Undergrads: Stop thinking. Start acting outside the box


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The Independent Online

It feels like a rough time to be a graduate in most parts of the world. In some parts of Europe, the youth unemployment rate is around 50 per cent of the 16-24 demographic. In the UK, if you look at three of your friends, chances are that one of you will not have a job after graduation. The world where you land your dream job after graduation simply does not exist anymore. It is not enough to be just a university graduate.

So how do you start to stand out from the crowd? In my experience, it is something you need to start working on at the beginning of your undergraduate degree. You need to think outside the box, or at least the classroom. Here are my three tips on how to stand out from the crowd, and possibly learn more about yourself in the process:

Develop the ability to speak to anyone

In a recent interview with Richard Reed of Innocent Drinks, he thought that “people should learn valuable business skills early on - how to create good presentations, how to be an effective negotiator or the importance of time management...”

It does not matter which degree you are enrolled in, these soft skills are incredibly valuable to your CV and your ability to perform as an employee. Your university courses will provide you with the opportunity to develop team work skills, and how to put together good presentations, but you often don’t get the chance to develop the ability to sell a product, an idea or yourself. Find other opportunities to develop these skills - whether it is taking up a role within the Student Union, being actively involved in a society or in part-time employment.

Even working as a waiter in a restaurant allows you to develop the ability to speak to different demographics, learn customer service and sell to people. Future employers will be looking for you to demonstrate these types of skills on your CV, but they will also benefit you when it comes to your interviews. Learn how to sell yourself as a person.

Education is not just about getting that 2:1

University is extremely important step in your education, but it is not the only place where you can learn. Conferences happen all over the UK every week, full of inspirational speakers and workshops that can open your eyes to new information. They might even spark your interest in a topic that you have never heard of!

This has happened to me at countless conferences and has ultimately led to my interest in the business world Another great way to learn and gain connections is through mentorship. If there is a career path you are interested in, search for someone who has experience and can guide you down the right path or recommend what your next steps should be. Gain knowledge and experience from people around you, not just your textbooks.

Travel the world, and not just for a vacation

By far, one of the best ways to make yourself stand out is to have experience working or volunteering abroad. I am not saying that this will get you the job, but it will definitely get a Human Resource manager to take a second glance at your CV. Having work experience abroad, especially in emerging business markets is a great experience to highlight in a job interview, or simply a good story to share that shows your personality.

There are some really great organisations which provide experiences for young people all over the world to secure work placements abroad. Not only will you be building your CV or possibly learning another language, but you will be creating memories that you will remember for the rest of your life.

All these experiences help you stand out from the crowd, and from the other graduates that are seeking full time employment. It is time for undergraduates to start thinking outside the classroom for ways to gain skills and experience that will help them in the future. Not only will all three of these ideas help, but they might even set you on other paths you didn’t have on your radar. Acting outside of your comfort zone allows you to experience the world in a different way that could inspire you for the rest of your life. I have known many AIESEC alumni to leave the corporate world and start their own non-profit or social enterprise.

Experience is priceless. Gain as much as you can while completing your studies and you will set yourself up for an amazing university experience and a great career afterwards. 

Cassandra Ruggiero is the National VP Operations for the UK office of AIESEC, the largest student-run organisation in the world. AIESEC provides students and recent graduates the platform for leadership and business skills development while facilitating a Global internship programme in over 110 countries.