Why every graduate now needs to build an employability skills portfolio if they want to stand out. – And 5 ways to get started on yours

Nov 11, 2013

From art and design to journalism cuttings, job seekers build all types of portfolios to help them convince a prospective employer give them the job, but few think of putting together an employability skills portfolio.

This is about to change. In today’s recruitment market, where a third of graduates never get a graduate level job and employers place great emphasis on soft skills, an employability skills portfolio is important and will become increasingly so.

An employability skills portfolio will demonstrate that you have some foresight, that you fully gasp the importance of developing these skills in the first place.

The very fact that you’ve even bothered to develop a portfolio will show that you have many of the skills employers look for – you use your brain, you make decisions, and you’re serious about getting ahead.

You will come across as an action orientated person, rather than one who simply drifts aimlessly through life. It will show you’re the type of person that can help a company to meet global challenges with a fresh perspective.

Finally, the very act of building an employability skills portfolio will require you to draw on the exact set of skills and attributes you need to develop, such as communication, resilience and entrepreneurial skills.

5 tips to help you get started on building and shaping your employability skills portfolio

Tip one: Start now

You should start building your employability skills portfolio while in your first year. If you’re a graduate in your second or final year or you’ve already graduated, you can still gain some mileage from having one.

Tip two: Go beyond what’s on offer

If your university is on the ball it will have some sort of employability skills programme or scheme in place. If there is no programme then the university should at least be offering advice, talks or seminars from visiting experts. My advice is to sap up every opportunity the university provides you with but not to depend solely on these to help you develop the soft skills you need. Go beyond what’s on offer and look out for opportunities outside of your department and university campus. You will be able to sell this as a skill in itself!

Tip three: Doing a creative degree? Sell the benefits

Some graduates are baffled about what to do with their arts degree aside from getting a job in a design related field but the truth is that all industries need a little creativity, however uncreative they may appear. Art students can learn to sell the benefits of their degree to any employer just by thinking a little more entrepreneurial.

Emma Hunt, deputy vice-chancellor of Arts University Bournemouth, recently told the Guardian that her students have brought their creative skills to sectors as diverse as entertainment, healthcare and engineering. She said “there are hundreds of examples where design has made product a bit more user-friendly or effective”.

Try thinking outside of the box about ways your creative degree can help you to see things differently. How can it bring something fresh to the job and company? Now sell that.

Tip four: Use your portfolio to work your way towards the career you want

The latest High Fliers research shows that the public sector was one of the largest employers of graduates over the last year. Many of these graduates took the fast track route into teaching via the organisation Teach First, which places top graduates into state schools. However, many of these graduates didn’t go into teaching for life but as a way to develop the skills they need to move on elsewhere.

One recruiter said he wants to work in international relations or politics, the subject he graduated in. He went into teaching because he wanted work that would challenge him and provide the opportunity for him to demonstrate commitment and responsibility. And he isn’t even teaching his degree subject but maths, a subject he studied at A-level.

Similarly, your employability skills portfolio can include a range of careers that will help you to create an exciting roadmap to the career you want.

Tip five: Use industry competitions to develop your skills and help you stand out

Many industries run competitions to help them tease out the best up and coming talent. You could take advantage of these to help you develop your employability skills. These competitions often invite students to work in teams or on their own to come up with a new way to solve a problem or meet a need. One recent design competition invited students to invent a product that could solve a sports problem and they came up with glow-in-the-dark cyc;ist gloves to help keep cyclists safe on the road. And they won. Another student, as part of her third year thesis, came up with an idea for a new type of surgical stocking that would be easier for nurses fit. She has since gone on to win several awards for her product, which is now supplied to the NHS. This week the company Valeo is inviting engineering students to take part in the global Valeo Innovation Challenge to design equipment that, between now and 2030, will make the car more intelligent and intuitive.

Entering competitions like these shows entrepreneurialship, creativity and ambition and, even if you don’t win, can still say a lot in your favour about the type of worker you are.

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