Everyone leaves university with a degree – what else have you got?
I saw this question on a poster in my university halls in first year and it has stayed with me ever since. Getting the job you want is all about working out how to differentiate yourself from the competition, demonstrating you are everything the company wants and making sure you are remembered.
There are two main strands to this:
- Make yourself seem interesting and good to work with. Think carefully about things you are involved in outside of your degree; these are the things that will make employers see you as a person, rather than just another graduate.
- Don’t slip up on the basics.
1. Be interesting
Sure, joining an Investment Society may help you look interested in an actuarial career on paper, but is it something you can talk enthusiastically about at interview? The skills employers are looking for can be developed in all kinds of different settings – being involved in any society shows team-working, time management and communication skills, whether it’s a Maths Society, Skydiving Society or even a Pantomime Society. The important thing is to do something.
If you’re on the committee – even better. No matter what your interests are, no matter whether these are developed through an ‘official’ club or it’s more of a hobby, ask yourself the following questions:
- What have I been responsible for?
- In what context did I work with other people? (Liaising, delegating, team-working, promoting etc.)
- What problems did I have to overcome?
- What other demands did I have on my time?
Taking the lead
You don’t have to be President of a society to develop leadership skills or to demonstrate you can handle responsibility. Organising a smaller part of a larger project is still important to make sure everything runs smoothly. If you haven’t been involved with many clubs or societies, consider examples in other areas. You may have taken the lead on a piece of group work, had responsibilities at a part-time job or done some babysitting.
One of the most important skills employers are looking for is the ability to communicate. This covers both verbal and written communication, and ideally will be demonstrated in a variety of situations. Communication is about more than speaking well or good spelling and grammar; it’s important to be able to adopt the right tone for different situations. Consider the different roles you have taken when trying to accomplish different things. This may include:
- Working as part of a team.
- Liaising with other people/groups/organisations.
- Delegating work to other people and checking it has been done.
- Promoting events.
Problems are good
Things go wrong. The venue double books, the speaker drops out, the DJ doesn’t show or the committee have a massive falling out. This is a nightmare at the time but it is gold dust when applying for jobs. Problems give you the chance to demonstrate how you come up with solutions, keep a clear head and perform under pressure. Remember this next time you lose your passport.
When you start your job, you’re likely to have some quieter periods followed by periods of being extremely busy, meaning you’ll need to learn how to prioritise. Do you remember that week when you had six essays to do, four seminars to attend and there was that big event happening that you’d been organising for months? Now is the time to remember how you handled that. And work out how you could improve on it for next time.
Everyone’s got skills
Everyone has done something. Even if you are looking back at your university career and it’s all a bit of a blur, there will be something you have done. You might have organised a surprise birthday party for someone, or helped your housemate write a revision timetable when they were having a panic. If you’re struggling to think of things, try to remember when you last felt worried or stressed – you were probably responsible for something!
So you’ve got the skills and proved to your future employer that you are not ‘just another graduate’, but this won’t get you far if you slip up on the basics. To find out where to start check out ‘Getting the Job – Part 2’.