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Thread: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

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    Super Moderator Trebla's Avatar
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    A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    DISCLAIMER: Note that this is targeted at university students aiming to get generalist graduate positions (as opposed to standard entry level positions or positions which require specialist degrees) in the corporate world. This advice does not guarantee graduate employment and should only be taken as guide which really only just scratches the surface.


    What is a graduate job?

    A graduate job is a position aimed directly at those who have graduated from university with limited work experience. Generally, graduate positions offer much more development and training opportunities than a normal entry level job. However, the sad fact is that not everyone will get such a job once they graduate because there are far more university graduates than positions.

    This brief guide is based on learning experiences of past applicants of graduate positions which we hope will educate you a bit about the world of graduate applications. A lot of people don’t actually know about the reality of this until later in their degree. Hopefully after reading this guide you would at least gain some awareness of how to increase your chances of landing a graduate position in the future whilst you still can at university.

    First of all, time to bust some myths.


    COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS

    1. I will graduate with a university degree so I’m set in terms of graduate jobs and employers will come to me

    These days, having a university degree is just a minimum eligibility requirement for a graduate job. Having a degree alone does not guarantee you a graduate job and it is not uncommon to see people who have graduated unemployed. Applying for a graduate job is a competitive process where you have to stand out against every other applicant. Having a degree alone does not distinguish you from the crowd because obviously every other applicant also has a degree.

    Employers do come to campus and appear to make you feel special at careers fairs but don’t think that this means employers are fighting over you. The reason they do that is just a marketing strategy to get as many candidates to apply as possible so that they are more likely to get top quality candidates to choose from.


    2. Good academic results will guarantee my graduate employability

    Employers do not want candidates who spent their entire university life studying to get high distinctions and nothing else. They want more all-rounded people who have good academic results, extracurricular activities and work experience. The reason for this is that university work provides limited development when it comes to soft skills like teamwork, leadership and interpersonal skills. These skills are much better developed in extracurricular activities and work experience. However, don’t interpret this as meaning that academic results don’t mean anything. They do hold significance to an employer as part of this expectation of all roundedness.


    3. My first job will pay well and I will love it.

    First of all, not many people actually land the graduate position they want in the first place (if they are successful in getting any graduate position at all) and settle for what they can get for the sake of employment. The graduate position you desire is most likely going to be desired by hundreds of other applicants so many will be left disappointed.

    For large organisations, it is not uncommon to have 2000 applicants for less than 10 positions. Don’t just put your eggs in one basket and expect to be successful. You need to apply to as many companies as you can and be prepared to settle for less. It is not uncommon to have a graduate job that you don’t like but keep in mind that it is the experience that counts and you can move on to a more desirable role later on. A foot in the door is better than having a closed door.

    Salary is the last thing you should be thinking about when it comes to applying for graduate jobs. Don’t be surprised if your graduate salary is lower than you had hoped for. Compared to full-time workers, graduates have little in the way of work experience so the ‘bargaining power’ lies with the employers because graduates are replaceable. Once you acquire more work experience down the track then you would have more scope to negotiate salary or move to a better role.


    MAXIMISING THE CHANCES OF GETTING A GRADUATE JOB

    The following is a description of important aspects that you need to consider getting into shape during your university years. Note that this list is not exhaustive.

    1. General experience

    Recruiters (at least human resources staff anyway) look for evidence of transferable skills when they sift through applications. For graduate roles, there is great focus on soft skills which may include but are not limited to:
    • Communication skills (verbal and written)
    • Analytical skills
    • Teamwork and leadership skills
    • Interpersonal skills
    • Innovation skills
    • Research skills

    In interviews and often written applications themselves, these skills are assessed through behavioural questions. Examples of common ones are:
    • Tell me about a time you resolved a conflict between members of a team
    • Tell me about a time you developed an innovative solution to a problem
    • Tell me about a time you exceeded a customer’s expectations
    • Tell me about a time where you had to persevere to achieve a desirable outcome

    We won’t go through the details on how to answer the questions (which is another skill altogether), but ask yourself this – have you been in those challenging situations in a professional environment? If not, then you should try to get yourself in these situations (and be able to handle them properly with a good outcome) often through university, extra-curricular activities or work experience. Otherwise, you haven’t got much to say if such a question pops up in an interview which is perhaps indicative of underdeveloped skills in relation to the expectations of the organisation. It is somewhat expected that a graduate with well developed skills would have been in these situations before and have acted on them with a good result.


    2. Academics

    As a benchmark, you should be aiming for at least a credit average (preferably distinction average or better) because it demonstrates to a recruiter that you are at least competent enough to learn things quickly. Any fails on your academic transcript will greatly reduce your chances of graduate employment unless there is a very good reason behind it that is outside of your control.

    Why is this important? In the workplace you will be overwhelmed with new concepts which you have never seen before and in order to thrive, you must be able to pick up things very quickly. The ability to successfully absorb large amounts of information in a short space of time at university is therefore seen as a transferable skill.


    3. Extra-curricular activities

    Get involved clubs and societies at university or engage in activities outside of university. This includes any volunteering, sports, hobbies and competitions. Make sure that you are actively involved in these activities. For example, being the treasurer of a society counts for much more than just turning up to a free BBQ organised by the society. The former demonstrates that you have developed good teamwork, leadership and analytical skills.

    Make sure you get involved in activities that you actually want to do rather than get involved just for the sake of your resume. A recruiter can form a view about your passions and personality through these extra-curricular activities and assess these with the culture of the organisation. If you’re doing something just for your resume which you’re not really interested in then recruiters could potentially have a false impression of who you are as a person and it won’t look good if it comes across in the interview that you weren’t really passionate about those activities.


    4. Work experience

    Whilst graduate recruiters don’t expect a lot of work experience from applicants, don’t get yourself in a situation where the only work experience you can put on your resume is one you were forced to do in high school. Throughout your degree, try to acquire a variety of jobs if you have the time for it. In other words, don’t just stick to say a private tutoring job as your work experience. Find something which requires a different skill set so that you have evidence of development in a variety of skills.

    If this is hard to do, then make sure you at least take on work that has transferable skills relevant to the type of graduate position you could be looking for. For example, if you are going for a graduate position which involves client relationships then past work experiences in say a retail role are more relevant than say a book keeping role.

    Make sure you have a good relationship with your employer(s) from the work experience because it is more than likely you will be asking them to be your referees when you start doing graduate applications.


    5. General attitude

    You can have the best academic results, extra-curricular activities and work experience but a poor attitude will get you nowhere in the world of graduate jobs. Employers look for certain traits in applicants in their written applications and in interviews. They do this to assess the fit of the applicant in accordance to the culture of the organisation. There will be differences between organisations but in general almost every organisation looks for some of the following traits (this list isn’t exhaustive) in their applicants:

    • Willingness to learn – keen to learn, take on new things and work outside of your comfort zone

    • Good at solving problems – whether they be issues with people, tasks or projects you should be committing to a solutions to problems in order to progress rather than dwell on the problem

    • Ability to learn from mistakes and take on feedback – admitting to mistakes and learning how to not repeat them

    • Reliable – deliver on time what has been given to you and actually follow up on what you say you will do

    • Work with minimum supervision – being able to figure out what to do yourself without being spoon fed by others

    • Well organised – having plans in place to track what you do in order to deliver results in a timely manner

    • Taking initiative – being able to step up and take ownership of a situation or task rather than waiting for others to act

    • Communicate effectively with others – probably the most important trait of being able work with others (whether they be colleagues or clients) because you encounter them on a daily basis


    PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

    To stand a chance in the competitive world of graduate applications it is important to make sure you have built up the following, well before your final year of university (the earlier the better):
    • Strong academic results
    • A variety of extra-curricular activities
    • Relevant work experience
    • Good evidence of transferable skills
    • A good attitude

    The next step is to then put that altogether and sell it to the employer in your application.

    Good luck!

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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    This thread is soooooo useful-I will be sure to read it again and again for years to come-some much needed advice. Thank you so much for sharing

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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Great thread trebla, a must read for all uni students I think.
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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Thanks for the sick guide Treb.

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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Awesome guide!

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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    One of the challenges of graduate applications (and by extension any application) is writing a strong resume which appropriately highlights your strengths. As I'm currently applying for graduate jobs at the moment, I'd like to share something I came across tonight which helped me reinvigorate what I already wrote.

    http://sydney.edu.au/careers/career_...emp_skills.pdf

    I have to say it really helped me brainstorm and it allowed me to convey my skills as achievements rather than a list of duties which perhaps was a weaker form of evidence.

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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Trebls

    you are a legend

    ily

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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Quote Originally Posted by OzKo View Post
    One of the challenges of graduate applications (and by extension any application) is writing a strong resume which appropriately highlights your strengths. As I'm currently applying for graduate jobs at the moment, I'd like to share something I came across tonight which helped me reinvigorate what I already wrote.

    http://sydney.edu.au/careers/career_...emp_skills.pdf

    I have to say it really helped me brainstorm and it allowed me to convey my skills as achievements rather than a list of duties which perhaps was a weaker form of evidence.
    To build on this, it's also good to have metrics and tangible evidence to go with your achievements (i.e. Helped improve sales methods, which resulted in a 15% increase in profits).
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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Overall, I think the biggest takeaway from this thread is how you should be approaching uni. A lot of people have the mentality that your time at uni is just about getting the "piece of paper". But this isnt really going to help you with a job - on a CV, your educational history is only one component (on mine, it occupies about 15% of space). You need to think of your time at uni as being about professional development, of which your degree is just one component. As Trebla has emphasised, you need to focus on developing transferable skills and to do that, you need other stuff in addition to uni.

    Being on the job market at the moment, I'd have to say that my year of industry experience has opened almost as many doors for me as my degree. So that's definitely shown me how important it is to have tangible stuff beyond education on your CV. I know a lot of people who have graduated with pretty much nothing on their CV besides their degree and a random part time job. Unless you are extremely lucky (which to be honest, plays a large role in job hunting), you are pretty much going to go nowhere if you are in this position.

    Anyway, probably going off on a tangent, but I definitely think people should view uni as being about professional development and not just uni itself. If I had my time again, I probably would have worked on building my CV from earlier, especially considering that grad recruitment starts when most people begin their final year (which is when I started working on my employability).
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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Coming soon to a BoS thread near you... for those applying for graduate positions, internships, cadetships etc, I expect to release 'A survival guide to the graduate recruitment process – Part 1 – Online Applications' in four successive parts:
    Part 1 - Online Applications
    Part 2 - Psychometric Testing
    Part 3 - Assessment Centres
    Part 4 - Interviews

    This will be more advice on what to expect in the recruitment process and a guide on how to handle them. I hope you'll find them useful.

    Even if you're not applying for these types of positions now, I think it would be useful to understand the recruitment process as early as possible and see how the things you engage in during university heavily influence your success in these recruitment processes.
    Last edited by Trebla; 16 Mar 2014 at 9:03 PM.

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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Update:

    A survival guide to the graduate recruitment process – Part 1 – Online Applications is expected to be released at 9pm tomorrow night.
    Last edited by Trebla; 16 Mar 2014 at 9:03 PM.
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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Quote Originally Posted by Trebla View Post
    Throughout your degree, try to acquire a variety of jobs if you have the time for it. In other words, don’t just stick to say a private tutoring job as your work experience.
    How long do you think should someone stay in a single position for? My current job is quite excellent in terms of pay however I know that a variety of work experience is more valuable than money right now for graduate employability :S What are your thoughts on working two jobs?

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    Super Moderator Trebla's Avatar
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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Quote Originally Posted by QZP View Post
    How long do you think should someone stay in a single position for? My current job is quite excellent in terms of pay however I know that a variety of work experience is more valuable than money right now for graduate employability :S What are your thoughts on working two jobs?
    It depends on what the job is. If it is really relevant to what you want to do and/or you are learning new skills all the time then by all means stay. If you can manage it, try to juggle two different jobs at once. The main idea behind that statement is that you don't want to be spending too much time doing the same thing over and over again without learning anything new.
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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

    Quote Originally Posted by QZP View Post
    How long do you think should someone stay in a single position for? My current job is quite excellent in terms of pay however I know that a variety of work experience is more valuable than money right now for graduate employability :S What are your thoughts on working two jobs?
    I'd say a lot of it depends on what you stand to gain, develop or learn in each role. If the key thing you'd get out of the job is already achieved (e.g. to show you are committed or able to follow a schedule), then you maybe it's time to see what else you can do. When the money is good though it's hard to give it up so see if you can balance it with a second job?

    That all being said, work experience is only one way to show you are a great candidate for any given role. There's more than one way to demonstrate the skills and attributes which employers are looking for.
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    Re: A Guide To Maximising Your Graduate Employability Whilst At University

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