How graduates can Successfully Bridge the Gap between University and Work Life
The competition in today’s market place for graduates is fierce. So how can you differentiate yourself from the competition?
The most common problems faced by graduates in the UK are:
- A lack of opportunities in a highly competitive job market.
- Having to work for free even though you have just left university with serious debt. This prospect is even more difficult to swallow considering the increased tuition fees.
- Being labeled too inexperienced.
- Being told you don’t have the right skills for the job.
Employers want graduates that demonstrate initiative. In the UK employers are struggling to find graduates with the skills they are looking for. Recent surveys have suggested that employers are demanding ’soft skills’ from graduates such as the capacity to work in a team structure, make decisions, solve problems, planning, and organisation. Employers find that it’s much easier to teach an applicant the technical skills that come along with a certain job. However, they find that trying to correct a lifetime of bad habits is much, much harder.
In June 2013 I graduated from the University of Exeter with a Geography degree. Prior to this point I had always worked in the summer to earn money to help fund my way through university but I had never done an internship. I followed the conventional route as many people do by purely studying for my degree and making sure I achieved good grades. I didn’t give much thought to what I might do after finishing university in terms of a career. So in September 2013 I took an unpaid internship with an energy consultancy company in London to gain experience with the hope that I would land a full-time paid position at the end of it, which to my credit I did. During my internship I spent 3 months commuting from home, which involved a 2-hour train journey each way. The internship ended up costing me money.
At the end of March 2015, I quit from my position as a Carbon & Sustainability Consultant. I realised I had been ushered on to a career path that wasn’t my own and so I decided to take the leap and be true to myself by pursuing my interests.
A changing employment landscape that opens doors to the new
So how can you sensibly navigate your way from university in to work that matters to you. Is there an alternative to the conventional system of getting an internship to develop experience and skills?
The answer is yes. The world of work is changing. Let’s take a look at how:
- We are witnessing a noticeable shift away from institutions to collaborations. Individuals are much more empowered than we have ever been due to the technological revolution which has granted us the power of the internet to connect. And connection creates value.
- People have lost faith in institutions owing to the financial meltdown a few years ago. The idea that companies will take care of us is becoming an outdated concept.
- Business models are changing as a result of environmental and economic factors beyond our control including the technological revolution and changing consumer behaviour. Enterprises must constantly evaluate and change their business models to survive.
- Businesses are becoming more agile and flexible in the way they operate.
- Since the economy has picked up we are seeing a growth of start-ups which present new opportunities for graduates.
What does this changing employment landscape mean for you?
You need to think of yourself as a business model. In order to remain competitive, businesses must adapt in the changing environment they operate in, and so must you. You must identify how you operate and then adapt your approach to fit changing environments. In this new world of work, you as individuals need to be able to answer this fundamental question: Where can I provide value?
In the context of a changing world of work, you need to adapt your strategy to avoid the common pitfalls mentioned earlier. Nowadays you don’t need the resources of an institution to develop useful skills and generate value. Identify where your interests lie and figure out what the growing trends are so you can develop the skills required through self-directed learning and collaboration. This will build value, demonstrate initiative and help you determine where your strengths can be usefully applied. I would suggest following these steps:
1. Become a value creator
You don’t need to follow instructions given within institutions to generate value. What valuable skills could you learn? There is a range of online resources available to help you develop skills at little or no cost. Good places to start would be Skillshare, General Assembly and Udacity.
2. Initiate self-directed projects
What projects could you initiate to develop skills, experience and knowledge in areas that interest you? It is now easier than ever to create your own website and blog. I’m interested in social enterprise and the development field more widely and I write about the new world of social enterprise via my blog The Social Enterprise Revolution. I have used this as a tool to develop my research, writing and interviewing skills. It also acts as a platform to connect with like-minded people. In the new world of work, this approach is key because it demonstrates ‘proactivity’ rather than ‘reactivity’, and employers want to see initiative.
3. Collaborate with others through flexible working
Working with other people will be a fundamental part of this journey. Initiating your own independent projects is important but you will become even more valuable by working with others. Skills Hive is a great platform for graduates and undergraduates to connect with businesses and work on interesting projects that promote skill development and experience. By working with others you’ll grasp an understanding of where your strengths can be most usefully applied in a commercial work environment as well as gaining useful skills and experience. What skills can you bring to the table?
4. Build connections and networks
By working on projects with others you will automatically develop professional relationships and expand your network. This will be essential to finding a job you really want – hunt people not jobs. Unfortunately most people find jobs through people they know. Attending events is another way of exposing you to new networks. Websites like meet up, eventbrite, and lanyrd are good places to start.
Be bold and start now!
To achieve your ambitions and to avoid the common pitfalls of many graduates you need to change your mind-set. I would urge you to be different. Show initiative, start your own projects and collaborate with others. The world is waiting.
What will you initiate?
(Thanks to Jonny Thomson for writing this insightful post based on his own experiences in the new world of work)