University may seem like a blur of essays, assignments and projects right now, but you are picking up important career-worthy skills.
University is back in term after the holidays, and for students it may feel like the work is quickly piling up, especially for those in their final year. While you may be struggling to keep your head above water, it helps to remember that you are not just working towards a degree—you are also gaining vital skills for your job search.
When it comes to explaining you experience on job applications, many careers services advise using the STAR approach: Situation/Task, Action and Result. You explain the Situation and Task, note which Actions you took to accomplish it, and give an overview of the subsequent Result.
While you work through your university courses, remember that you are gaining transferrable skills which you can STAR later on to help you get your graduate job.
With that in mind, here's some things you can focus on now to help yourself out later.
1. Computer skills
While the current graduate generation are digital natives, having been brought up with computers, the internet, and even smart phones, this familiarity is not enough to qualify as "computer skills" when it comes to the working world.
In secondary school ICT lessons, we were all taught how to use Excel but for most of us, it didn't stick. Which is unfortunate, because Excel is one of the most often used computer programmes in professional environments. Take advantage of your university's resources to help bring your skills up to scratch—many universities offer computer lessons to help you hone your skills in Microsoft Office and other programmes such as InDesign and Photoshop. These can be invaluable skills to list on your CV for many different careers.
Gulp—presentations. Often dreaded, they can be a surprisingly important skill to master. Employers want confident, friendly graduates who are ready to interact directly with clients or customers—which is precisely what university presentations can teach you.
Presenting in front of a small group of ten fellow seminar attendees is much less intimidating than delivering a presentation to a boardroom full of superiors or potential clients. Volunteering for these opportunities and being proactive will help you build confidence and learn how to engage a disinterested room. It's your chance to try out presentation styles and see what works—and let's face it, the topic you pick in uni is likely to be a lot more interesting than what you'll later have to present on the job.
3. Team work
'Team work' is one of the most ubiquitous job requirements—employees need to be team players, able to work productively in groups, and there are plenty of opportunities to hone this skill at university.
Don't make the mistake of thinking you must lead a team to qualify as having team working skills—there is much more to working in a group than delegation or bossing people around. What employers are really looking for when they ask for team work is the ability to give and take, consider and compromise.
Easy to list a sports team or society to fill this requirement, but what if you're not a member of the rugby/debate/cheese society? Working with other students to put together presentations or organise projects gives you plenty of opportunities to learn how to work in a team. And if you haven't done so yet—what are you waiting for?
4. Time management
Graduate employers are always looking for applicants who can prioritise tasks, manage their workload and work to deadline. This is a prime skill learned at university—and if you haven't learned it yet, you've not been having enough fun.
Competency interviews or application forms will ask for examples of when you've had to manage your time effectively. In university, deadlines come quickly and are often grouped, requiring you to plan ahead. If you learn to use timetables to complete your university assignments by the due date and know how to schedule your time to complete all your required coursework, then you've got this skill covered.
5. Quick learning
Adapting to the working world can be tricky, and employers often look for graduates who are able to pick things up quickly. Depending on your skill set and your ability to fit into new situations, you may find this difficult.
The truth is that being a quick learner isn't always a quick skill to acquire, but it does come with practice. So throw yourself into new situations—if you keep challenging your brain, you will find it gets easier every time.
Evening classes and societies are fantastic opportunities to pick up new skills such as foreign languages or a musical instrument, and they will help you demonstrate your ability to take on new skills or knowledge.
University is about much more than earning a degree. It's a chance to try out new things and challenge yourself in new situations before you have to think about filling in job applications. Make it easy on yourself by making the most of it—and you may just pick up all the necessary skills for your career while you're at it.