Do you feel stuck on the edge of civilization in your town or school, and do not know how to prepare yourself for the world of work or tertiary education? Below are ideas listed to help you expand your horizons despite where you live.
Learn to communicate
Participate in drama groups, public speaking, debating clubs, student radio presenting, class rep, and student mentor. Get practical work experience: as a receptionist, in telesales or market research, and demonstrating in-store products.
Look for opportunities to speak in front of an audience and, if need be, make your opportunities: volunteer to talk at a local school about what you learned in your gap year or host a presentation to raise money for charity on a topic you are passionate about.
Up your writing skills
Using just coursework to demonstrate your skills might not impress. Writing a dissertation looks good but do try and have a range of other examples in your portfolio: as Secretary of a club, you will have written minutes and reports: if you volunteer for a charity, offer to write some promotional material or a letter seeking sponsorship; write articles for the student or local press, online magazines or blogs or, better still, start your blog. You could write a speech for a friend, instructions for a piece of kit or game, or get a letter published in the Times. If you have a part-time job, offer to write a press release for the local paper.
Develop teamwork skills
You are playing in a team or orchestra, part of a drama production. Try and find other examples: have you worked in an office or shop supporting a team? You may have participated in a voluntary project where you had a specific role. Have you worked on a collaborative project such as Greenpower? All employers will want to see the ability and willingness to collaborate – make sure you have something to say here! If you haven’t got much teamwork experience, get together with friends and brainstorm some ideas:
- Put on a charity event.
- Organize a clear-up of litter from the school or college campus.
- Tackle a local environmental issue.
- Set up a student swap shop.
Develop commercial awareness skills:
We talk a lot about this because it is so important nowadays. Not only do you need to read the papers (including the business sections), but you should also start to pick up (and understand) some of the jargon: mission statements, competitive advantage, customer value proposition, stakeholders, IPO, liquidity, benchmarking – to name just a few. If you have been involved in Young Enterprise, you will score well here, and being the Treasurer of a club looks good on your CV.
The most important thing you can do is get a part-time job because it gives you first-hand experience and the opportunity to ask questions. Look for opportunities where you can save money or increase sales for your employer and ask them about the significant business issues they face.
If you work in a local cafe or shop, you will be surprised at how many problems even a small company faces today. And remember your parents and their friends. Talk to them about what they do and what issues their organization faces – they will provide significant input into the bigger commercial picture you should start framing.
Practice analysis and research skills
You are getting a vacation job in market research and analyzing your website stats. If need be, undertake your piece of research and analysis or volunteer to get involved locally: maybe your local Council needs some help with their Local Plan, a local charity could use some service to better understand their donor market or perhaps you could work with a local school to assess traffic problems at drop off time?
Develop planning and organizing skills:
An obvious example is organizing your revision schedule, especially if you have many extra-curricular commitments. But again, look for examples outside the academic sphere. Have you been a stage manager for a play? Have you organized a charity event, a concert, or student union activities (although protests don’t always go down well with employers!)? Have you planned and undertaken a gap year trip involving independent travel? Remember what employers are looking for here, and if you still need to organize a significant scale activity, start planning one now! Find a local charity and pool the skills/ talents of your friends:
- A charity talent show
- Sponsored activity
- Fun day for disadvantaged children
- Concert for older people, poetry slam for local teenagers
Use your imagination and go for it!
Exercise time management skills
Taking on extra activities whilst studying hard shows that you can manage your time well (and that you are not just a swot!). Have you made time outside of your studies to learn something new (whether it is an art, sport, language, or technical skill)? You could have combined studying with caring duties or a part-time job. Or make time each weekend to follow your passion, whether a sport, art, theatre or music.
What you do in your vacations also matters: just hanging out with mates all the time doesn’t look good – it shows a lack of drive and a desire to coast, neither of which will go down well with employers. If you are stuck for something to do – take a course, volunteer at your local charity shop or get a job. But make sure you do something!
Practice numeracy skills
If you prepare yourself in the other areas, you will use some practical maths. For example, if you have a part-time job, ask to help with cashing up at the end of the day. If you have organized a charity event, you will have had to work out the costs and the profit made on ticket sales. You should be familiar with basic stats if you help with some market research.
If you are already a student, budgeting and managing your loan are essential (unless you are always overdrawn, which doesn’t look good!). If math has never been a strong point, try The Economist’s Numbers Guide for a straightforward introduction to what you might be expected to know – it isn’t that difficult.
Acquire IT skills
Many employers feel that students need to be more qualified in this area but focus their energy and talent too much on social media. You will be expected to be able to produce basic spreadsheets, so get in the habit of using them to plan your budget, record and analyze your expenditures, and use them for any fundraising activities in which you take part. Use a simple database for all your personal and ‘business’ contacts if you don’t already. Make sure you are well versed in at least one presentation package, and ideally, you should be able to put together graphic material such as posters, invitations, and infographics.
Deepen self-motivation and drive skills
If you can provide several examples in the above areas – or you are prepared to do something to plug the gaps, then you are probably doing OK here. What impresses employers is when you can show that you stick at something, even when you are not enjoying it. Have you taken part-time jobs you didn’t want but still managed to do to the best of your ability?
Cultivate adaptable and open-minded skills
Independent travel, shift work, and stepping into a play/ team/band/job at the last minute are all excellent examples of flexibility. So are learning something new, volunteering in an uncomfortable environment working with people you would not normally spend time with (e.g., older people) and working abroad. It doesn’t always have to be about the big things but be prepared for questions in an interview that seek out whether you can adapt to change, is willing to work with all sorts of different people and is not going to bring a load of baggage with you when you join the company.
Broaden creative thinking skills
Employers want creative problem solvers who can see better ways of doing things and are prepared to get up and do something about it. If you volunteer with a charity, create new fundraising or recruit more people like you. If you have a part-time job, make suggestions (politely) about how you think things could be improved – don’t just moan about how things are done now. If you haven’t found a job, start a small eBay business. If there isn’t a local club, society or blog in an area you are passionate about, create one yourself. For issues at school that upset you and your friends, consider sitting down together with the powers and finding a workable solution.