Uni alone will not provide the job skills needed for work

Why undergrads must ‘be on their toes’ to develop the right job skills

Generally, UK university degree programmes aim to loosely develop the key skills required for industry and so on completion of an undergraduate course, students should attain a core set of job skills to a minimum level. It is this minimum area of skill level that often presents areas of conflict between what graduates know and can do, and what employers require.

Some employers see an undergraduate degree as a certificate of general competence in a broad range of skills. Hence, it can be very frustrating (for both sides) when new graduates appear to be lacking in basic job skills they have failed to develop along the way.

Again, employers would expect the literacy and numeracy of undergrads to be at a certain level. In a few cases, an excellent understanding of the subject studied is a must, for example, some companies will want a strong academic performance in chemistry as a subject if you are going to work in their pharmaceutical departments.

However, speaking more generally from feedback and with those working in this industry for over 20 years, many undergraduates still struggle to attain the following job skills:

Job skill 1). Conflict Resolution, Crisis Management and general problem solving.

Employers increasingly look for undergraduates who will apply initiative where permitted to professionally resolve day-to-day problems or complaints raised by customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. This requires a person to approach problems as opportunities to learn rather than as inconvenient distractions or obstacles. A healthy approach to problem solving will help a graduate to develop the mental and practical skills needed in this highly important area.

Job skill 2). Confidently dealing with colleagues at all levels of the organisation.

Employers would like new undergraduates to engage more with all staff. In some cases, new undergraduates will have the opportunity to engage directly with the chief executive officer, the president or company directors to exchange and share their ideas. New undergraduates must be ready and prepared for this. They also need to relate and communicate well with people of all backgrounds and profiles.

Job skill 3). Developing their professionalism and maturity especially in the workplace.

New undergraduates should aim to develop excellence in their effort and attitude towards work. This means seeking to see, where possible, they can ‘raise the bar’ in refining their professionalism and maturity. I am not saying this doesn’t happen already, but some new graduates see it as ‘just a job’ which they have to do and are not aiming for excellence or quality. They do not look for opportunities to do more than the basic task required. This is a matter that disturbs employers and causes problems with colleagues. Employers are increasing looking for employees who will represent them well.

Job skill 4). Project management (the confident and effective use of resources, including time, finance, products / services) to implement small to medium projects.

Employers would like to see greater potential in new undergrads to manage resources so they can comfortably delegate projects and assignments to them. This will give employees an opportunity to shine and give new undergraduates a greater exposure to the business as a whole.

Generally, businesses want to clearly see where an individual can use their job skills to add value.

Most professionals working in this area think there needs to be more preparation for undergraduates before entering the workplace. Industry is a commercially dynamic and intense place and most don’t believe students are fully aware of this. They need to be ‘on their toes’ and be ready to apply themselves and their skills expertly.

Probably, this needs to be reflected more in the university assessments or dealt with using business / industry workshops. Undergraduates need to find ways to ‘hit the ground running’ and start looking into their  career options well before graduating to minimise long periods of joblessness.

*This article was co-written with Anna Taylor, an Educational Mentor who helps undergrads achieve success at university.

Why competence is a door-opener

What you need to know about demonstrating competence in an interview

As a graduate looking for your first job you may not have much in the way of experience but if you have competence and can demonstrate it, you stand a very good chance of finding favour in the eyes of employers.

People who search for interview coaching services to get help to prepare for an interview really simply need support in demonstrating that they are competent.

Competency describes a set of behaviours that if practiced will enable a person to do a job well. It is made up of your skills, knowledge, abilities and attributes and this is why during job interview coaching a person will be encouraged to focus on these areas. Employers are concerned with the identification, evaluation and development of these key areas that make up your level of competency.

Currently, we are seeing a move among those recruiting into the financial services industries where in order to plug a skills shortage gap they are taking on people without experience but bag loads of competency. Apparently, 97 percent of financial services companies face challenges when sourcing skilled accountancy professionals and so in order to meet this growth in demand companies look for non-accountants with ‘the right commercial acumen’ and transferable experience.

Competency doesn’t mean you are an expert in performing the task because it also allows room for personal growth and development.

This is because competencies for a graduate job position need to be flexible enough to allow both a person with a low level of experience to enter the position and as well as someone who has a bit more experience.

The more experienced the person is the more they will know how and when to break the rules in the process of carrying out a task on the job. Breaking the rules doesn’t mean being reckless or doing your own thing but the confidence to carry out the role ‘your way’. A competent person will know how to perform the task and also have a set of actions to choose from when they come up against challenges. Say for example, you have competing deadlines or delays or you are staring into the face of an irate customer demanding immediate action – the more developed your competencies the more you will be able to respond to changing and competing needs.

Since your competencies are determined by your skills, knowledge, abilities and attributes you need to ensure you understand how to sell all of these areas on your CV and during your job interview.

Most job descriptions will include a list of the tasks that you need to be competent at performing and will use evidence of past experience to measure whether you have the required competencies. This experience can be transferrable, meaning you can carry over experience from outside of the position or industry itself.

It is interesting that in business a company’s core competencies are defined by the set of behaviours that mark out that company’s strategic strength. As an individual it can help to think about this in the same way – that your competencies will reflect your strength. The word competency incorporates the word compete and sharpening it certainly will enable you to compete against other candidates.