Candidates often have the tendency to dismiss skills and strengths they pick up from part-time roles, volunteering and personal interests. As someone who frequently deals with employers and these candidates, I am here to discourage you from falling into that pattern.
The graduate market is competitive and some applicants have the upper hand with years of experience in working or even running their own business. I speak to students all the time who say: “All I’ve got is a part time job” or “I don’t have any experience”. These conversations often conclude in the same way - Yes you do, you just do not recognise it as such.
When speaking to employers from different sectors and industries, a common theme that comes up is ‘The Right Candidate’. There are a lot of jobs for a lot of graduates who are all very capable, which means companies increasingly have the luxury of choosing the person that fits in best with their culture. But what students and recent graduates don't realise is that 'The Right Candidate' isn't necessarily the most experienced candidate. It’s more about personality and fit, as well as skills and willingness to learn.
With that in mind, here are three ways to maximise the experience and skills you already have:
1. Don't underestimate your part-time or volunteering role.
You may think: “Oh, I was only a sales consultant at Next,” but in reality you learnt a lot on the job that makes you desirable when you're applying for graduate jobs and schemes. What you were actually doing is building up excellent customer service skills, improving your sales ability and perhaps even upselling. By holding down the job for a while, you've demonstrated you can keep to deadlines, work as part of a team and build rapport with customers successfully.
This would also stand for a volunteering role. I often say: “Just because you did not get paid here, doesn't mean it’s not worth anything”. If you organised events for a charity, you now have essential event management experience. If you were a volunteer in a shop, that may have involved developing your Adobe skills and maybe even merchandising or creating eye-catching displays.
Take some time to reflect on your day-to-day tasks at your part-time job or volunteering role and the skills involved. Then, adapt your CV and cover letters to reflect that experience so you're not selling yourself short.
2. People buy into people - make sure your personality shows.
When you send off your application or are in an interview - remember, it is people making decisions about whether you are right for the job, for the team, and for the company. So, resist the temptation to hide your personality or pretend to be someone you're not throughout the application process. You would be surprised by how much showing some passion and talking about your interests (outside of your degree, paid work or volunteer work) can win over an interviewer.
A perfect example of this is a graduate who is really into coding, which they do in their free time a lot, applying for a software engineering role. At interview, the graduate shares their passion for coding and talks about how they've built a server in their own time. Most impressive of all, they built the server because they wanted to - outside of education and work. A company is likely to buy into this person and their enthusiasm, because it's obvious they're really driven by what they do.
Talking about your personal interests and hobbies, particularly if they relate to the work you're applying for, are a way to demonstrate genuine commitment and find common ground with recruiters and hiring managers. Don't disqualify them from your applications, it just might be the thing that gets you hired.
3. Reflect on what you’ve learned at university.
If you're a recent graduate, you're not expected to have years and years of full-time work experience. Don't forget what you do have though: your university experience. During your degree you learn skills upon skills, many of which are unique to the course you chose alone.
All students, regardless of subject, will have worked on a group project. So, at university you learned how to work as part of a team. You will also have submitted written work - demonstrating you can work to deadlines, perform research and communicate information effectively. Through presentations you did at university you showcased strong verbal communication skills, confidence and the ability to engage an audience. Importantly, you stuck at your degree for three years or more. That shows resilience, commitment, hard work and self-motivation. And these are just the basics. Take some time to think about the expertise you have developed through years of studying your course in particular.
For students with a scientific degree, for example, you have experience working in labs, as well as an understanding of health and safety and risk assessments. If you studied IT, you know the various languages, operating systems and hardware used (C++, C#, Java, HTML, SQL, Mac OS, Windows, Linux and so much more). Humanities students spend years honing research skills, developing inquisitve minds - you've learnt to be open-minded, grasp complex ideas and be unique in your approach to solving problems.
University has taught you a lot that will stand you in good stead in the workplace. Reflect on what you've learnt, put it down on paper and use those transferable skills to secure the awesome graduate job you deserve.
Whenever you apply for jobs going forward, remember: you are made up of all your experiences, knowledge, culture, background, interests and more.
Don't exclude parts of you on your job application - use them to your advantage. Think about what makes you different from your peers, what makes you stand out. What are your Unique Selling Points? You are unique in many ways. Try to figure out how and present that to a potential employer. Knowing yourself well is a sure way to get hired.