Employability Means More Than Your Degree: Advice from a Postgraduate Student
by Chloe Adshead
One of the most valuable comments I heard as an undergraduate was this: when it comes to translating your university experience onto paper, remember that your degree classification only covers one line of your CV. That’s not to say that your studies are unimportant, but it does highlight the reality that you need to be able to leave university boasting a lot more than just a degree certificate. While you can always use your course in an interview to evidence the skills and knowledge you’ve developed throughout, so can everyone else who did the same subject. To stand out to employers, you need a larger range of examples to prove your suitability for a given role. That is, you need to think about how else you’re going to fill that CV.
When I first started university, work experience was the furthest thing from my mind. Like many people studying subjects that don’t train for any singular vocation, I had no idea what kind of career I wanted at the end of my three years, and I didn’t know where to start to figure it out. I was nervous about speaking out in seminars, let alone in interviews where people would judge me, and my lack of confidence and ideas left me frozen and convinced that the only thing I had to worry about was the next upcoming essay.
Actually, it was putting myself out there and applying for work experiences that helped me to feel more comfortable even within my degree, and there’s no better way to figure out what you like than by trying it out.
I owe a lot to my decision to get involved in student ambassador work, for instance. I always recommend on-campus roles if you’re concerned about finding somewhere that will cater to your availability, but being an ambassador has also been amazing in providing me with a huge range of opportunities. I’ve been involved in call-campaigns, mailing shifts, campus tours, Q&As, information desks, and car parking, to name a few. In doing so, I’ve gained experience in phones, information security, public speaking, customer service, conflict-management, and adaptability. Maybe that won’t all be relevant to my future career, but it’s all practical experience that I couldn’t get from my degree, and it’s much better to get experiences and give yourself options to explore than to limit yourself.
I’m sure you’ve heard it said before, but there really is no such thing as irrelevant work experience, even if the only thing it teaches you is that you have no interest in that sector. Even simple retail roles help to develop core skills like teamwork, communication, and problem-solving, and it’s not just specialised or professional-sounding titles like internships that deserve your time, in the same way that degrees don’t have to directly relate to careers. I’m unlikely to lead campus tours again, and I don’t intend to be an author, teacher or publisher despite my Literature degree, but both have taught me how to engage an audience, communicate effectively, and think creatively. Those are skills that I currently hope to use within marketing, something which I’d never have considered without working in related roles.
When people say to make the most of your time at university, they’re not just referring to the social life. It’s about taking opportunities and furthering your personal development, but also remembering that you can do that just by having fun. Being involved in societies is an obvious one here, as I personally was able to develop graphic design, social media, leadership and copywriting skills through my own role as an exec member for the Mental Health Society, but just participating can have huge benefits. Regularly attending events can showcase passion and commitment, while different talks or activities can evidence knowledge and creativity. Taking part in college activities, similarly, can be beneficial; for instance, I recently won the Nine Colleges Baking Competition, which can be used to demonstrate great organisation and teamwork. Becoming employable doesn’t just involve jobs, it includes taking the things you’ve enjoyed and understanding how to sell what they taught you.
In all, it’s important to remember that the aim of university isn’t just to gain an expensive certificate, it’s to leave feeling ready to face the world of employment. It’s never too late, or too early, to make that realisation and start making strides. One of the reasons I chose to do postgraduate study was because I recognised that there were further experiences I could gain from university, and I think I’ve really benefitted from that extra time. I’ve joined more societies, done more volunteering, and attended more Careers sessions that helped me to understand what I wanted for the future. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the real purpose of university.
Chloe is studying MA English Literary Studies at Lancaster University
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