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Want a job? Increase your skill set whilst still at university

24th March 2015
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University: it’s all about getting the best grade you can, right?

Well no – at least, that’s not all that it’s about. Here, writer and marketer Claire Louise Sheridan explains why you need to develop your vocational skills and how to show them off, alongside your exam results, before you’re anywhere near graduation...  

Since leaving university, I’ve watched as my fellow graduate friends have split into two clear groups. First of all, there’s those of us who’ve left uni seemingly victorious – namely, we’ve got exactly what we wanted by going there in the first place, and have been fortunate enough to land a ‘proper’ job.

However, there is a second group, who’ve left and have had to return to various jobs in retail, bars, or worse – signing onto Jobseekers Allowance. Fortunately, I fall into the former camp, but I can’t help but feel sorry for my friends in the latter. It’s a much bigger section of people than you might think and, whilst there’s no shame in it, I’d say the majority of them aren’t happy with it.

So, where are things going wrong? Well… if I’m completely honest, university just isn’t the be-all-end-all it used to be. Full disclosure here, my attendance at university was literally the worst. I know I probably shouldn’t be so blasé about it, but I’m talking full on “oh you’re in this class?!” when exams would roll around, that kind of thing. In fact, when applying to take the coveted ‘work experience’ module, I remember distinctly my friend saying super-casually “oh, but you’ll never get on that! No offence, but they’re going to have to pick people who actually show up…”. She was kidding, but I knew, despite laughing along, that I’d get onto it. Why? Because I knew that to make it through the interview stage to get the only university offered work experience we could apply for; we’d need to set ourselves apart with plenty of real experience to qualify for getting more.

Sound unfair? Needing experience to get experience? Kind of. But in my opinion, it separated me as someone who’d used initiative to prepare myself BEFORE the university started offering it out. So, before I ended up in the EXACT placement I wanted, I was taking every real-life opportunity I could find myself – no wonder I was never around for lectures!

Degrees are great, but providing you keep on top of your work (which I always did, with a 2:1 average), I don’t see the point in going to every lesson, when you can as an adult choose to use your time in a way you see as more productive. Of course, I’m not advocating that everyone skip class – we are all different, as are our courses, after all. For some, attendance is a pre-requisite, or even something vital (for example, if you do Medicine!). But for me, I could always figure out what was actually going to come in hand in future, and exercise my own judgement.

As an alternative, I’m suggesting you get more vocational. Fair play, we can’t all afford to jot down to London for internships. But we can expand our skill sets with a range of other activities which will impress employers:

Starting a blog. It can even be about shoes, seriously. Sound a bit ridiculous? If you can show passion, an aptitude for writing, and that you’ve got your head around a basic CMS, you’re on your way to impressing people!

Learning some design skills. I’m kicking myself – I am an experienced writer, marketer, PR person, and I work with social media in the workplace, but I can’t design to save my life! Luckily, there are loads of mini courses you can get onto to get ahead, and it means you can sell yourself as the full package.

Volunteering. This one can give you literally every skill going. I volunteer a lot these days, but in university, I basically did nothing. I wish I had, because you can get real world experience, whilst also making a difference. It also looks great on a CV – bonus! See what opportunities are available in your area and get out and do something worthwhile.

Of course, there are loads more things you can do to stand out, and boost your abilities. It can be anything from getting a hobby or taking up a sport, through to political campaigning. It’s frustrating that nobody seems to want to hire graduates straight out, citing lack of experience. Don’t let this hinder you though before you’ve even began. This is avoidable, you just have to start now.

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