Why your non-academic experience is your most valuable asset

Feb 8, 2016

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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