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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?