Freshers’ Week is coming up for many undergraduates starting an amazing new adventure at university. For some, that means several hangovers, but it won’t feel half as bad as how you’ll feel in your final term at university if, by then, you haven’t…

  • Gained a sense of your natural abilities
  • Started developing your talents into strengths and what is unique to you
  • Identified the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours that all employers desperately need from new entrants
  • Begun to develop yourself personally to improve the big things holding you back
  • Recognised the value you would add to an employer
  • Started exploring how and where you can point your talents at what you really, really want

Surveys suggest that the main reason young people go to university is to improve their job prospects. Understandably, when you’re paying huge fees you want value for your money. Perhaps that is the case at the outset, but for many the experience is much broader and deeper than that. Love of a subject, learning, making lifelong friends and growing as a person are part of the equation.

Your experience can be both transformational (a rite of passage) and transactional (two-way).

Your relationship with the university is also like with an employer. A great employer will provide you with an environment where you can flourish, explore your potential, deepen your thinking and contribution, develop your skills, be recognised for your achievements, provide good terms, conditions and reward package etc. At the same time, they also expect you to take personal responsibility for your learning and growth. Put your all into everything to reap the personal rewards.

It will pay you massive dividends to start that process while you are at university in order to demonstrate that you have what it takes for a future employer!

5 Top Employability Tips

Here are 5 top tips to improve your employability by combining study and extra-curricular experience:

  1. Get work experience/volunteer– Take on a responsibility, be accountable, improve yourself by helping others, make a contribution and try different areas.  For example, you could develop your listening skills working for a student helpline, so you get the experience of taking a wide range of calls, learn how to adapt your communication style and to practise asking different types of questions.
  2. Become an intern– Wherever you stand on the paid versus unpaid issue, internships are a fact of life today, so seek opportunities at any time (not just the holidays).  For example, an art student I know did a Saturday internship as a fundraiser for a major gallery during term-time as well as paid work with flexible shifts in a cafe during the week.
  3. Network– You do this already with Facebook or maybe Twitter!  So put those natural skills to use by creating a LinkedIn profile, contribute to discussions in areas that interest you, set up a forum, ask questions of more experienced people in your field and identify key people in companies you’d like to work for.  And don’t forget to network internally – your professors and lecturers are very well connected!  Remember, networking is all about building genuine relationships.
  4. Review your CV– Put it down on paper early on, and then critically review it from an employer’s viewpoint (get expert help from your Careers Service). Then plan how you will strengthen your experience during your degree.
  5. Develop your self-awareness– Employers don’t want a robot, they want YOU! So find out who you are, what makes you unique and talented, what makes you tick, what you get fired up about, and how you like to think, feel and behave.  Make the connection between your experiences at university and who you are. Get feedback. Develop your ability to self-reflect. Articulate it. Then learn to shout out in a way that is genuinely you and not what you think others want to hear.

The days of just studying for a degree are over if you want a job at the end of it. The key is to build your employability by integrating it into your time at University. Ironically enough, many older employees have done it in reverse, building academic experience into their working experience. Either way, building and sustaining your employability is a lifelong challenge for all of us.

When you receive your award at graduation, not only are you officially a graduate, you also take on the title of alumnus. The word alumnus comes from the Latin and means to nourish. Your time at university is a period of intellectual, emotional and professional nourishment. Ensure you have a balanced diet for a healthy future.

What are your reasons for going to university? Leave a comment and let’s discuss!