It’s tough being a university graduate. You study between four to seven years, you work hard getting qualified and ready for the job force, only to find you’re up against thousands of students with the same or similar qualifications.
The ability to stand out in the job market is more competitive than ever.
The information sector received an average of 41 applicants for every position filled in Q4 of 2015, according to CIO. That’s nearly twice the number (21) of any other market segment.
Monash student Daniel de Ward who is currently studying a bachelor of engineering and commerce, said that many of his friends who have graduated have been frustrated because they can’t find opportunities in their chosen field.
“Opportunities always exist but you may have to be willing to work in a field outside the one you imagined you would,” he said.
“There is a huge disconnect between the skills and knowledge taught at University and what is expected in a job. Indeed, there are so many different fields requiring vastly different sets of skills it can be hard to keep up with knowing what kind of skills you should aim to acquire.”
De Ward is currently interning at a big data company and said the first year of work on the job was a bigger learning experience than University. He recommends students get as much workplace experience prior to graduation as they can.
“The best way to prepare is by starting early, look for internships while you are still studying which will give you experience with the application process and the challenge of the rapid learning required when you first start a new job,” he said.
According to Forbes, the top 10 skills employers are looking for in graduates are:
- Ability to work in a team structure
- Ability to make decisions and solve problems
- Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organisation
- Ability to plan, organise and prioritise work
- Ability to obtain and process information
- Ability to analyze quantitative data-
- Technical knowledge related to the job
- Proficiency with computer software programs
- Ability to create and/or edit written reports
- Ability to sell and influence others
“We have seen this consistently represented in Australian job ads for graduates,” says Gemma Lloyd, engagement director at Diverse City Careers.
“Although a lot of these skills are already gained through University, graduates need to express their ability to perform these to recruiters successfully.”
When applying for jobs, graduates often underestimate the value of contacts as opposed to skills, says Tim Moylan, COO of Shootsta.
“For most careers, contacts are as crucial as skills,” he said. “And while skills are changing in the ever racing digital economy, a good contact base will always be valuable.
“When trying to break into a particular industry, you should get out there and meet as many people as possible within that space to get a better understanding of it, and also find out where the opportunities are,” he said.
With that, there’s a huge focus at the moment on additional qualifications and certificates in order to keep up with the digital economy.
However, many students and graduates disregard the value of an internship in building new skills and also relationships.
“Internships aren’t just for students either,” he said. “It’s perfectly reasonable for an experienced worker or graduate to request one in a bid to learn new skills or get a taste of a new industry. It’s also a particularly good way to expose your existing skillset to a startup or employer.”
However, if you do ask for a placement, the COO says it’s important to ensure that it is arranged under reasonable terms and for a reasonable period of time.
“Startups are always after as much help as they can get, but they shouldn’t be abusing your time,” he said. “One to two weeks is typically enough time to gain a taste of a company and learn some new skills.”
As for what areas might be interesting or lucrative for new graduates, data science has never been more important and is one of the fastest growing areas of speciality in the market today.
Locally, organisations such as Accenture, CSIRO and even the major banks are all looking to recruit graduates that know how to tell stories with data. The ability to interpret and design graphics will make you a competitive candidate.
In the Digital Age, with such easy access to knowledge, the value of knowledge has evolved and is highly personalised. The increasing significance of emotional intelligence in the workplace now puts greater value on individuals’ ideas.
“Individuals are valued for what their unique traits can bring to the table – not just within their role, or how well they perform it, but how their contribution and critical thinking can progress the organisation,” says Jenny Junkeer, CEO of business transformation firm, Junkeer.
Regardless of what industry you want to work in, or what field you studied, graduates will need to become more adaptable to an increasingly diverse and changeable job market. It’s no longer good enough to just be a good writer, or be good with a hammer and nails. Students and graduates cannot study, specialise or skill-up in isolation if they expect to get ahead in today’s job market.
Diversification is everything. Career success will come to those who come to the job with transferable skills, business acumen and a willingness to continue upskilling in different areas.
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