#APHUniAdvice – 7 Ways to Enhance your University Experience

University studentsWhat thoughts come to mind when you reflect on your time at University? If you could go back in time and start out again, would you do anything differently? For students currently in Higher Education, have you ever thought about what you want to take away from your time at University? 

The answers to the questions posed above are quite revealing. Recent graduates says things like ‘I wish I had focused on identifying and developing, skills, attributes and more importantly, relationships that were necessary to succeed after University.‘ Interestingly, for the most part, current students tell us that they want to finish with a good degree (2:1) and have some fun while doing it. There is nothing wrong with having a good time at Uni, in fact, it is advisable you do! This article is about thinking of ways to make the most of the relatively short time you spend in Higher Education.

Begin with the end in mind – While graduation may seem a long way off in your first year, sooner or later your course will come to an end. Apart from a degree certificate, what else are you going to leave with? ‘Beginning with the end in mind’ is a concept that was first described by Stephen Covey in his best selling book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.’ This is about reflecting on where you want to be at the end of an endeavour before you start out. In other words, throughout your time at Uni, think about what you want to leave with. This allows you to modify your thinking and actions towards SMART goals to get you there. This enables you recognise and  maximise resources at your disposal. How do you want your CV to look on the day you graduate? Start working on it from Day 1!

Experience, experience, experience – If you do not do anything else while at University, try and get some relevant experience. The key word being relevant. If you are studying for a degree in Biomedical Science today in the UK, it will be near on impossible to get into a graduate training position without some laboratory experience. Having a part time job in a bar may provide some much needed funds but just won’t cut it for the type of job you are after. This is because Universities are churning out graduates by the thousands each year and there are just so many jobs. Even if it is an unpaid internship, see it as an investment in your future. Another benefit besides making yourself more employable is that you can decide if that profession is for you or not. Believe us, you do not want to get stuck in a career that you derive no satisfaction from.

Get involved! – You’ve committed the next 3-4 years of your life to your University, you might as well get more out of it than a degree certificate. Join a Society or start one. Become a Peer Mentor, a Student representative for your course or run for the Student Union. Organise a student conference or plan a study trip that can help take your learning outside the classroom. Become a student ambassador and engage with prospective students on Open Days. If you’re that way inclined, sign up for University Challenge! Do something that shows you are able to take initiative and are innovative. Do not just go through your University, allow your University go through you too.

Use your University’s Careers service – We are constantly surprised at the number of students that pass through a University and never speak to a single Careers Adviser! These are specially trained individuals who can provide advice and help you with creating a CV, personal statement, filling in application forms, interview preparation and so much more. Most importantly, the service is free! A number of Universities now organise Career fairs and events, providing opportunities to network with prospective employers. We advise making an appointment with a Careers advisor at least once each academic year. This allows you review what you have done in the past year and identify skill gaps. You can then set goals to fill in any ‘gaps’ for the next year. It can sometimes be difficult to see the link between work experience and skills developed. A good Careers Advisor can help with that and help you enhance your CV.

Join a relevant professional body or Learned Society – Most disciplines are associated with a professional body. If you are in your 2nd or 3rd year at University and do not know which body is relevant to your discipline…there are no words! There are many advantages to joining a professional body including – careers advice tailored to your discipline, information about conferences which provide networking opportunities, grants to support you attending a conference etc. Many of these organisations offer reduced rates for students (sorry not free) but are definitely value for money.

Develop key horizontal and vertical relationships – So you want to be a lawyer, accountant or dietitian? How many professionals in your field do you know? Is it possible to ask one of them to mentor you? Mentoring (vertical upwards) relationships are very powerful in opening doors and getting a leg in. You can only get so much information online. Mentors come with a breadth and depth of experience that cannot be obtained from lectures or textbooks. What about you? You can develop mentoring relationships (vertical downwards) with students just starting out. Tell them what you wish someone had told you when you were starting out. Maintain a good relationship with your peers (horizontal). They are the future of your profession and you never know when you will need their skills and expertise.

Do your homework – What do you want to do when you finish? Get a job, start your own business, maybe both, maybe neither? Know what is required for your next step. Will professional certifications put you at an advantage? What are the main skills and attributes employers are looking for in your sector? Where are you now and what do you need to get where you want to be?

This is by no means an exhaustive list and we may do a follow up post soon. We would love to hear your thoughts too so please join the conversation by clicking the comments button.

aa-headshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology, Amara is building her career in academia, teaching and supporting a new generation of scientists as well as undertaking research. Amara believes in the combined power of education and developing productive relationships as essential tools for building successful careers. She tweets @amaratweets.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! If you have an article you would like to share with our readers, please get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.

#UniAdvice – So you didn’t get a Desmond? How to ‘fail forward’

Are you a Damien, Billy, Desmond or Thora? Although I’m a Damien, I have friends, family and students who didn’t quite make a Desmond.  Now before you think I may have lost my marbles, I recently found out that these names are used to describe degree classifications based on rhyming slang of the surnames of some famous people. Are you a Damien (Hirst – 1st), Billy (Gunn – 2:1), Desmond (Tutu – 2:2) or a Thora (Thora Hird – 3rd)?  While preparing our previous article on graduate employment, we touched on the point of degree classification and would like to go into further detail here.

7-failureSo you didn’t make a Desmond. You’ve spent 3, 4 or more years at University working towards a degree and now you’ve finished not even with a 2nd lower (Let my people go…lol) but with a third class degree. Before the doom and gloom sets in, be encouraged that there can be success after a third. Not that there will be but that there can be. Whether it happens or not is really up to you. I worked very hard for my degree and I make no apologies for it. I recognised early in my studies that it would be important for me to excel academically to achieve the career goals I had set for myself and that was my motivation. I am mighty proud I did because it was and still is a tremendous achievement. However, for a number of reasons, not everyone does. As a teacher, I am disappointed to see some of my students finish with a third but I realise this this is far from the end of their story.

This article isn’t about sugarcoating the issue in ‘motivational speak.’ If you have finished with a third, it means you have in essence failed at Higher Education. You have failed to meet most of the assessment criteria set in the subjects you have studied. You cannot prove to have a good knowledge of a discipline you have been studying for a number of years. If you have studied in the UK, more often than not you are in debt to the tune of some thousands of pounds. What this article is saying is that while you may have failed at University, you haven’t failed at life.

Lewis Carrol, most famously known for penning ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was an English writer, mathematician and Anglican cleric. Carol Vorderman is a maths whizz and is best known for co-hosting popular programme ‘Countdown.’ Gani Fawehinmi was a human and civil rights lawyer who was also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). All three completed their first degrees with a 3rd. All three ‘failed forward’ from that and became very successful in their chosen careers.

Be honest with yourself – Why did you finish with a third? As University lecturers, we teach all types of students. We observe some students who genuinely struggle academically and may have made the wrong course choice. We note those who are just indifferent. University is just the next place to go after completing A Levels and it is sort of what is expected of them. These students just want to coast through the next few years until they have to make a decision on what to do with their lives. Some students have a life changing experience (death of a loved one, accident, mental health issue) occur during their studies that they never really recover from. Reflecting on your answer to the question of Why? can help you decide what to do next and will be useful for interview preparation because you may have to discuss this so be prepared. If you truly believe you have made the wrong course choice, spend time finding out what you are good at. Utilise the Careers Service in your University and if you don’t have one, find a professional in that area to discuss with.

How much does it matter? – It depends on what you want to do next. If you want to progress into a postgraduate degree, teach or get onto a graduate scheme at a top firm then yes it really does matter. If you want to write a best selling novel, work in art/design or create the next Facebook, then maybe not. What do you want to do next? Has University taught you that you don’t want to be an employee but an entrepreneur? Please read our article on identifying your skills and create a list of your skills and abilities. Compare your list with the skill set required in your preferred role(s) and identify where your skills come short. Identify the gaps and search for training opportunities to fill them e.g. professional exams. Remember that your transferable skills are marketable across sectors!

Be proactive – In today’s job market, a first or 2:1 is not an assurance of immediate employment. Beyond academic abilities, employers are looking for particular skills, competencies and attributes. While studies indicate that more employers now ask for a 2:1 as minimum, this is because more and more students are now finishing with 2:1’s. I have two friends who finished with firsts who could not get a graduate job for months after completing their degree. The first worked as a care assistant and the other as a waitress. They are both now in graduate employment. During her interview, my friend’s boss was so impressed that she hadn’t turned her nose down on waitressing because he too worked as a waiter when he finished Uni and was job hunting 30 years before! Do not be too proud to ‘stoop to conquer.’ In my experience, small and medium size companies are more willing to overlook degree classification than bigger companies.

It is always harder to climb the mountain when starting from the bottom but the view is the same when you get to the top, regardless of where you started.

A young friend of mine recently finished with a third and is now working in a small firm where he is getting hands on training and enjoying it. In two years time, he will be able to take professional exams and will be more marketable. A Financial Director of an asset management firm told me ‘When it comes down to it, I will always offer a job to the candidate who is most hungry for it.’ A third may start you off on the wrong foot but nothing stops you from re-balancing and putting your best foot forward. Failing forward means realising the difference between failing at something and being a failure. One is an event, the other is an attitude or way of life.

aa-headshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology, Amara is building her career in academia, teaching and supporting a new generation of scientists as well as undertaking research. Amara believes in the combined power of education and developing productive relationships as essential tools for building successful careers. She tweets @amaratweets.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! If you have an article you would like to share with our readers, please get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.

#CareerChat – The ‘nuts’ and ‘bolts’ of transferable skills

3-skill-wordsPicture this. You get onto a bus and see a gentleman selling health supplements. In an effort to sell his wares, he sparks the interest of his target market by sounding knowledgeable and intelligent about the constituents of his products. His witty and humorous communication style engages the audience and by the time he mentions that he is selling at ‘a one day special reduced rate’, they no longer need convincing. Within a few minutes, he has convinced a bunch of strangers to part with their money.

Alongside ‘knowledge’ of his products (subject specific skills), the gentleman has demonstrated other skills such as: communication, research, literacy, self-awareness, presentation and confidence. A more introspective look at the mentioned skills and you will note that these skills are used in almost every job type or sector including; hospitality, academia, finance, management, media etc. These generic skills are known as transferable skills and differ from subject specialist skills which are specific to a particular profession. The clue in the name being that that these are skills you can ‘transfer’ from one professional field to another.

Transferable skills are skills and abilities that are relevant across different areas of life; professionally as well as socially.

Note that as important as the sales man’s knowledge about the product was, it was his ability to connect with the audience that enabled him succeed in selling his wares. Similarly, your transferable skills set can be the ‘extra’ that differentiates you from other candidates and enables you succeed in getting your dream job

The good news is that we all already have transferable skills because we start developing them as early as when we are in school. Were you a school prefect? You were already developing leadership and problem solving skills. Were you a part of the debating society? You were already developing communication, team work and research skills.

So what are these skills? The UK transferable skills framework provides the following list;

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Self-management
  • Digital (IT)
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Planning and organising
  • Research and analysing
  • Leadership and supervising
  • Resilience, adaptability and drive

Now let’s reflect. Which of these skills do you have? Where have you displayed these? Have you highlighted them in your CV?

If no, what are you waiting for?

2. TransferableAn awareness and understanding of transferable skills enables one recognise and therefore take opportunities where these skills could be developed. Skill profiles are increasingly being used by employers to identify suitable employees. Graduates come a dime a dozen these days, so make yourself unique by developing an unmatched skills profile.

How can you develop transferable skills? First, identify the gaps between your skill set and what potential employers are looking for. Take every opportunity to utilise these skills both professionally and socially. We learn and develop by doing.   Remember this quote from Thomas Edison that ‘opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.’

Opportunities to develop key transferable skills.

Communication – Writing articles, reports, dissertations, and minutes of meetings. Giving presentations and lectures, participation in a debating society.

Team work – Membership of a sports team, committee responsible for organising an event, being part of the Student Union, any responsibility that requires team effort.

IT and digital skills – Proficient use of word processing, blogging, data analysis, presentation programmes and use of the internet.

It is essential to take the initiative and start developing transferable skills that you have recognised as being key in your chosen field.  Evidence showing how you have utilised transferable skills must be well articulated in your CVs, personal statements as well as in interviews. Experience doesn’t have to be everything!

Success is a process and not a destination so keep working at it. All the best!

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#CareerChat – How to identify and articulate your skills when preparing your CV!

Skill (noun) 1.special ability or expertise. 2. something requiring special training or expertise. (Collins English Dictionary).

‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ (Socrates)

SkillsTo succeed in any field of discipline, it is imperative that one identifies and develops relevant skills to excel in that specific area. More often than not, employers will choose a more skilful applicant over a more experienced one. Like my friend who is a Human Resources consultant said ‘there is a difference between experience and expertise, I am constantly seeking the latter.’ Developing one’s skills makes all the difference but that will be the subject of another post.

How you present your skills profile in your CV can be the difference between progressing to the next phase of a job application or not; regardless of your education or work experience. Identifying and communicating your skills will always set your apart from other applicants. However, you cannot communicate what you haven’t identified! Furthermore, the ability to identify all the skills you have can make you more aware of your different career options. It can also alert you to any skills or knowledge gaps that can be addressed with further training.

Skills by definition involves a special ability or expertise. Do not let the terms ‘special ability’ and ‘expertise’ throw you. We all have skills, whether they be generic transferable skills such as communication and teamwork or more specialist skills such as electron microscopy and credit control! Job skills are a broad term that are used to cover a wide range of abilities and skills that you have built up during your education and career.

So now we all agree that preparing your skills profile by making a complete and relevant list of your skills is a worthwhile task, how do we go about it? We move from ‘knowing’ our experience to ‘identifying’ our expertise via reflection.

First, look at your employment history and prepare a list of every single job you have done, it doesn’t matter if it is voluntary or paid employment, skills can be developed in either. If you have just graduated from school or University and are thinking about your first job, scrutinise what you have done over the last few years to achieve your degree award. Skills are not only developed in a work environment. Do you have any hobbies? Include them on the list too.

Next, for every job, hobby or training, identify and write down the tasks associated with each activity. Finally, note what you have learnt from carrying out these tasks. What abilities do you now have that you didn’t before? You’ll be surprised at how many skills you have developed over the years.

Undertaking tasks lead to experience, developing experience = developing skills in that area. For example, a final year student undertaking a research project in Microbiology is developing skills; in the subject area (techniques being used); IT (data analysis, preparing reports); organisational and project management (managing submission deadlines); communication (writing dissertation and defence/viva) etc.

Now that your skills profile is ready, the job application process becomes somewhat easier as you can compare the person specification in any job advertisement with your personal and unique skills list and choose the relevant items. You can also see what skills are important to employers in your area of expertise and fill in the gaps where necessary.

1. CVIdentifying your skills is an ongoing process in the journey of personal development. As one advances along a career path, our capacity to improve our skill set increases. However, unless we are aware of and documenting our advancement, it can be difficult to communicate this progress to prospective employers.

Why take all the time to find and communicate your skills? The end result is something that sets you apart and makes you stand out. Remember that you don’t even have to be the most qualified and or experienced candidate, but by showcasing your skills you can grab the attention of the employer and demonstrate instantly how you will fit into the job role perfectly and add value to the company. So get started.

Good luck!

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