Universities need to rethink what employability skills really mean
This morning I have had two requests from contacts asking for careers advice for their graduate children. This is now becoming such a theme for us – we must have helped around 30 graduates in the last year – that I’m beginning to think there is a business in here for us.
However, I am also increasingly exasperated at the lack of useful careers advice being given by universities.
Students are being taught to write CVs that may have been appropriate for boom times, but will never make them stand out. They have no concept of how blogging, LinkedIn and Twitter can help them to target employers, add value on CVs and demonstrate expertise and currency. And they don’t have a clue how to ‘create’ their own jobs.
Increasingly employers are not even advertising jobs in traditional media – they just put the positions out on Twitter and LinkedIn. So if a student isn’t on Twitter, how are they going to spot these?
This is my ten point plan for a young person trying to find a job in the current market. And we know it works – our mentees are getting quality jobs.
1. Show passion and commitment to the job you want to do
One of the requests this morning was ‘what advice would you give a recently-graduated daughter (2:1 in drama and theatre studies) who is keen to get into HR: do you know of any companies that are seeking to hire an HR administrator/HR graduate?’
Well this is a big step from drama to HR. I doubt she is going to walk into a job. Her first step is to demonstrate understanding of HR and build up her skills. And with social media this is now not a major task.
As an employer, I would think her saying she is ‘keen to get into HR’ is just today’s desperate whim. She needs to prove she is serious.
2. Start writing a blog
The great thing about writing a blog is you can demonstrate your understanding and expertise in a market at no cost at all. Just as this blog is demonstrating my experience in helping graduates to get a job, so a graduate can themselves start reading and commenting.
If we take the HR example, the HR blogs could cover
– Reviews of HR books
– An analysis of newspaper articles in a week – how much is HR an issue? For instance, this week the trade union Unison has voted to go on strike on 30 November. Are the unions justified, what are the issues for those negotiating with the unions
– Review of HR blogs and pull out the key tips that she thinks will be the most useful for an employer
– Her ranking of top ten HR blogs for newbies in HR
– Talk to her friends about how they view a company depending on how they respond to their job applications – does it affect their future buying decisions
– Produce a ten tips for employers on how she thinks an employer should respond to job applications
Of course, some of these blogs will undoubtedly seem naïve to an experienced HR professional. But no-one will expect a 21 year old to be expert – what this does demonstrate is an ability to read around a subject, analyse it and come up with her own views. And above all it demonstrates passion and commitment for this subject/career.
3. Sign up to Twitter
Anyone who thinks that Twitter is about what you had for breakfast may be surprised to see the serious conversations now taking place on any business topic.
Look at what shows up for a search on HR topics (#HR)
heatherhuhman Heather R. Huhman
DrDavidBallard Dr. David Ballard
MarkRaganCEO Mark Ragan
davidpaulwoods David Woods
neilmorrison Neil Morrison
We’re looking to recruit a L&D Co-ordinator, Central London up to £25k. Would suit a sharp grad, or grad+ Surely there must be someone? #HR
Not only is this a great resource for someone looking to become expert – quickly – on what are the current HR topics but there is a blog in each one of these tweets. And a job in the last one! In fact, I’ve just emailed this to the contact for his daughter.
4. Follow key people on Twitter
It is very easy to identify and target key people on Twitter. Once how would you have targeted an HR director? You probably would never have got beyond the receptionist or PA. But here are two on Twitter that a student could engage with, if they learn how to do this subtly.
Director of Brand and Reputation at @Kyoceramitauk, tweeting personally on sustainability, ethics and culture (mostly). Mother, wife, friend, cook, dancer
@tonieastwood Yorkshire UK
Director of Talent Wm Morrison Supermarkets, thought leader and talent champion, media contributor on diversity and talent development
Take Toni Eastwood, the inspirational director of talent at supermarket Morrisons. She has just 220 followers – so still building her profile and following. This is an ideal time for a graduate to follow her, learn from her tweets as to her views, what matters.
Ways to get noticed by people on Twitter could be to retweet some of their tweets, send links to interesting articles, answer a question if they ask for views.
Perhaps do a blog that might interest them – and tweet about it. Some insight from a young person that is harder for a boss to understand. But students need help to understand how to engage on Twitter to produce results, not irritate. There is a fine balance.
Even stuffing envelopes for a charity’s HR admin team will give some experience and something for a CV. Charities are short of funding and people, this can be a good way to get work experience.
6. Use LinkedIn strategically
Most universities teach the importance of LinkedIn – but not how to use it strategically. Students can target particular employers, research who they know on LinkedIn in those companies who could give information, find placements, make introductions, may even know of jobs.
7. Students should network to get jobs
When we ran our own internship for BAME graduates, this was the skill that was the biggest eye-opener and, according to them, the most use. It was also the one they found hardest – how they have to be helpful and useful to someone first – not just expect favours.
8. Be enterprising
There is a whole blog on this subject alone. It is the art of looking at a business, people you know and thinking – what could I do to help them? Presenting solutions for free – and make them see the value of you as a person. And eventually these lead to offers of work, even a job.
Our intern did this to us last year, which resulted in a three month (paid) project for a client with us – which gave her CV added value. And she was appointed by Edelman Digital in the summer.
9. Read a headhunter’s advice
Our friend, Anne Watson, has written the bestselling ‘Definitive Job Guide’ – highly recommended.
10. Northern Lights’ free ebook on social media
We have written a free ebook on how to use social media in business. While written for business leaders and academics, the tips and advice are just as useful to students. It has already become required reading for Leeds Met’s PR degree course.
Do you agree or disagree with these tips – have we missed any?