8 things to look out for when choosing a good university – if you want to get a decent job

Sep 30, 2013

Cutting edge research, good quality education and opportunity for critical thought aren’t the only criteria for choosing a good university (read part one as to what now defines a good university). If you want to get a graduate-level job at the end your university must help you develop the type of employability skills you’ll need for the workplace.

A recent YouGov survey shows that much of the employability skills training offered by universities aren’t helping graduates get jobs so you need to know what to look out for. Here are eight things.

  1. How does the university approach employability skills? Your university may structure courses in a way that helps you to develop the employability skills you need as part of your course. Alternatively, it may run separate courses or provide extracurricular opportunities instead. Ask the university about their approach so that you’re clear.
  2. Does the university provide work placements? Your university should have links to employers who provide work placements to students, not only for those on sandwich courses but also across all programmes. Ideally, the work placement should give you the opportunity to develop your skills while meeting a real business need so that you have experience of solving actual problems as one would do in a real workplace.
  3. If not, does the university help with opportunities for work experience? If your university doesn’t directly provide work placements then it should at least provide support and advice to help you find your own placement, voluntary work, internship or similar, whether during term time or summer. Opportunity to gain work experience should be looked at as part of the experience of going to university.
  4. What skills will the university help you to develop? Employers and universities have different ideas about what constitutes a complete list of employability skills but they are more or less agreed on the following: team-working; business and customer awareness; problem-solving; communication and literacy; application of numeracy; application of information technology; positive attitude; and entrepreneurship/enterprise. However, beware: not all employability skills are in equal short supply. The areas where employers say graduates tend to be least prepared are in basic literacy and numeracy skills, awareness of business and customer services issues, entrepreneurship and self-management.
  5. Does the university run special talks on employability skills? Ask whether the university arranges lectures and workshops to introduce graduates to the kind of work skills employers value. If the workshops have add-on tasks that help students to develop the skills they need, perhaps through a group project, voluntary work or internship, then even better. Projects that give you the opportunity to get involved in real-life business scenarios offer you the best chance of developing the skills you need.
  6. Is employability incentivised? What incentive if any does the university offer to ensure its students take advantage of all the employability skills training on offer? This might include rewarding the demonstration of employability skills perhaps through extra awards or credits, making employability skills training compulsory or offering workshops or courses that are led by employers.
  7. Is the employability skills training easily accessible? How much time and effort does the university invest in marketing employability skills to students? Many graduates have said that their university careers service did not adequately prepare them for work or took the time to let them know what opportunities were available to them until late into their time at university. A university that gives their employability skills provision a distinctive brand has a better chance of ensuring that students understand them and don’t confuse them with job finding skills, says the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
  8. Does the university equip graduates sell their employability skills? Graduates don’t just need to understand what employability skills are but they also need help to develop the ability to discuss these skills. Research shows that more students are taking on paid work alongside or before their studies and so are already using some employability skills. However, they may not have heard them described as employability skills or realise they already have them. That’s why it is important for universities to explain them and to offer students the opportunity to articulate them.

If you feel that your university is not doing enough to help you to seek out work-related learning opportunities, then you should either choose another or seek out opportunities to develop your own employment plan. Start with an organisation like the National Council for Work Experience or speak to us here at Graduate Coach.

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