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Articles > Work & Training September, 02, 2009

Employers want more than a good essay writer

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There have been a number of articles in the news lately about the plight of recent graduates trying to get jobs after university.

Now, I’m all for the idea of government-funded graduate schemes but I think that students need to re-assess what they need to do in order to get good jobs. It is no longer possible to just do a degree and expect an offer at the end. Sadly, I think this is still the mindset of many students, particularly those at traditional universities.  In my opinion, these universities are selling their students short and leaving many, quite unemployable. Of course, it’s still a great achievement to complete a degree, but it’s not exactly a unique achievement any more, is it?

I went to Sheffield Hallam University, did a placement year at IBM, graduated a month ago and have started a job as a Project Manager in a successful software company based in Leeds.

Why have I managed to stroll out of university and land on my feet like this? It certainly wasn’t from working my guts off at university. While I got a respectable 2:1, I certainly didn’t miss out on the ‘university experience.’ The answer is because the degree I did made me attractive to employers (and this isn’t just an advert for Sheffield Hallam).

Throughout my three years of study we always had a Professional Development module running. Now it wasn’t exactly the most enthralling subject and probably got the lowest attendance out of all the modules, but it made us think about how to sell ourselves to employers. We did mock interviews, report formatting sessions, group working techniques and CV writing practice. We also created a record of all of our achievements whilst at university and the main skills acquired.

I remember only doing about three or four essays during my entire time at university. Why do employers want a good essay writer? Apart from perhaps a journalism career, most work is done in report format and business is usually completed as part of a team. Around 25% of my entire course was based on group work and the end product of the majority of coursework would be some kind of report. Unless you’re setting up your own business, and even then you’re going to be dealing with other people, you will be required to work in a team, so why not hone these skills at university?

So without actually performing any better academically, a student with a better-written CV and interview aptitude is going to generate far more interest from employers than a student with a degree from a more traditional university who perhaps did not have a professional development emphasis in their course.

In a time of economic downturn, recruiters don’t want to have to train up graduates for one to two years before they can become productive employees. They will want students who will be able to slot into a working environment with ease. This is where a placement year (usually after the 2nd year of study) also becomes incredibly valuable.

On my placement year I received large amounts of responsibility on a wide range of jobs working with numerous levels in the organisation. I was able to apply my practical skills and, by the end of the year, I had a demonstrable track record that I could share with potential employers. Would an employer want to take a risk with a graduate who has little relevant employment? Or would they prefer a graduate who has a proven track record of relevant work? My money is on the latter.

As competition for places in the graduate market stiffens, the value of teaching professional skills and offering placement years is becoming ever-clearer.  Universities, especially the traditional universities, need to start practicing and preaching this lesson.

I hope I haven’t upset any traditionalists out there and I still accept the virtue of classic degrees. But a slight adaptation might go a long way to help struggling graduates in a tough economic climate.

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  1. Louise

    I see your point, that many students expect to be highly employable from their degree alone which isn’t always the case, I agree that a placement year is a really good idea, however I cant help but feel you are focusing on your own career path, for your job your degree is probably more relevant than an essay writing based degree at a more tradtional university, however other professions i.e research, politics, law, teaching and many other various fields of work, not just journalism require degrees from traditonal universities, for example if you want to be a lawyer you are expected to take an academic degree. Also, generally if you are a good writer and take an academic subject you already have the skills to write a good CV. What im trying to say is that it depends on the type of work you want to go in to after university for which degree you shoud take and where you should take it.