Study skills and employability

During your time as a student, you will be supported to develop relevant subject-specific and transferable skills that will help you to succeed in both academic study and your career.  

Activities embedded within your course such as authentic assessments (simulating the sort of tasks you might encounter in a professional context) and research projects will also provide opportunities for you to think about your future and the skills you’ll need to work on to help you progress. 

It’s important to build on your skills in other contexts too, to increase your employability and stand out from the crowd; such as through part-time work and volunteering. 

Whether you have a clear career plan or not, it’s worth considering that few people have what is known as a ‘linear career path’. Many of the skills you develop during your time at university can open doors to careers and opportunities beyond the more obvious ones – but it is up to you to think things through and take action.  

Take a look at the ‘What can I do with my degree?’ pages from Prospects to get started.

What are employers looking for? 

The skills you need for a graduate job will vary according to sector and job role, but there are some common skills that are valued by employers across the board. 

These include skills such as verbal and written communication (alongside listening skills); the ability to work within a team and build positive working relationships; initiative and motivation; organisation and IT skills.  

As an example, below are some of the criteria listed in a recent graduate internship advert on South West graduate jobs board Gradsouthwest

  • Strong interpersonal skills with a willingness and ability to work in a team environment and independently. 
  • Potential ability to use Microsoft tools e.g. Word, Outlook, Powerpoint 
  • Writing, editing and proofreading skills. Attention to detail is essential.  

Read more about some of the key skills graduate employers are looking for here

Demonstrating your skills 

Being able to sell your skills to employers is incredibly important in a competitive job market.  

It’s not enough to simply provide a list of your skills, as the value of the skills you develop through academic study may not always be obvious to an employer. You need to be able to communicate them in a way that makes sense in the workplace, and demonstrate how you have developed them with specific examples. 

Stella Cottrell provides some useful advice on translating academic skills for the workplace in her book Skills for Success: Personal Development and Employability (2015). On the subject of evidencing verbal skills, Cottrell has this advice: 

‘Students often cite “presenting a seminar paper” as an example of “oral communication”. Leading a seminar is a valuable experience and does develop public speaking skills. However, formal presentations are not typical of everyday working life.  

It is probable, at work, that you will need verbal skills for meetings, formal and informal, to contribute as a team member to discussions, or to explain matters to clients, customers and colleagues. Employers will be interested to hear about how you have communicated with different kinds of people, fielded difficult questions or contributed to discussions in workshops, projects, on-line or in work contexts.’  

(Cottrell, 2015 p. 263) 

The STAR technique

To help you demonstrate your skills in application forms and interviews, many graduate employers and careers professionals recommend using the STAR technique.

STAR stands for situation, task, action and result; the technique is designed to help you structure your responses so that you can demonstrate your skills and competencies ‘in action’.

Find out how to use it by watching the video below:

Research project/dissertations 

The majority of our programmes include a module which requires you to develop your own specialist research project, or dissertation if you choose to top-up.  

As potentially the largest piece(s) of academic work you will complete, the research project and/or dissertation can support career planning, and offer you an opportunity to draw on and evidence the skills you have developed through your degree.  

This includes skills such as independent study, critical thinking, time management and quantitative and/or qualitative research methods.  

This can be a great talking point in a job or postgraduate application or interview.  

Reflection 

Regular reflection is an important part of your personal and professional development as a student, and you will be supported to reflect on your skills, attributes and experiences as you move through your course. 

Through reflection, you will be encouraged to evaluate your own performance and consider any areas which you may need to address for improvement in the future.  

It is important that you approach reflection as ‘a continual process rather than a one-off event’ (Cottrell 2005, p. 4) to allow for ongoing learning and development as you gain new experiences both as a student and graduate.  

Available support 

Visit our Employability and Next Steps page for more information, advice and guidance on developing your employability, or get in touch via email.