Why your non-academic experience is your most valuable asset

Got a degree? Great. But it’s your non-academic experience potential employers are after.

Penguin’s decision to scrap the requirement for a degree reminds us just how high non-academic experience ranks when looking for that first graduate job.

In scrapping this requirement, the publishing house joins PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst and Young, and Deloitte, who have each changed their recruitment policies over the past year so that those who apply no longer need a certain A-level grade or grade of degree.

Deloitte and Ernst and Young have even stopped recording certain information on their job application forms so that recruiters have no idea where candidates went to school or university.

This is quite a statement given that these companies are among the biggest single recruiters of graduates each year.

But why this trend in graduate recruitment? Because employers are beginning to realise that academic achievement, noble as it may be, measures only one type of intelligence.

A degree doesn’t demonstrate business awareness

A degree was once considered the gold standard in measurement for skill and talent but employers now realise that all it measures is the ability to think.

Of course, if you want to become a physicist or to follow a teaching or medical career then a degree is still a fine thing to do.

Other than that it doesn’t form the mainstay of the set of skills required to get a job. It cannot tell an employer very much about a person’s resilience, interpersonal skills or teamwork abilities. And it certainly cannot demonstrate practical business awareness.

The skills developed through academic life are so very different from those needed in work life.

As Penguin acknowledges, if it wants to survive into the future then it must make publishing more inclusive, it must make room for people from different backgrounds who can appeal to readers everywhere.

That means people with demonstrable cultural awareness, creativity and entrepreneurial skills.

What does this mean for you if you’re at university and/or about to graduate?

It means you need to evidence lots of skills other than academic achievement. This is what graduates ought to have been doing all along – and certainly must do now. You must work on your non-academic achievements.

The starting line has shifted. Graduate starting salaries have become very competitive rising to as high as £41k for some positions.

Last year there were a record number of paid internships on offer, over 13,000. For many graduates, the recruitment ladder is difficult to step on.

In fact, the most recent Highfliers research reported a repeated warning from previous years – that graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during a recruiter’s selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer from a graduate programme.

Many employers now offer work experience to graduates in their first year at university.

How to strengthen your non-academic experience

adults volunteering to gain non-academic experience

If you want to strengthen your non-academic experience, you need to start doing work experience from day one.

Employers want to know about the skills and attributes gained from non-academic pursuits.

Here are some examples of non-academic achievements:

  • Internships
  • Travelling
  • Volunteer work
  • Extra-curricular activities – such as being the president or part of the committee of a society on campus
  • Hobbies and interests – such as playing a musical instrument or playing being a part of a sports team
  • Starting your own business

I once heard a recruiter explaining how she screens candidates. She doesn’t look at where they went to school or university but where they went on holiday.

It is important that you include your extracurricular activities in your job applications.

Now, what this all means is that your graduate CV must look very different. It must reflect your out-of-uni, non-academic achievements first, those that show what you’ve been doing aside from studying.

You must now begin to place equal, if not greater emphasis on building a rounded set of skills and abilities as early as possible. It’s about exposing yourself to those opportunities that will truly develop and enhance what you have to offer.

Furthermore, you need to be prepared to talk about your examples of non-academic achievements and be able to elaborate on the transferable skills you have gained from them in job interviews as you may be asked to: “tell me about your extracurricular activities and interests”.

Here at Graduate Coach, we have reviewed hundreds of CVs from students and recent graduates.

A lot of people who have come to us for help often believe that they do not have any examples of non-academic experience or achievements.

However, once we provide some 1-2-1 coaching we usually discover how they can draw out transferable skills from their extra-curricular activities and non-academic achievements that are related to the jobs they are applying for.

If you need some help with the following, contact us on: +44 (0)207 014 9547 or via email on: gethelp@graduatecoach.co.uk

  • writing an achievements-based CV
  • Applying for graduate jobs
  • Training for interviews

Related Resources

  1. Read this blog post on how to use your work experience to help you to get the job you really want.
  2. Watch this video on how to differentiate yourself from other candidates to hear directly from a graduate recruiter why it is so important to have non-academic experience.

Book a FREE 15-minute career coaching call with Chris Davies, the founder of Graduate Coach, who has 8+ years of experience helping hundreds of students and graduates to get the job of their dreams!

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Our complete guide to how we help graduates turn their degrees into great careers – what we do and how we do it.

8 Bad Habits in the Workplace That Could Be Hurting Your Career

Good office etiquette is crucial to making it in your place of work. Bad habits in the workplace can have a serious impact on your productivity, others concentration and also your relationship with your colleagues and clients. 

Think you don’t have any bad habits? Take a look through the list below to see if you identify with any of them. If you do, now is the time to tackle them head-on and change your ways for the better… before it’s too late. 

Editor’s note: we collaborated with HR professional and independent writer Dakota Murphey to put together this post.

1. Procrastination

Are you someone who puts off tasks? Do you have a long to-do list but never seem to work through tasks? Whether it is a presentation or article you need to have written by a certain date, the less time you leave for yourself could mean less quality produced. Even if you think you work well under pressure, it’s important to give yourself as much preparation time as possible to ensure you produce the highest quality work. 

Procrastinating at work can not only hurt your own projects, but also those you work on with others. 

When working in a team, it’s important to consider other peoples’ deadlines and not put off work. You need to pull your weight in a team, don’t put off tasks and think you will be able to complete them in a short space of time, as it could reflect badly on you and your capabilities. 

Leaving things until the last minute could also cause you unnecessary stress at work, which is not a good habit to keep. 

2. Too many breaks

Another form of procrastination is taking too many breaks from your desk. Think you can put off that task that’s taking too long by making a cup of tea? By taking too many breaks, you are actually disrupting your concentration and therefore making it even harder to get back into a productive mindset.

Try scheduling in regular breaks from your desk to encourage a concentrated mind.  

3. Lying

It is good practice to never lie at work. If you lie and say you have done a task when you know you haven’t, it will undoubtedly catch you out at some point. 

If you lie about being ill or having an illness, it can be costly for the business as they will likely have to pay you for the sick day. One of the biggest reasons for lying about a sick day is sport. 58% of employees reportedly call in sick because they either want to attend or watch a sporting event. 

For you as an individual, lying can be damaging to your character as it makes you appear dishonest. When your reputation in the business is key to your success, you do not want to do anything that could jeopardise that. 

If you are caught out for lying, it could hinder the chance of getting a good reference or it could mean you miss out on a potential promotion. 

Remember to think about the potential consequences of your lie first and ask yourself: is it really worth lying for? 

nail your next interview ad

4. Poor communication

Communication is key in any job. Ignoring emails or forgetting about replying can be one of the simplest mistakes to make, but if you continue to put off replying to your emails, it can develop into a bad habit.

As soon as an email comes in, if you have an answer to it, do it then and there – don’t put it off. If you don’t have an answer or don’t have the time to reply to it, make sure you flag the email to remind you to reply to it later on. Make it a habit to go through your emails in the morning or evening, whichever your schedule allows, to check for any missed emails. 

It’s important to also take the time with your reply; don’t reply with short phrases, as this will not reflect well on you. Your tone of voice cannot be detected in emails, so remember to take care with your words and how you use them.

5. Poor time management

If you are struggling with your time management, you should try and make a list at the start of each week and on Monday, prioritise the easy tasks that need completing first, before moving onto the tasks you know will take you longer to complete. 

If your task requires help or input from others, it is best to give them as much notice as possible. Never ask someone last minute for their help as they might not have the time to offer you. 

If you have a bad habit of forgetting things, write them down on a post-it note immediately and place on your desk or write on your to-do list before you can forget. 

6. Showing up late

Following on from time management, it’s also important to not show up late. If you show up late for your job or a meeting, it shows a lack of care and planning. You remember when someone is late and so will your boss. Remember, being on time also counts for meetings and appointments with clients too, as this can be a deal-breaker for many people if they are hiring you or making a deal. 

29% of workers have admitted that they are late for work at least once a month, yet 53% of employers expect their employees to show up on time for work every day. 

Being consistently late can also be ground for dismissal as 41% of employers have admitted to firing someone for being late. It isn’t just in the office that showing up late can be detrimental to your career either, as 53% of homeowners do not like it when tradespeople fail to turn up when agreed to. 

If you do show up late to work, even if it is by accident, try and make up the time by working late, like 69% of workers have confessed to doing, all the while apologising to either your employer or the client. 

7. Bad office etiquette

Good office etiquette starts with being kind to others and treating others with respect. 

Think about others in the office workspace, by not taking personal phone calls in the middle of the office, using speakerphone or talking loudly on the phone. 36% of people rated this as the worst offence you could make in the office. 

If you are very sick, then simply don’t go into work and infect the rest of the office, as this will only be worse for the business if more staff have to take time off. 

8. Messy desk

Is your desk unorganised and cluttered? Do you week in and week out seem to gather mess on your desk? If so, you may want to change that. 

People will make an automatic judgment on your capabilities when they see your desk. To many, a desk represents how you take care of your work and your life. 30% say a tidy desk is an important aspect to presenting a professional image at work and 1 in 10 bosses said that a messy desk would make them reconsider promoting an employee. 

It isn’t just you who can be impacted by your own messy desk, it is also your workmates, as 40% said that a messy desk meant their colleagues were disorganised and 20% have said the messy desk has caused a negative impact on their working day.  

Banishing bad habits in the workplace: summary 

If you have recognised that you have some bad habits in the workplace, it’s time for a change. These habits could be potentially halting your progression at work. Start by making an actionable plan to develop better workplace habits, that will aid in your career advancement. 

Love this post? Check out some other great posts by Dakota Murphey!  

From dead-end-job to living your dream 

Social Media: Five Ways To Make Your Profiles Recruiter-Friendly 

Author Bio

Dakota Murphey has more than a decade of experience in a range of HR and Marketing roles. Since becoming a full-time mum, she enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge through her writing and connecting with like-minded professionals. Follow her on Twitter: @Dakota_Murphey

We hope that you enjoyed this post outlining 8 bad habits in the workplace! Before you go, check out our one-to-one coaching page to find out more about how we help students, graduates and career changers to land their dream jobs! 

How to Pass Graduate Aptitude Tests [Ultimate Guide]

If you are a student or graduate on the hunt for a graduate-level job, you’ll want to know how to smash your graduate aptitude tests!

The good news is if you are willing to put the work in, you can get really good at successfully completing online aptitude tests. 

In this article, we will share everything you need to know about aptitude tests so that you boost your chances of getting your dream graduate job. 

We have collaborated with Practise Aptitude Tests, a platform that allows students and graduates to practise numerical, verbal, diagrammatic and situational tests.  

What are Aptitude Tests? 

Aptitude Tests are a standardised way of assessing a candidate’s cognitive abilities, personality, knowledge & also how they would potentially react in different situations within the workplace.

Aptitude Tests in the Graduate Recruitment Process 

How to Pass Graduate Aptitude Tests

The application process for graduate schemes and jobs usually involve several stages as illustrated above. The exact process will vary depending on the company. 

Generally, if the company asks you to complete aptitude tests, it will be after they have reviewed your initial application form. 

If you pass the aptitude test the next stage of the graduate recruitment process might involve completing a telephone interview, video interview or assessment centre. 

Why Graduate Employers use Aptitude Tests

Aptitude tests offer an accurate and consistent insight of the candidate, without requiring the time-consuming task of a face-to-face interview at earlier stages. 

Aptitude Tests and the diverse shapes and sizes they come in, allow employers to discover ‘raw’ talent, in other words, one’s innate traits and natural abilities, that would be a good fit for the role; this is ultimately most valuable to those without years of work experiences. 

Therefore, graduate aptitude tests are usually used in early-career recruitment, for example, insight days, internships, graduate schemes and at times, even for part-time roles; across many industries, including business and management, finance, consultancy, technology and even healthcare.  

How are aptitude tests scored?

There are 2 main ways that aptitude tests are scored:

  • Raw aptitude scores
  • Comparative aptitude scores 

A raw score will present how you performed as a percentage. Comparative aptitude scores compare your score to the scores of the other people who took the test. 

The Different Types of Aptitude Tests

How to Pass Graduate Aptitude Tests

Depending on the industry you are going into, the types of tests you take will vary. For example, a technology graduate scheme might expect you to demonstrate your knowledge of coding languages and consequently, a more specific test relevant to the field will be used. However, generally, Aptitude Tests include:

  • Numerical Reasoning tests – judging your ability to deal with numbers accurately
  • Verbal Reasoning tests – testing your understanding and comprehension skills
  • Situational Judgment tests  – assessing how you approach workplace situations
  • Diagrammatic Reasoning tests  – measuring your logical thinking and ability to derive meanings from patterns

Graduate Aptitude Test Tips 

The graduate job market is extremely competitive. There is an overabundance of academically qualified candidates with educated to degree level. 

Therefore, graduate recruiters must use a variety of techniques to identify the best candidates. 

Graduate aptitude tests are not easy. Without adequate preparation, it can be extremely difficult to pass them.  Here are some tips on how to pass graduate aptitude tests:

  1. A strategic way to start is by finding out who your test provider or publisher is. When starting your online application with a company, you will receive an invitation link via email to start taking their tests, and this should show you what website is hosting your tests. Some popular publishers are Cubiks, TalentLens, cutE, Saville and many more.
  2. The next step would be to find some quiet, uninterrupted time and space, to practice the types of tests you are required to do, on both Practice Aptitude Tests and the provider’s website, if possible; to grasp how things work and to be prepared for potential time pressure.

  3. Practice completing the aptitude tests under timed conditions as the real tests will be timed. Doing this will help you to work quickly and accurately under the pressure of a time limit.

  4. Focus on your weaknesses. Practice tests provide you with very detailed feedback and perhaps even your suitability for certain roles; therefore, the final step would be to carefully consider these results from your performance to ensure a thoughtful career decision and to ace your real tests with your dream employers.

  5. Get plenty of rest before taking your aptitude test and ensure that you are adequately hydrated. This will help to boost your concentration levels.

  6. Before sitting the test, make sure that you have all of the required equipment which may include some paper, a pen and a calculator.

  7. Stay calm and read all of the instructions carefully. Ensure that you know how long you have to complete the test and the number of minutes to answer each question. 

Which Graduate Employers ask Candidates to Complete Aptitude Tests? 

Many of The Times Top 100 graduate employers ask their potential employees to complete an aptitude or psychometric test. Games-based assessments are also becoming increasingly popular. 

Here are some examples of graduate employers that ask candidates to complete an aptitude test as part of the recruitment process: 

  • PwC – If you are applying for a graduate programme at PwC, you will be required to pass online tests. They have put together some tips on their psychometric e-learn platform.

  • Atos – If you are applying for a graduate scheme at Atos, you will be required to complete an online test. When completing the test, you’ll get the opportunity to do a few practice questions at the start to get used to the format. Find out more about the application process for graduate schemes at Atos here.

Practice Aptitude Tests for your Graduate Applications

Head over to Practice Aptitude Test’s website and have a go at completing some FREE Aptitude Tests! The platform offers hundreds of practice aptitude tests for graduates. 

The more aptitude tests you practise, the better you will perform, as your accuracy speed and confidence will increase. 

Thanks for taking the time to read our post on how to pass graduate aptitude tests! If you have an interview coming up that you really want to pass, check out our online interview course called ‘Nail That Interview’.

Top 3 Reasons why Graduates Fail Interviews

In order to land your dream graduate job, you must successfully progress through a rigorous, multi-stage application process. After passing the initial stages of having your CV and cover letter screened and taking online tests, you will need to complete a series of interviews. You may be required to complete telephone, video, group or face-to-face interviews. 

Unfortunately, many graduates pass the initial stages but fail their interviews and miss out on great career opportunities. 

In this post, we will share some of the top reasons why graduates fail interviews so that you don’t make the same mistakes. 

1: Interviews make graduates feel nervous 

Confidence is key when it comes to performing highly in interviews. After all, if you don’t come across as being confident in yourself, how can you expect the employer to be confident in you?

Nerves can really have a negative impact on your interviews, so it is really important that you conquer any interview nerves and anxiety. 

Many graduates feel nervous about interviews because they do not have lots of interview experience yet and feel intimidated by the idea of being asked a question that they do not know the answer to. 

Here are some top tips for beating interview nerves and anxiety: 

  • Learn and apply simple body language techniques that will make you appear more confident such as maintaining a good posture and eye contact. 
  • Prepare adequately for your interviews. Learn everything you can about the industry, company and role that you are applying for.
  • Develop and practise your interview technique. Invest in an interview coach to become the best you can be at interviewing. 

2: Graduates do not show enough empathy 

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is vital that you show empathy towards your interviewer by demonstrating that you truly care about the things that matter most to them and the company. 

Interviewers are trained to identify candidates who are: the right cultural fit for the company and competent to perform really well in the role. Selecting the wrong candidates for the role is a very costly mistake for the company. 

In your next interview, show empathy towards the interviewer by: 

  • Explaining why the company’s mission and values resonate with you. 
  • Demonstrating your skills and competencies clearly. Utilise the STAR technique to give your answer structure and context as well as ensuring that you highlight your achievements.
why graduates fail interviews
  • Having a well thought out answer ready for “why do you want the job?” Remember, as well as selecting candidates who can do the job really well, employers are looking for people who genuinely want the job. 

3: Unsure of what questions to ask the interviewer

It is easy to focus solely on how you will answer your interview questions and forget to prepare some questions to ask the interviewer. 

Remember, an interview is a two-way process. As well as the interviewer assessing your suitability for the company and role, you will also need to make sure that the opportunity is right for you. 

At the end of every interview, you will have the chance to ask the interviewer questions. 

Here are some tips for asking questions at the end of your interview: 

  • Ask questions that show that you are determined to thrive in the role. For example: “What are the prospects in terms of growth and advancement?” 
  • Do not ask questions that you should already know the answer to such as “what does the company do?” 
  • Use the time at the very end of your interview to thanks the interviewer and sincerely state what getting the job means for you. This will make you memorable to the interview as many candidates will not do this. 

Written by Graduate Coach, the UK’s leading graduate coaching company. For more career’s advice from Graduate Coach, check out The Student Book & The Graduate Book and subscribe to their monthly newsletter

From dead-end job to living your dream

With over 60% of each waking day spent at work, can you afford to feel stuck in a boring, dead-end job? It can be demoralising when a job that once sounded so promising hasn’t turned out the way you wanted, leaving you feeling uninspired and unmotivated. You may be tempted to chuck it all in and run off into the sunset – but let’s not be hasty. There are plenty of things you can do to re-ignite the fire in your belly and make positive changes to your professional life. But it does take a bit of work. 

Are you ready? Then let’s take a look at your options!

➡️Editor’s note: we collaborated with HR professional and independent writer Dakota Murphey to put together this post.

1. Redefining your role

When you’re unhappy, stuck in a rut at work, you do have a choice. Should you look for another job or change careers completely? Or could you redefine your current role with your current employer? It may be worth being completely honest with your boss and see whether any alternative arrangements can be made to accommodate your changing needs and ambitions.

If you choose this approach, make sure you are well prepared so that you appear credible, solutions-focused and, ultimately, employable – no-one likes a moaner. Do your homework and work out what energises and drives you, and what your best skills are, and try to weave them into your work as much as possible. That way, you have relevant proof and experience that you can ask to be formally incorporated into your current role, or a new, more suitable role created for you. Go on, what have you got to lose?

2. Learning a new skill

If you’re getting stale at work, maybe the dissatisfaction comes from the fact that you can do the job standing on your head, with no challenges left and no company training in the pipeline that would help you progress. Your line manager should be your first port of call to see if your employer is willing to invest in training or coaching you to help you become a more valuable asset to the company, and with better prospects.

But even if professional training is not readily available, you can still learn a new skill. The downside is that this will have to be done in your own time (and with your own money) but, on the upside, you can choose freely how you wish to develop. You might choose to pursue a professional qualification in your chosen field, go back to university (many UK universities now offer online degrees), sign up to a presentation skills workshop or a digital marketing course. Investing in your own professional development can be a powerful agent for change that will allow you to progress.

3. Working with a mentor,  life coach or career coach

Sometimes, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees or to know where to begin first. That’s where coaching can be immensely helpful. Unlike specialist careers advisers who can provide a list of suitable career options following qualification, or detailed information packages on various career paths, a life coach can help you understand yourself from a psychological perspective. “Our approach is to help you explore and discover, through facilitating your own innate sense of what will work best for you. That way, we can help people find the career that is truly made for them,” advises Maggie Morrow from KlearMinds, an experienced life coach in Central London.

A strategy to change your career path is often not sufficient to change deeply ingrained habits, behaviours and thought patterns. But with support from someone who can help you shift your perceptions and perspective, it is possible to make positive changes and progress in the direction that is right for you.

If you are feeling as though you are stuck in a dead-end job and would like to change your career path or role you could look into hiring a career coach.

A career coach will help you to assess your skillset, interests and aspirations to help you to get a job that is in alignment with what you would like to achieve in your life.

Here at Graduate Coach, we help students, graduates and career changers to ultimately get their dream job and thrive in their new roles. We achieve this by offering one-to-one career coaching, interview coaching and workshops

Many of the graduates we coach come to us after not being able to secure a graduate-level job and as a result, are underemployed. They often feel as though they are stuck in a dead-end job with little or no room for progression. If you are in this position, do not hesitate to contact us.

4. Have a career break

Are you fed up to the back teeth, stuck on a hamster wheel, stressed and burnt out? When did you last properly relax or take some time off? We all need a break sometimes and when anxiety and stress take their toll, one of the first positive changes you can make is to admit to yourself that life is getting on top of you, and to have an extended break.

Long-term unhappiness with a career is often caused by a fundamental conflict between personal values and organisational goals. This can be a particular problem in historically vocational roles such as medicine and teaching where professionals are being asked to add a managerial priority to their already demanding workload. 

Many people feel the need to get away, putting distance between themselves and their unsatisfactory career situation. Taking a long holiday, a sabbatical, or a complete career break can be a great way to reflect on your professional life and your personal priorities, enabling you to gain a new perspective.

career break

5. Start a side hustle

Finally, the concept of a ‘side hustle’ is now gaining a foothold in the UK as well as in the US – and it’s an option that deserves serious consideration if you feel as though you are stuck in a dead-end job. As a combination of a hobby and extra money-earner that you do in your spare time, a side hustle has many benefits. The most important one is that it can strengthen how satisfied you feel at work, by doing something much more meaningful and completely different from your day job when you get home.

Best of all, if you pour your passion into your side hustle, the venture may grow and become commercially successful, allowing you to quit your regular job altogether. And if you’re sceptical about this prospect, be reminded that Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Yankee Candle are just some of today’s hugely successful global businesses that started out as a side hustle.

Thanks for taking the time to read our post! If you feel as though you are stuck in a dead-end job and not meeting your full career potential, we urge you to take action sooner rather than later.

Author Bio:

Dakota Murphey has more than a decade of experience in a range of HR and Marketing roles. Since becoming a full-time mum, she enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge through her writing and connecting with like-minded professionals. Follow her on Twitter: @Dakota_Murphey