Developing your Skills

Employability is defined in line with the University Employability Policy and Strategy, as “the capability to secure and maintain satisfactory work” and is all about what skills you have and how you can demonstrate to employers that you have these skills.

    Much of the ordinary, everyday activity that you undertake as a student can make a contribution to their employability development (e.g. working in groups, planning projects, undertaking part time work, giving presentations).

    These key employability skills include:

    • Commercial Awareness
    • Computer Literacy
    • Teamworking
    • Written and Interpersonal Communication

    Key employability skills

    Commercial awareness

    Being able to show that you that you have an understanding of the market place in which a business or service operates and an understanding of what makes a business successful is a key requirement in most occupations and is very important when applying for a graduate job.

    What is commercial awareness?

    Many graduate recruiters complain about the lack of business or commercial awareness in applicants- they want candidates who understand the marketplace in which their business or service operates and an understanding of what makes a business successful. Recruiters are looking for applicants who have a “business brain”- that is, applicants who demonstrate that they can exercise sound judgment and have a good work ethic. This is equally important whether the organisation operates in the public or private sector.

    You don’t have to be applying for a career in business or commerce to need business skills- even a journalist, arts administrator or a charity worker needs to show commercial awareness!

    This might involve proving that you:

    • understand the organisation’s mission and aims    
    • understand the sector that the company/organisation belongs to    
    • are aware of the political and economic issues affecting the organisation    
    • are aware of the major competitors    
    • understand the commercial priorities of the organisation    
    • understand the importance of a good work ethic

    The website of the University of Bradford Career Development Services has some useful information on the skills involved in commercial awareness.

    Where to start

    Remember, you need to prove to employers that you have commercial awareness, with tangible evidence to back up your claims. Think about what you have achieved so far. If you are struggling to think of examples that illustrate your commercial skills, here are some ideas to think about:

    Find part-time work  
    Not only a great way to earn money to keep you going whilst you study, part-time work will help you to increase your employability skills and will impress employers. Thinking about the wider environment that you work in, gives you an excellent source of material to impress a graduate interviewer. For  example,  if you work in a shop, can you talk about the shop’s immediate rivals or competitors? Can you discuss the wider issues facing the retail industry? Do you have any ideas about how your particular company plans to develop in the future?
    If you have worked in a pub, you may be asked about the beer industry or issues facing the drinks industry.
    Make sure you have some ideas at your fingertips. Being able to talk about issues like these will prove to a recruiter that you have an interest in how business works and an understanding of the importance of commercial awareness.

    Volunteer
    Not only can you help local groups, this will give you a chance to demonstrate that you have commercial awareness. You need to think about the wider sector that you volunteer in.
    For example, if you volunteer for a local conservation project, think about the wider issues impacting on the environment or think about the way the organisation is funded. This will help show that you understand the implications of decisions that have been made or appreciate why particular priorities have been set. All key elements of commercial awareness!

    Start preparing your CV 
    If you are applying for a part-time job whilst studying at the University, many employers will ask you to send in your CV (resumé). Your CV is your marketing tool. It summarises your qualifications, experience and skills. If you start preparing your CV now, it can also act as a template that you can develop as you progress through University. This will save you a lot of time in the future if you have all your information collected in one place.
    As you develop more evidence of your commercial awareness skills, you can add it to your CV and develop a strong bank of evidence that will help when you come to apply for graduate jobs.

    Get involved
    Think about taking on a role within a society that demonstrates your commercial awareness; for example, you could take on a position such as treasurer, fundraiser etc. You could take part in appropriate workshops and activities, such as business games or entrepreneurial/start your own business competitions. For example, Enactus aims to provide a challenging environment to allow members to enhance entrepreneurial skills and develop knowledge and understanding of what is needed to be a successful entrepreneur. This can be a great place to gain commercial awareness!

    Keep informed
    To prove your commercial awareness, you need to know what is happening generally in the marketplace. Read the business pages of newspapers such as The GuardianThe Independent or The Times. Online newspapers are also an excellent way of finding up to the minute details of a company's activities-impress at interview with your current awareness. Many national newspapers can be searched online via the Infotrac databases, available via the Library.
    Check out the Business and Money section of the BBC website which is a good source of business and topical news. Make sure you do this regularly to build up breadth and depth of knowledge.

    Read the specialist press
    This is really important if you are interested in a specific sector. For example, the Society Guardian is really useful for background knowledge of the public sector, the Media Guardian will enhance your understanding of media developments and the Times Educational Supplement is an essential read for anyone looking for work in the education sector.
    It is important that you are aware of any relevant professional journals such as New ScientistNatureBroadcastThe Actuary etc. for your particular sector. You can find out what  professional journals are  available by making use of your University library or the local public library.
    You can save time in your research by making use of resources that other information professionals have put together. For example, the British Library provides a useful overview of sources - their industry guides will give you details of sources to check for competitors, the market and the latest news on your chosen sector.

    Do your research
    Good research demonstrates a practical grasp and understanding of the pressures organisations face and an awareness of external influences. It also shows you have a genuine interest in the organisation.
    For example, if you are applying to a bank, you need to know general information about the financial markets worldwide and you need to know specific information on where your targeted organisation fits into the market place. Who are their major competitors, what market share do they have, what are their priorities and aims?
    The Library provides access to a range of company and market databases that may help when researching companies.

    Databases of use include

    • Business Source Premier - this contains overviews of leading companies, providing a Datamonitor Report with a SWOT analysis (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) for the companies covered. This database also gives you access to the full text of over 8,500 journals - vital for up-to-date information on a company.    
    • Market research information often contains useful information on companies, giving details on competitors, an overview of the environment in which a particular company operates and future development opportunities. The most well-known examples are Mintel and Keynote market research reports.

    Computer Literacy

    Being computer literate is very important when applying for a graduate job.

    First thoughts

    • Think about your computer experience
    • What programs have you used? (eg. Word, Excel, MatLab, SPSS)
    • What did you use those programs for?
    • What functions of those programs did you use?
    • What more do you need to learn?
    • What is already on your CV? Have you learnt how to use IT packages during lectures, coursework or presentations?

    Where to start

    • The first place to go is the University’s IT and Digital Skills.
    • Locate, evaluate and make use of the information you need for assignments and research. This includes use of such programs as e-Library and EndNote.

    Remember: undertaking extra training shows you are committed to improving your computer literacy.

    How to impress

    Remember, you need to prove to employers that you are computer literate with tangible evidence to back up your claims. Some ideas to think about:

    • Don’t forget some of the things you’ve done during your time at university - Writing essays up in Word, creating graphs in Excel and producing presentations in PowerPoint. Completing all these is improving your computer literacy.
    • Have you written for a student paper, or a committee?
    • Uploaded anything to a student website, or maybe created your own website?
    • Do you upload films to YouTube, use Flickr or write a blog? Are you any good at manipulating photos on Photoshop?
    • Are you skilled at using an Apple Mac, or better on Windows? What about using laptops, or do you prefer a PC?

    How not to impress

    Graduate employers may look at your Facebook profiles – check your privacy settings. Search for yourself on YouTube – is there something on there you didn’t know about?

    Teamworking

    Being able to show that you can work collaboratively with others from a wide range of backgrounds is a key requirement in most occupations and is very important when applying for a graduate job. Employers see the ability to work as part of a team as a crucial skill, and you need to be able to demonstrate convincingly that you have sufficient understanding and experience of teamworking.

    First thoughts

    Are you aware of the different roles people play in a team- from leader, to thinker to doer? If you have never thought about roles in a team before, this is a good time to start. Different people play different roles within teams and groups and understanding what these are can be very useful. Even informal groups of friends meeting for social purposes will adopt roles – start to watch and see!

    For a formal introduction to the type of roles people adopt in team, read about the work of Meredith Belbin and his team who conducted research over a period of nine years. Belbin identified nine clusters of behaviour, termed Team Roles. Details are available on the official Belbin website.

    What makes a good team player?

    To be an effective team member, you need to be able to show a range of skills: for example, you need to be able to: listen, question, persuade, participate – and sometimes lead

    The website of the University of Bradford Career Development Services has some useful information on the skills involved in teamwork.

    How to impress

    Remember, you need to prove to employers that you have teamworking skills, with tangible evidence to back up your claims. Think about what you have achieved so far:

    • Think about your current teamworking skills.    
    • Think of your best example of working co-operatively as a team member to accomplish something. What did you do? What was the result? How did you interact with others on the project? What did you do to contribute towards creating a teamwork environment? Did you play a particular role within the team?    
    • Think about the most difficult challenge you have faced in trying to work co-operatively with others. What was your role in enabling the project to move ahead? Was it successful? If not, why not?

    Where to start

    Kick-Start your Ideas: if you are struggling to think of examples that illustrate your teamworking skills, here are some ideas to think about:

    Course work
    Building up examples of your teamwork experience based on your course work is a useful starting point. For example, you may have taken part in a team presentation as part of your course. Or perhaps you had to submit a group report for assessment. What role did you play when preparing the work? Did anything go wrong during the preparations? Did you help to put it right?

    Find part time work  
    Not only a great way to earn money to keep you going whilst you study, part-time work will help you to increase your employability skills and will impress employers. Work such as stacking shelves, or working in a shop, can show that you have customer care experience and are accustomed to working in a team with others.

    Volunteer
    Visit our jobs vacancy database for details of volunteering opportunities in the local community. For example, if you are interested in conservation work, there are many local environmental projects. Not only can you help local groups, this will give you a chance to demonstrate that you are used to working with others and give you a bank of evidence/ to draw upon when filling in application forms.

    Start preparing your CV
    If you are applying for a part time job whilst studying at the University, many employers will ask you to send in your CV (resumé). Your CV is your marketing tool. It summarises your qualifications, experience and skills. If you start preparing your CV now, it can also act as a template that you can develop as you progress through University. This will save you a lot of time in the future if you have all your information collected in one place. As you develop more evidence of your teamworking skills, you can add it to your CV and develop a strong bank of evidence that will help when you come to apply for graduate jobs. 

    Get involved
    Get involved in clubs, societies or with the Students' Union. All of these activities will help develop your personal skills. For example, if you have been involved in sporting activities such as rugby, this can show your teamworking skills; if you are a member of a role playing group, this can show evidence of your communication skills and your ability to work alongside others. As well as having fun or keeping fit, you will greatly enhance your CV. Perhaps you could join a student committee so you can demonstrate your teamwork skills.

    Written and interpersonal communication

    Excellent written and interpersonal communication skills are vital to success in life. Being able to show that you can write concisely and with clarity is a key skill in the initial stage of applying for graduate positions. Likewise being able to converse in a confident and effective manner with others from a wide range of backgrounds is a key requirement in life as well as work and is vital in the initial application process.

    Being able to demonstrate to employers good written and interpersonal skills at the initial stage of recruitment would demonstrate convincingly  to an employer that you have an essential basic life-skill in which to succeed in a graduate position.

    Communication in the workplace

    As communication is so central to the world of work, it follows that where communication is poor or inadequate, the quality of that work – be it a product or service – will suffer as a result.

    Ensuring ‘good’ and ‘effective’ communication is a fundamental component of providing high quality services and products. Good, effective communication at work therefore is not a luxury or an optional extra but essential for success.

    Information taken from: The Open University

    What is communication

    Interpersonal communication
    Interpersonal communication is a complex mix of both verbal and non-verbal communication. It requires you to talk to and deal with people in an efficient and appropriate manner: For example: Verbal skills include: listening, explaining, understanding, negotiating, persuading. Non-verbal can include body language, facial expression, reactions.

    Written communication
    Written communication is a record of ideas and facts and can take various forms from creative, formal to factual for example writing letters, reports presentations, essays, poems, books, novels. Things to be aware of are the audience you are aiming for, language used, clarity, presentation/layout and overall construction. Remember that any written communication provides a permanent record of your skill and ability to communicate effectively, for example covering letters, CVs, application forms which are sent to potential employers.

    Where to start

    Building up evidence of skills
    If you are struggling to think of examples that illustrate your communication skills, think about your time spent at university.

    Course work
    Building up examples of your written and interpersonal skills based on your course work is a useful starting point. For example,

    • Essays      
    • Reports      
    • Written preparation for presentations      
    • Taking an active part in tutorials or seminars      
    • Delivering presentations      

    Think about how your written work has developed whilst at university and the different styles you might use in course work. If you are struggling in this area visit the Academic Learning Skills web page where you will find help through workshops, online materials or through one to one support.

    Join a student club
    Why not join a student club or society or get involved with the Students' Union. All of these activities will help develop your personal skills. For example, if you have been involved in debating issues or a member of a role playing group, this can show evidence of your communication skills or further  if  you  have been involved in a student magazine/publication it will show your ability with the written word. As well as having the potential to meet new people you will greatly enhance your CV.

    Acquiring skills

    Work experience
    Part-time work will help you to increase your employability skills and will impress employers as well as giving you extra money. Work such as bar work, or working in a shop, can show that you have customer care experience, where you will have developed your interpersonal skills through conversing and  liaising  with  others. Pick up a Careers & Employability handout on Transferable Skills for Employability to give you other ideas. This is also available online at Transferable Skills Handout.

    Volunteer
    Visit our job vacancies on Advantage or find details of volunteering opportunities in the local community. For example, if you are interested in working with others, there are many local groups that require support for example working with children or helping older people. Not only can you help local groups, but this will give you a chance to demonstrate that you can effectively communicate with others and give you a bank of evidence to draw upon when filling in application forms.