Mind your Facebook entries as you build up skills for later life
Qualifications count but employability is something more, says Ibec's Jenny Hayes
Ireland is known internationally now as a country with a highly qualified and skilled workforce. In 2014, at 38%, we had the highest share of third-level graduates across the EU, well above the EU average of 27%.
Having qualifications definitely helps in terms of getting a job as the likelihood of being in employment increases with educational achievement, with 81% of third-level graduates in employment in 2014 and 56% of those with a Leaving Cert in the same year.
However, gaining qualifications is one thing, but demonstrating attributes that employers look for is another. As the competition for great jobs is tough, graduates need to stand out for the right reasons.
Having the right degree, with good results, might help to get an interview, however undergraduates need to also learn broader skills, both inside and outside of lectures, including resilience, communication skills, an openness to learning, team working and emotional intelligence among others, as these are the areas that future employers look for.
The whole experience while at college or university is what employers will be interested in exploring further, so from day one, it is important to be aware of this and to take all the opportunities that are available along the way. Also, use this time to try to understand what your personal strengths are and most importantly, what you like doing and are most interested in as employers look for people who know who they are and who are clear about what they are good at and enjoy.
Attitude is a choice. The importance and value of having a solution-focused, positive, can-do attitude can't be over emphasised.
While at college, look for opportunities to develop this skill and have plenty of examples to demonstrate it such as overcoming challenges, working while at college, leading the class, joining extra societies, doing voluntary work and other ways to show you can use your initiative and stay positive in a range of situations and when facing challenges.
Employers often tell us of the value of a person who can relate well to others and who is good in a team, as often the conflicts and IR issues that arise in the workplace stem from poor interpersonal skills or low levels of skill when dealing with others.
While you are at college, try to develop your skills when working in a team by joining team sports, working with others in the class on team activities and taking the lead in team projects. When you come to the stage of interviewing for jobs, you will need to show that you can work well with others, so the more examples of this you have, the better you will come across to a potential employer.
Emotionally intelligent graduates are able to identify and regulate their own emotions, as well as understanding and considering the emotions of others. Employers look for graduates who have higher levels of self-awareness, can manage their mood, reactions and responses and can relate positively to others in an empathetic way.
Self-awareness and feedback from others can help build and grow emotional intelligence, so look for as many opportunities as possible to get this feedback and to learn about your personal strengths and what you enjoy most.
Motivation and Resilience
Our experience of many employers is that they look for and expect graduates to be adaptable, to be able to take responsibility for their own performance, and to be able to identify opportunities when they arise. Also, as a practice, if you begin writing an individual blog to capture your experiences and reflections on these experiences, it is an excellent way to build a listing of examples which can be shared with potential employers in the future.
Excellent Communications Skills
This is one of the key skills most employers look for. It is the ability to express your ideas and views in an engaging way, ensuring your listener wants to hear the message and is clear about what is being said.
Developing these skills and your personal style from day one is very worthwhile, both one-to-one and in groups, as this will stand to every graduate in the world of work in terms of being heard and noticed. Joining the college debating or drama club or your local toastmasters club are all ways to develop your personal style, confidence and skills in this vital area.
The skill of building a network, both inside and outside of your individual course, is one you can start thinking about when you first go to college. If you think of ways you can give back to those in your network, as opposed to what you can get for yourself, you are more likely to stand out to others and for them to try to do something for you in the future too.
It is also often more rewarding to do things for other people than it may be to get help ourselves, so by developing that mind-set early on, you might be surprised by how rewarding this way of dealing with others can be, and how your personal network develops as a result.
LinkedIn and Social Media
Be aware that future employers may check your Facebook and LinkedIn sites, so treat them with due care from day one at college. Always be conscious of what you post on social media sites and how you interact online, bearing in mind it may have an impact on your future career.
Cover Letters and CVs
The ability to write well is a vital skill that most employers value highly. Writing a strong cover letter and CV are critical if you want to stand out and have the best chance of being called for interview. It is still shocking to see typing and grammatical errors on these documents, with many employers discarding applications on this basis.
Therefore, attention to detail, care and taking the opportunities to develop your writing skills through all the assessments and written work you do throughout your course is a worthwhile investment. Also, avail of your local career guidance office to help preparing these documents when you get to this stage, as time spent writing these documents well, is always worthwhile.
From my experience, once the qualifications fit, employers look for graduates with the right attitude firstly and those who stand out for how they have used their time in college, both academically and otherwise. It is so important to enjoy the whole learning experience, ensuring opportunities to develop the key skills outlined earlier, are taken.
Critically, having plenty of real examples to show potential employers how you have grown and developed as a person while studying your degree or Masters programme, is something to be aware of from the start of your college life.
So, have fun, learn, grow and build on your natural strengths through the wide range of learning opportunities college life affords you. Also, make sure you get to know what you like because when you work at something you enjoy, that enthusiasm and natural fit shows to every potential employer, as well as being the right fit for you.