Going to University for the first time is a landmark – a unique time in your life of relative personal freedoms, where new worlds of opportunities and life-enhancing experiences, never before available, now present themselves.

In pursuing your chosen area of study, you will develop key skills and competencies that will further your knowledge and expertise. However, as most of you are aware, you will need more than academic qualifications alone to catch the eye of a potential employer in the competitive job market. Even in the heady first weeks of starting at University, it’s not too early to start thinking about the work-focused skills that will enable you to stand out at the end of your degree.
With a bit of planning and some inspired actions while you study, you can build a bank of experience to boost your chances of employability and stay one step ahead.

Exploring your options for your future career

Use your University’s careers service
Your university will offer a careers service with a range of opportunities to start your career planning and explore the options available. Many will hold events and workshops to help you find out more about different types of career paths open to you, support you in finding work experience and placement opportunities during the holidays, let you know of external fairs and events to network with key people in your sector, and meet potential employers via employer-led workshops. It’s worth setting up a one-to-one session with a careers advisor/employability specialist and following up on these as regularly as you can to identify any gaps in your technical and interpersonal skills and understand your next steps. Try and compile a CV if you haven’t put one together before. Your careers service will be able to help you with creating this.

Developing your skill base

Develop crucial skills needed in the workplace
During Fresher’s Week, you’ll spend plenty of time at your freshers’ fair being tempted to join all manner of exciting societies.  But you can also consider professional benefits of some of these, even if they aren’t immediately obvious.

If you sign up to one or two that you are passionate about – whether it’s producing student radio shows, providing first aid or team sports – you can have fun while you develop core skills for the workplace, such as building relationships, working with others, communication, marketing and leadership.

Identify and apply transferable skills from your course
There are core skills that you will learn via your course that can prove invaluable later on when you start working. It may be helpful to identify and list these out in your CV. They include things like:
a)    Numeracy and analytics – analysing statistics and data and drawing conclusions, re-presenting them in graphical format
b)    Communication – expressing yourself clearly, constructing a logical argument, persuading others to your point of view, giving presentations and speaking with confidence, listening and understanding others’ points of view, foreign language skills
c)    IT or technical skills – including designing a web page, coding and programming, using lab skills
d)    Teamworking – working in small groups on a project, collaborating with others, and sharing knowledge and delivering against the objectives
e)    Organisation – managing coursework, exam study, multiple projects eg organising events,  and extra-curricular activities.
Think about the ways that the knowledge you are gaining in your field of study can apply in the context of a workplace.

Enhancing your interpersonal qualities

Volunteer abroad or at home
During summer vacations, you can plan to spend a few weeks contributing to a global community. Going to a different country, learning the language and customs of a new culture and getting involved in the different development programmes available shows adaptability, resilience and vision. It will demonstrate to an employer that you can get on with all types of people from different walks of life, respect ways of life that are different from yours and that you understand issues from a macro/global perspective.

Here are some sites that offer voluntary experience abroad:

There are many opportunities that abound – do your research and see which part of the world beckons.
If you’d like to contribute to a community much closer to home, there are many volunteering opportunities available in the UK. Start with your Careers Service for advice on the opportunities your University offers, which may include fundraising opportunities, community projects and other challenges. There is also a wealth of information online for you to investigate for further opportunities.

Challenge yourself physically
If you like to get physical, you can hone particular interpersonal skills while challenging yourself with an activity you enjoy, whether it’s a mountain hike, a cycle race or a marathon run. Potential employers, in subsequent job-hunting periods, will look favourably at the discipline, commitment, focus and planning that these activities will engender. If you are raising money for charity or a good cause at the same time, it will also cast the networking and marketing skills you will gain in a good light, not to mention the altruistic bent of supporting the wider community.

Catching the eye of potential employers

Organising work experience, placements and internships

Make sure you take a look at our placements pages for helpful sites.

This, more than any other activity, will stand you in good stead for future employment prospects. The Graduate Market Report 2015 conducted by High Fliers Research, said that, “Up to a third of new graduates are now recruited directly through employers’ work experience programmes and employers in sectors such as law, oil and energy, and investment banking are expecting to recruit at least half their graduates this way in 2015.”

The NCUB Research Report on Placements also established findings in a similar vein, stating that “just over a quarter of employers [sampled] report that they use work placements for recruitment purposes.”

There are many types:
a)    Graduate placements – these are available for new or recent graduates and demand is high. An internship with a top graduate recruiter is valuable, as it may lead to job offers but it is not the only type.
b)    Student placements – this is where you will work full time for a certain employer typically during the holidays, where you will gain insights into business, culture and build skills relevant to your future prospects
c)    Vacation work – these are available during the summer but the Christmas vacation also may offer temporary positions in retail and catering
d)    Part-time work – many students will work part-time to help fund their way through University, but the knowledge and experience gained will be valuable in any future career
e)    Sandwich placements – if your degree involves a year out in industry, you can spend up to a year in a subject-related role and it will count as part of your degree. Some Universities offer shorter sandwich placements of four to six months.
Again, see how your University careers advisors can help you support you to find relevant placements and internships. You can also do your own research online, take a look at our Placements area on the Students section of the website.
Your time at University is unique and of course employers will not expect you to be all work and no play! It’s good to take advantage of the world of opportunity on offer but remember to have fun and enjoy this special period of your life.

Sources and interesting snippets: