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Develop skills employers need, instead of snap career decisions

27th April 2017
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I was interested to see comments made by the outgoing head of Ucas, Mary Curnock Cook earlier this week, emphasising the point that students should not worry about finding a job while studying for their degree.

Graduate jobI would however advise differently.  I would agree that ‘worrying’ about this is not a helpful way forward, however I feel the focus should be more on students taking the time at university to explore their options so that they have time to make an informed decision. 

Worry can often be caused by not having a plan post university, which causes students who are unprepared to make rash decisions because they are worried about not having an income. This can also be a concern for their family.

I also believe that having a career focus while at university shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, in fact in many ways the two are complimentary to each other. For example, skills you develop in the learning environment will help develop crucial skills for the world of work.

Practically, there are many useful things you can do while at university to help develop a career plan, without distracting from your academic learning and experiences, for instance, start with researching the various careers which match your interests, build the core skills employers are looking for, many of which are generic across all the career paths. 

Employers have told us that interpersonal skills are just as important as being technically competent and communication skills, likeability, adaptability, emotional intelligence, and leadership are among core skills and attitudes that employers value.  Make sure you take advantage of every opportunity to develop these skills outside of the classroom as well as technical abilities that employers need.

You may also decide to take time out to travel and gain new experiences. This can be a fantastic opportunity to try something new, perhaps developing skills through volunteering.  It can also give you time and space to consider what you’d like to do next.

I know a trainee who took a four month career break after completing her three-year training agreement with PwC and she used this time to volunteer for a charity in Nepal. The experience reinforced her interest in working in the charity sector and since returning to the UK she now works for a London-based medical charity. 

It is fine to take your time to decide on what those first steps onto the career ladder might look like and to work out what you ‘re going to be passionate about.  But to do this, you are going to need to expose yourself to the world of work and what better time do this, than at university as it saves time post certification. And changing your mind is OK too.

Changing career is now part and parcel of working life, and it is never too late to change track. For example, I met an ACA trainee recently who joined the Metropolitan Police straight after University and five years on he is now working with BDO.

Diversity is important for employers – they value people who have been working for a while and come with other experiences and have developed skills such as resilience and emotional intelligence which those joining straight from school or university haven’t always developed.

One final bit of advice, where possible, while at university find opportunities to ‘try before you buy’ a career direction as such, and you can do this by attending career insight days, undertake internships, placement year or a weekend job. 

That way you can gain some valuable professional skills, increase your knowledge of different careers and if you’re lucky get offered a job at the end of it. 

Sharon Spice is the Director of Student Recruitment at ICAEW

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