Graduate

8 top tips to help graduates gain employment after university

For many students, leaving university can be a very difficult time. After spending the best part of 15 years in education, moving into the working world can be a daunting experience but it doesn’t need to be…

“Preparation and forward planning is essential for any student who wants to make the best start to their graduate career,” explains Crystal Evans from graduate recruitment scheme GO Wales.

work (photo by will_hybrid)

work (photo by will_hybrid)

And I’ve got eight tips from GO Wales on getting into the world of work. Crystal says that by implementing a few simple essentials it will, “put you in a much better position when confronting the competitive job market after graduation”.

I’ve added my own comments below each tip to help you even further along the way.

Eight top tips to help secure employment after university

1. Get out there

Work experience is crucial when applying for jobs because it shows a non-academic interest in your industry sector. Being in the working environment that you strive to succeed in allows you to see what it’s really like. Many graduate jobs go to those who have completed relevant sector specific work experience.

[Martin’s note: You can even ‘get out there’ as you stay on campus… Jobs are often available within uni or your students’ union that can get you useful experience.]

2. Know what you’re doing

Taking an active interest in your career sector will help you stand out as knowledgeable and enthusiastic at the interview stage. Graduate jobs go beyond the skills you learn at university, so a thorough understanding of your industry will help you come across as keen, as well as dedicated.

[Martin’s note: To show your growing understanding, get blogging about the industry and build a portfolio of content that you can refer to at any time with ease. When you know your stuff, it’s valuable to show what you know!]

3. Keep your CV fresh

Your CV is like the window display inside a shop – it brings people in. A good CV must look professional and needs to be well tailored to the job that you’re applying for. Make sure your CV is up-to-date, demonstrates the skills and experience you can bring to a company, is accurate and spell checked.

[Martin’s note: Use LinkedIn so you can keep a living CV online. When you need to update, just add the new information. That way, you’re visible and you don’t have to start each CV from scratch. Job applications need tailoring, but that doesn’t mean you have to write a new CV every time. Also, LinkedIn lets you connect and network, as well as give and receive recommendations. Bonus!]

4. Go and get involved

Taking part in extracurricular activities will help you stand out from the rest. Participating in clubs, socials and sports at university will build your confidence and teach you team building skills that will ultimately impress an employer.

[Martin’s note: Just don’t get involved in too many societies and clubs. Aim for a managable amount that you can do really well, rather than loads of different activities that you hardly engage with.]

5. Network with others

Social networking sites present excellent opportunities for securing a graduate job; enabling you to communicate directly with people who work in the industries you’re interested in.  Following the appropriate professionals on social media sites like Twitter and Linkedin will help you to network in your industry; talk to professionals via social networks and don’t be afraid to seek advice from them.

[Martin’s note: Online networking is a big deal right now, and it’s easier than ever. Also, take your social shine to the next level and meet up with your online contacts. Attend seminars, conferences, and tweetups (put simply, meet with people you follow on Twitter!). Join industry groups online and check out what events they’re holding near you. Face to face encounters can be more memorable and more rewarding than online alone.]

6. Fail to prepare: prepare to fail

Turning up to an interview unprepared will waste all the work you’ve put in to getting to that stage.  Research the company beforehand to demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of what they do. Make sure you look professional and remain confident throughout.

[Martin’s note: Even after you have prepared, don’t be scared of failure. Every interview is an experience. You may have prepared extensively and still get thrown a curveball when you’re there. Far from knocking your confidence, let each failure boost you up for success further down the line. See the next tip for more on this…]

7. Don’t give up

Finding the perfect job takes time and a lot of effort. The graduate job market is very competitive and only 50 per cent of students find work in their preferred industry straight after university. Staying positive and realising that every failure has taught you something new will help you progress.  Finding relevant part-time work or volunteering will keep your industry knowledge up-to-date and you will also learn new skills along the way.

[Martin’s note: It’s also important to start early. Build up your strengths (both new and old) and tailor yourself as soon as you can. Don’t wait until you graduate!]

8. Use your resources

GO Wales works to help students and graduates secure work placements and quality work experience opportunities. Work Placements not only give you the chance to develop your knowledge and skills in a real work environment; you will also be paid a minimum of £250 per week. 65 per cent of their graduates secure long-term employment as a result of work placement schemes.

[Martin’s note: While GO Wales is aimed at students in Wales or graduates who are looking to develop their career in Wales, don’t stop if you’re not in that neck of the woods. Seek out other services either in your area or nationally. A good place to start is with your own uni careers services. Don’t be shy; they exist for you to make the most of them.]

Now go back to the first point. Time to get out there and be awesome!

Graduates and the language of jobs

Is getting a job more important than being employable?

Martin Edmondson, CEO of Gradcore and Graduates Yorkshire, has found that graduates and employers may be looking at careers from different perspectives.

photo by Zach Klein

photo by Zach Klein

In preparation for the Graduate Employment Conference 2012 (#GEC12), I’ve asked Martin whether students and graduates viewed ’employability’ differently to employers and, if so, how parties could move closer to a shared understanding:

“The whole of the Gradcore business concept is built on improving the understanding and interactions between organisations, universities and graduate. Therefore we take this issue pretty seriously.

“We have recently finished our second running of the ‘Big Graduate Survey’ in Yorkshire, and have doubled our responses this year, with 3800 graduates responding. One of the free-text response questions asked what they wanted from their careers services. Whilst we haven’t yet had time to process the 1400 comments, our clever survey software can produce a wordcloud from the responses, with the biggest word being most commonly mentioned. The word that emerged was ‘Jobs’ and not ‘Employability’. This does not mean that employability is not important, it just means that the head down graduate view of employability can be encapsulated in ‘help me get a job’.”

When I speak with graduates, language does turn to matters of ‘looking for a job’, ‘applying for jobs’. ‘Employability’ isn’t a term frequently mentioned. And with a lot of advice suggesting that graduates tailor each application to the particular job, perhaps the focus moves to being employable for every individual job, rather than growing an understanding of what makes a person employable in an overall sense. There is no single answer, but there are certainly common themes.

Even common themes can prove difficult, as Martin explains:

“From the employer perspective there is as much disagreement about what constitutes employability as there is in Universities. One of the most commonly cited components of employability cited by employers is ‘commercial awareness’. Unfortunately when you ask 5 different employers what commercial awareness is, you will get five different answers. In our employability development courses we have taken this on board and now coach graduates in what we have categorised as the 5 key elements of commercial awareness. Maybe even that is too complex, as I recently met a chamber of commerce president  who insisted that her members knew graduates had skills but simply wanted them to get better at being ‘nice people to work with’.

“As with all things, ascribing a single view to an imaginary homogenous group of graduates, universities and employers is dangerous, but these are real life examples that illustrate the gaps that need bridging. I have found fairly consistently is that in the interconnection of businesses of graduates, common and key factors are culture and values.”

Culture and values suggest an ongoing desire to extend understanding of a wide range of issues. These are not so much skills, but a sense of empathy, engagement, and a forward-facing attitude that’s ready for change.

As Harold Jarche recently said, “Given that 65% of todays’ students will end up in jobs that don’t exist today, we know work will change significantly in the next decade. The network economy is changing everyone’s business, and will significantly affect education and training as well.”

Martin explains that as HE continues to move toward marketisation, students will increasingly consider the link between fees and graduate employment outcomes. He says, “more than ever before, universities need to produce employable graduates (whatever they think that means)”.

The ‘whatever they think that means’ part is important too. Without linking up the views of students, universities, and companies, there is a danger that thoughts will be a confusion of irrelevant assumptions. Without listening to each other, how would students be best placed for the jobs they desire and how would employers be able to find the right fit?

As for universities, how would they keep on board a large number of their students ongoing? While the purpose of university is not solely to train people up for employment, many people attend university in order to help their future prospects. If the links between study and future employability are not forthcoming, what then?

CIHE’s David Docherty suggests, “[Universities] need internships, placements, short-work bursts, and embedded doctorates to help them develop ‘fused graduates'”. Think of it, perhaps, as university beyond university.

Martin Edmondson left me with a number of questions that he sees as important for each group to consider their position:

  • Is one of the issues in student engagement around employability the word itself?
  • How can business adapt to and embrace the qualities brought by generation Y graduates?
  • How can graduates accelerate their understanding of different workplaces so they make themselves attractive to employers?
  • How can culture and values be harnessed to build understanding and connectivity between employers and graduates?
  • How can Universities act as a bridge between the two groups, and develop ones understanding of the other?

These are important questions. It is up to all parties to ensure graduates can shine after they have been at university.

Change is ongoing, which gives much room for innovation. As a recent Harvard Business Review piece asks, “Isn’t real innovation supposed to blow through thresholds to create something of new value?”

So, who’s up for blowing through some thresholds?

On Writing

Today I welcome Rod Pitcher to TheUniversityBlog. Rod has written a piece on the writing process.

Rod is a PhD student in Education at The Centre for Educational Development and Academic Methods at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. The focus of his study is the metaphors that doctoral students use when describing their research and other matters related to their studies. He uses metaphor analysis to arrive at an understanding the students’ conceptions.
Rod Pitcher’s profile is at http://cedam.anu.edu.au/people/rod-pitcher and you can contact Rod at Rod.Pitcher@anu.edu.au

photo by chic.geek

photo by chic.geek

On Writing

Writing is not a simple process. It depends on a number of factors, three important ones of which are knowledge, incentive and the ability to write. I have never had any problems with the last one. I enjoy writing and do it well according to my supervisors. The others are not so easy.

Knowledge
It seems a truism to say that good writing depends on knowledge, but it is true, none the less. If you don’t know what you are going to write about it will be difficult if not impossible to produce anything sensible. You need knowledge to frame the paper, give an account of what it is intended to illustrate and to provide information to the potential reader. A knowledge of others’ work on your topic is necessary to provide the references that put your work into its context.

If you don’t know what you are writing about, how can you expect to make sense? Whether the paper is factual, biographical or speculative you need to know the background to it. You must be familiar with the topic, the background and anything previously written on the topic so that you can place your work in the context of other’s work on similar topics.

Incentive
Having gained the knowledge about your topic you must then have an incentive to write. Common incentives include finishing your thesis to gain your PhD, writing a journal paper to improve your publication list, or writing an application for a job that you would like after completing your doctorate. Note that the reward for doing the writing should be important to you, personally. The personal incentives are by far the best. Working to someone else’s incentive is a recipe for disaster.

It is sometimes difficult to find an incentive to write, but it is important that you do so. The more important the incentive is to you the more incentive you have to write. Writing without a good incentive can be soul-destroying as you try to imbue some interest you do not have into the work.

Ability
Lastly, you need the ability to write. If you have that ability without being taught then you are lucky. If not, you can be taught to at least produce good quality prose. Your university probably runs courses on it. Take all the courses you can. They can’t do you any harm and you might find the spark that brings out the creative writer in you. Join a writers’ group to get feedback on your work – and LISTEN to the comments, don’t just let them pass you by. Take advantage of other writers’ experience. Finally, practice writing. The more you write the better you will get.

Writing is not easy for most of us. We need help to produce our best. Even the best writers can use constructive feedback and comments about their writing. Use all the resources available to you to develop your writing skills. You will gain from it in your writing – and so will your audience.

The Possible Impossibility of Employability…

Let me guess. If you’re a uni student reading this, am I right in thinking you’d like to be employable once you graduate?

It’s probably fair to say the vast majority of students want better job and career choices as a result of their study, even when it’s not their main reason for attending uni.

At a recent Guardian seminar on employability, one question raised was that of responsibility. Who should be ultimately responsible for ensuring people graduate with better chances of employability?

The university? The student? Schools? Employers?

Should it be necessary for anyone to tick a box saying they ensure employability standards of a particular level? Or is the link between students and employability a false trail?

A delicate balance or a false trail? (photo by Kalexanderson)

A delicate balance or a false trail? (photo by Kalexanderson)

There’s no fixed definition of ’employability’. The term isn’t rigid. Either that, or it ends up sounding vague:

“The skills, attributes and knowledge of an individual which affect the likelihood of finding, obtaining and being retained in suitable employment.” [Source]

That definition was a response to a piece by David Winter. Winter followed up with a tough question. How can this likelihood be measured and how can you increase that likelihood?

There is no clear answer. But since employment itself can be measured statistically, we’re not about to see the end of analysing numbers of graduates in work and their various career destinations. Whether the detail can truly indicate individual likelihood of one thing or another is a different matter.

The increased marketisation of higher education means that universities will want to appear successful in having its graduates finding paid work. It means that students will want to attend an institution that can deliver the best rates of employment. And it means that government will want to see figures that demonstrate how amazing certain universities are in educating people where it is necessary.

False trail or not, the situation is geared up to be viewed in terms of life after graduation, even before a place at uni has been secured.

Mario Creatura said in June:

“[Potential students] will undoubtedly start to look for courses that have a proven track record in employability and prestige. HEFCE/UUK/GuildHE’s work on the KIS [Key Information Sets] is testament to this.”

However, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, Janet Beer recently said, “I am worried about an over-emphasis by students on employability…[students want] employability, but we offer a much richer experience…We must not get sucked into thinking that we are providing some kind of production-line product”.

MIT’s Samuel Jay Keyser shares Janet Beer’s concern:

“During a recent random faculty dinner that I hosted, faculty members from the schools of science and engineering complained about the attitude of present-day students. In their view, all they want to do is just what’s necessary to get through a class. There’s no fire in the belly to get to the bottom of the subject.” [Source]

The sad thing about this is that a fire in the belly would probably be more helpful in the long run.

None of this is really the fault of students though. Neither can you blame universities for not pushing their weight. Instead, it points toward a certain lack of correlation between a degree and employability. Some things can be measured, but that doesn’t mean you can make great sense of it under these conditions.

Unistats now publishes employability statements for universities and explores the employment prospects for graduates.

The statistics are one way for potential students to choose an institution that suits them. However:

  1. It is only a guideline;
  2. There are many other factors to assess when choosing a university.

If employability is a key driver to your choices, it must also be clear that you can do a lot to become more employable without relying on a degree result. In other words, nobody is two-dimensional.

Other matters are also important, including (among approximately a zillion other things…):

  • Relationships and key interactions with others;
  • Extra-curricular activities;
  • Prior experience in your chosen field(s);
  • Examples of going ‘above and beyond’ what’s necessary;
  • Critical assessment/evaluation;
  • Examples of managing projects;
  • Publically visible achievements and/or a portfolio of professional work.

No single attribute will swing open the doors to an all-encompassing employability. Roles are different, personalities are different, everything is different. So how can employability be the same thing to all people and all companies?

A recent Edge Foundation report states:

“While there are variations in the classification of employability, there is a broad understanding of what qualities, characteristics, skills and knowledge constitute employability both in general, and specifically for graduates. Employers expect graduates to have technical and discipline competences from their degrees but require graduates also to demonstrate a range of broader skills and attributes that include team-working, communication, leadership, critical thinking, problem solving and managerial abilities.

“It is arguable that specific definitions are less important than an agreed focus on approaches to promote such transferable skills and fostering attributes that will enable graduates to find appropriate employment, progress in their work and thus facilitate the success of their organisations and contribute to society and the economy.”

It seems that individual roles and careers will carry specific requirements and expectations, while a more general overview appreciates a rounded character.

Much frustration arises because there’s no magic answer for you to explain why you’ve got what a potential employer wants. If there was, we’d all be giving the magic answer. And what would employers do then?

The big take home point here is to understand that your focus on what’s important out of university shouldn’t rely solely on the certificate you get after three or more years. You owe yourself to go beyond that. Your degree isn’t the source of awesome. You are.

Find your brand. Work your brand. Love your brand.

If the degree said it all, your CV would state where you studied, what you studied, and how you were graded. You wouldn’t need anything else.

Hopefully you agree that isn’t the case. 🙂

No matter how vague the term ’employability’ is, you’re not stuck for options. You can still make moves toward improving your lot. Big moves. As big as you want them to be.

You ready? Then take a look through these posts from TheUniversityBlog’s archive. Best of luck to you!