likely to get out. There’s more to uni than grades. What other activities did you invest time in to learn and develop from? How did you go about discovering new things?

Initiative

University offers so much in one place. But it doesn’t come to you. Think of it as a bunch of opt-in stuff, not opt-out. No matter what some people might say, students aren’t spoon-fed. That’s nonsense. The most successful students are generally the ones who take their actions into their own hands and seek out new things. Take time to point out what you opted in for at uni, what drove you to it, and how you achieved in that guise. This required initiative.

Communication

Words, gestures, and listening. Yes, even listening is communication.

Words: Your coursework, presentations, and exams improve your relationship with words. Blog posts and articles in the student newspaper are useful too. The more you read and write, the better you will communicate.

Gestures: How you present yourself at uni (and on social networks) is important. How people see you interact with others makes a difference.

Listening: The world doesn’t revolve around you. University is a place of debate, discovery, getting involved, and having fun. That requires a population of more than one. Be ready to ask questions, and also to stay quiet and let others do the talking. Your voice needs to be heard, so long as you show an interest in hearing other voices in the mix.

Self-awareness

Spending all that time on study off your own back requires a teeny tiny bit of self-awareness. You need to understand what makes you tick, how to push yourself harder, and where you fit in within the grand scheme of things. A lack of self-awareness means you can’t separate your ‘super powers’ from your ‘kryptonite’.

Teamwork

The big bad ‘real world’ requires a lot of working with other people. And, believe it or not, people are brilliant and helpful and kind and necessary. When you gel with people, from a simple smile to some complicated coursework, you go places. Positive places. Whenever you have worked with other people and achieved something, highlight how your team was awesome and how you were awesome within the team.

Leadership

A successful leader does not act like a leader. Your uni years aren’t about managing people, but you have many opportunities to lead the way through teamwork, as mentioned above, and through the projects you get involved with. Be proud of this; it’s not boastful, it’s identifying your ability to follow and be followed. A useful two-way process.

Interpersonal skills

Living with others, communicating with others, involving yourself in the plans of others, welcoming others into your own plans… It’s hard to go through uni without dealing with other people. If you ignore everyone else as you study, you’re missing out on a lot, even if you come out with a shiny First Class Honours. A degree isn’t personal. People are.

Customer service

All this working with other people means you get to know what other people want and how other people act. Hopefully!

We’re all different. We all like to be treated in a particular way and to be listened to in an appropriate way. Give people the feeling that you have their interests at heart and not just your own.

Trampling over others may show a type of strength. But holding them up with you is a sign of both strength and support. Again, make it two-way. Show that you’re looking for win/win situations.

Flexibility

Things don’t always go our way. That shouldn’t be the end of the world. Hectic plans and last minute changes require a willingness to adapt. University is a great place to find out just how much you need to adapt, because you don’t know what’s coming around the corner.

Housemate problems, low grades, conflicting schedules, surprise tests, illness, too much partying… There’s no end to the stuff that can bite you on the bum. You can take charge of difficult situations, but you cannot control them.

When you take charge, you take change in your stride. Not because you know what happens next, but because you’re being flexible. Think of a time when you were faced with a dilemma that altered the direction you thought you were headed. How did you deal with it? What helped you shine, despite the problems you faced?

Commitment/motivation

Three or more years of study shouldn’t be taken lightly. Your involvement in clubs and societies should be taken seriously (even the fun groups!). The links you make within Students’ Union activities and with university staff need constant nurturing. Your part-time job can be more than just a way of making a few quid.

When you’re not motivated by what you do, it shows. Enthusiasm is hard to fake.

Most of the stuff you do at uni should be because you want to do it. That way, even the tough stuff has a purpose. You’re willing to see it through. This level of commitment will put a spring in your step and a sparkle in your eyes. When people see that you take pride in what you do, your value shines through too.

When it comes to careers, your commitment will be clear by what you have done in the run up to your applications and introductions. Don’t just say you love what you do, prove it!

Problem solving

Where do I begin with this one? How much of your life at uni DOESN’T require problem solving? Lateral thinking is a big deal. Creative ways of getting from one place to another are just as helpful as the practical ways. Check out these links for more information:

You can highlight your strengths and transferable skills in numerous ways. You have so many stories to tell. Which stories are you telling?

Why right now is a great time to be heard on LinkedIn

Now that LinkedIn isn’t taking Twitter feed updates any more, it’s a great time to get involved.

You might be thinking, how does a loss of service improve things for me?

Because update feeds on LinkedIn (mine at least) comprised mostly of Twitter updates. Updates I’d usually seen on Twitter anyway!

After the announcement that Twitter updates won’t get posted to LinkedIn (but LinkedIn updates can still be posted to Twitter), your home feed looks different. Gone are the Tweets and back are the links, conversations, and connection updates.

In short, everyone’s home feed is quieter. It’s easier to find out what else is happening.

But it may not be quiet for long. A post on Just Professionals agrees that the Twitter switch-off is a good thing and says:

“Conversation on LinkedIn is already recovering – you may note that people are beginning to use their home feed again.”

Now is the best chance to start adding to the discussion and adding conversation and content that’s relevant to the future you want. Be professional as early as possible. There’s no need to wait until you’re looking for a job; do it now. Do it always!

This approach will get you noticed right now and help people see that you’re engaged in professional matters. When you finally do need to find work, you’ll have a great head start and a developing network to boot.