As a recent science college graduate with a couple of years’ experience in the workforce, I’ve compiled advice for undergraduates on life after university.
There are three types of skills you will use in any job: soft (interpersonal), hard (knowledge and technical) and business (occupation-specific). Investing in these skills will help you stand out to potential employers as you pursue your ideal job.
Here’s how to acquire these skills:
Get work experience before pursuing further study.
You may have heard that having two degrees increases your employability and salary, but experience is arguably more important to employers. The best predictor of future behavior is past performance, and relevant experience shows that you have learned the ropes and built business experience.
Being in the workforce also gives you constant exposure to situations where you can significantly develop soft skills such as developing rapport with others, getting along with your boss, listening actively, being diplomatic, working with ambiguous information, providing and receiving constructive feedback and expressing frustration professionally. In many cases, these are more valuable to employers than hard skills; soft skills are harder to teach.
If you are an undergraduate planning to study a postgraduate degree, consider spending a “gap” year between your degrees to gain some full-time work experience, or simply doing an internship alongside your undergraduate studies.
I took the opportunity to work immediately after graduating with my first degree, as I wasn't sure what I'd pursue as a second degree, or what career path I wanted to take. Work life greatly expanded my view of the large breadth of jobs I could do. This was when I was introduced to the world of business consulting at Accenture, and I gained the clarity that this was the career I wanted to pursue.
Study what you enjoy, not just what you think you need for a job.
While today’s job market is increasingly competitive, it is also more flexible. You could get a degree in anthropology and work in business operations, study zoology and become a journalist or train to be a doctor and switch to consulting. There are an increasing number of roles that accept students from a wide range of academic backgrounds, as employers are realizing the value in hiring people with diverse ways of thinking.
This applies to courses and also to specific subjects. Unless you have specific prerequisites to fulfill for a job you have in mind, you have quite a lot of freedom in what you can study. Your unique background could be an asset to your potential future employer.
University courses also teach you many transferable skills, which can be more important than the content of the courses when you start working. Although I graduated with a degree in mathematics, I rarely use anything beyond high school algebra at work.
On the other hand, my science degree is invaluable for the analytical and problem-solving skills I need to use every day. Viewing your university training as skill development rather than just knowledge accumulation can open your options to many more career opportunities.
Not having clear career goals during university, I studied my most enjoyable subject: math. Although I followed a somewhat unusual path to get here, I’m now consulting in a math-related field: data science. Having a math background—which is very different from the business background of most consultants—gives me an advantage in the deeply analytical side of working at Accenture.
Develop business skills and intuition.
If you studied science, business skills might seem a little irrelevant. After all, why would a vet, clinical researcher or software developer need to know anything about the commercial world?
All businesses exist to maximize profits, so you’ll work toward that goal even in a scientific role. As long as you work in a business, these skills will benefit you with the ability to accurately understand business situations and make good decisions.
As a vet, it helps to deliver good customer service and foster relationships that support the local community, which helps to keep the clinic profitable.
As a clinical researcher, it helps to know how to create a pitch for funding and effectively budget for experimental trials to create new knowledge and products that make money.
As a software developer, it helps to understand your competition to come up with new product ideas and features, while running projects efficiently and delegating tasks effectively, leading to a competitive and profitable company.
As a science student, I wasn’t aware of the importance of business skills, but I strongly value them in hindsight. This uncovered opportunities for me in jobs that were not specifically scientific, such as in business strategy and retail operations.
Through the work I do each day and by reading and keeping up with the latest news, I’m continuously developing my business skills. I gain the context I need to understand my boss’ or stakeholders' needs, concerns and incentives. Sharpening my business skills also helps me with networking, leadership, engaging with clients and achieving my career goals at Accenture.
Make the most of your present to build your future
Studying at university is a time of learning, exploration and discovery. It’s an opportunity to make new friends, try new things and prepare for the workforce. It’s also a time of maturing and gaining a better understanding of the world.
Employers recognize and value this maturity, the skill set and ways of thinking you develop and the practical experiences you gain. Your ability to demonstrate soft, hard and business skills will make you stand out among the rest with potential employers.
As a university graduate, the world is your oyster!
Ready to take the next step in your career, and transform the world with the work you do each day? Find your fit with the Accenture team.
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