Go Higher: Firms want players, not spectators

Commercial awareness and a `can do' attitude will be attractive to your prospective employers, says Neil Harris

If a degree ever did mean a job for life, those days are long gone. Recruiters of graduates look for much more than academic success. They want to see a very broad range of skills in their successful applicants. While a good academic record will get your foot in the door as an applicant, selectors are seeking much more than that before they clinch the deal. Interviewers want to hear hard evidence of the competencies you need to do the job. These can be found in all aspects of your life. Recruiters will search through your employment experiences, holidays, leisure pursuits, sports, or activities in the students' union to discover if you have them.

High on their list is commercial awareness. If you have worked in a pub, a shop or some other commercial organisation can you show that you ever saw it as needing to be profitable? Do you have any ideas about how the situation you were in could be improved?

Employers want to hire people who have a "can do" approach; those who get involved rather than those who stand on the sidelines and watch the world go by. Don't get carried away with your visits to art galleries, the cinema or football matches. Instead concentrate on things you did which achieved something, changed things for the better.

While education may be an individual matter, employment is a team effort. Recruiters are keen to know what you have achieved in a group, on a committee, a sports team or simply with your flat-mates. If you can show that you took the lead, so much the better. Show, if you can, that you are a tactful communicator who can also be persuasive. Tell them about any situation in which you had to speak to an audience or persuade your friends into a new activity.

In the current climate most students can only make ends meet if they take part-time or vacation employment. It may be a chore, but you may find yourself in situations where customer care was important, where dealing with difficult clients was a problem you overcame. You may have thought how the business could be improved or worked in a team to achieve a particular goal. Tell interviewers what you did on that score. They will be impressed.

At university plenty of chances come your way to develop these skills. Over 80 universities now run "job shops". Some are organised by the students' union and some by careers services but they all seek out employment opportunities for their undergraduates. Manchester University has a "Workbank" (website: www.workbank.man.ac.uk).

Student unions offer numerous chances to be involved in clubs and societies, to develop teamwork and even leadership. Organisations such as the Student Industrial Society, AIESEC and university careers services help students to get closer to employers by participating in visits, skills workshops and awareness courses. Opportunities are there for the taking.

The Shell Technology Enterprise Programme is renowned for putting students into small businesses to do relevant projects each summer. Craig Scordellis, a student in business administration at Bath University, worked for IM Kelley, a manufacturer of leather-covered car accessories, through this programme and converted an empty warehouse into a manufacturing facility.

Many employers offer summer vacation work and internships. Ford takes on 200 students every summer. PriceWaterhouseCoopers is among the financial services companies which have vacation schemes. Most international banks and leading firms of solicitors also offer work experience to the brightest and best candidates. Glaxo Wellcome takes on more than 150 science students for an industrial year during their degree course.

Recently I met a student who spent his vacation in Australia selling door to door. Employers recruiting into the commercial functions of marketing, sales and purchasing were keen to recruit him.

Recruiters are not only interested in your qualifications when you graduate they also want to know what you have achieved, where you were employed and the things you made happen. People who have a "can do" approach to life, who get involved instead of being a spectator, are extremely attractive to employers .That's just what they want you to do when you join them.

Neil Harris is deputy director of the University of London Careers Service and Head of Careers Service at University College

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Pink Floyd on stage at Live 8 in 2005. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright
music New album The Endless River set to overtake boyband for most pre-ordered of all-time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £Competitive: SThree: SThree Group and have be...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals