The qualifications you get at school or college are important – but employers will also want to know what ‘employability skills’ you have. These are general skills that employers look for in their workforce – qualities such as being able to communicate well with others or knowing how to work as a team. The good news is that you don’t have to be in work to learn them – you can start developing these skills in school or college.
Here are our five top tips on how to enhance your employability skills and boost your chances of getting a job.
1. Get experience in the career you want to pursue
Many companies run formal work experience programmes at set times of the year, which give you a chance to find out what it’s like to work at their organisation. But there’s nothing to stop you from looking at other ways of getting experience in the career you’re interested in outside the work experience window.
Consider getting in touch with company HR departments to find out about placements, internships or any other work opportunities they have that will get you valuable experience in the sector you’re interested in. The advantages are you get to find out if it really is the industry for you and experience the workplace environment.
While we’re on the subject of work experience… As you’re testing out different career workplaces, be mindful of anywhere that really appeals, as you might want to apply for their formal work experience programme when the applications open. The fun of work experience is that you never quite know how the experience will turn out, as this story about a work experience student at Southern Rail demonstrates...
And finally, if you want to earn some money over the school holidays, contact employment agencies who work in the industry you’re interested in, to find out if they have any temporary work you could do. General ‘temp’ skills like touch typing and good communication skills will stand you in good stead; plus those who are willing to get stuck in and are super helpful will typically find they get called back regularly.
2. Volunteer your time
Volunteering is an excellent way to build up your employability skills while helping others. It doesn’t need to be connected in any way to the profession you want to pursue, but it helps to be for a cause or community issue that you feel strongly about, so that you feel enthusiastic about giving up your time!
There are lots of organisations offering assistance in matching up volunteers with those in need – try NVCO, Royal Voluntary Service and Vinspired for starters. For careers-specific volunteering opportunities, this article has some useful tips.
If there’s an issue you feel really strongly about, consider running a fundraising campaign in support of it. It’s simple to set up a donations page – from the likes of JustGiving – and lots of charities have ideas for what you can do to raise money on their behalf (type ‘fundraising ideas’ into a search engine and you’ll be spoilt for choice). Fundraising demonstrates lots of skills employers are interested in – such as tenacity, self-motivation, empathy and more – plus, you get to raise money for a cause you believe in.
3. Develop or polish up your CV
The words ‘curriculum vitae’ might not elicit huge excitement, but your CV is a crucial tool in securing future employment.
If you’re still at school – and don’t have any work credentials – the trick is conveying how the subjects you study contribute to the development of your employability skills. This isn’t as hard as it might sound – for instance, if you’re studying GCSE Design & Technology, consider how your coursework teaches skills in research, communication, analysis and evaluation. GCSE engineering projects do much the same – and if you’ve taken part in any science clubs or citizen science experiments, such as the Pod’s What’s Under Your Feet? campaign, now’s the time to mention these and the skills you developed through it (e.g. investigative skills, testing a hypothesis etc.)
Beyond school life, think about any hobbies or extra-curricular activities you take part in and the skills these give you. Any evidence of being able to mentor or lead others, or show initiative will stand you in good stead. Consider references too – is there anybody you’ve worked with in your chosen field (that you met through work experience, for example) who would be willing to write you a reference? This will really help to show your commitment to an industry.
Finally, think about the format of your CV. There are lots of creative examples online of unusual presentation styles (the edible CV, anyone?) But realistically, only consider stepping away from the traditional Word or PDF format if it’s relevant to what you want to do (it’s why some of the most unusual examples you find come from those looking for employment in the creative industries!)
For more CV and covering letter tips, take a look at the Young HPC toolbox – which is packed with help and guidance.
4. Clean up your social media presence
This is another of those ‘necessary-but-not-always-fun-to-do’ jobs – but it’s really important. It goes without saying that how you present yourself on social media is how some future employers might regard you. But it’s still too often forgotten in some people’s haste to post images from their fun night out or use these public spaces to launch into a rant. If you’re looking for some general advice, the Young HPC toolbox has some really good do’s and don’ts for how to present yourself on social media.
But don’t forget that cleaning up your social media presence isn’t just a case of thinking about what you post online; it’s also an exciting opportunity to present the ‘you’ that you’d like to be in the future.
LinkedIn is an effective platform for carving out a social media persona that reflects how you’d like to be known in a professional capacity. You can follow or connect with people and organisations you’re interested in, share or comment on articles and post original content to give yourself a voice. You don’t have to be a prolific user, but it’s a useful way to connect with like-minded people and start to shape your professional persona online. Be aware that you need to be 16 years old to join LinkedIn and we recommend you discuss it with a parent or guardian first..
5. Make the most of your holidays
It might feel like your life is busy enough with school, homework and social commitments. But consider whether you have any capacity to learn a new skill or develop a project that you’re interested in. Google famously had a ‘20% Time’ for its employees that let them spend one day a week working on a personal project of their choice. Their bosses’ thinking was that this creative freedom and time away from the pressures of their day job would lead to innovation… And it certainly did: Gmail, Google Maps and Google Talk are all said to have come out of this scheme.
So look at the things you’re interested in or the skills you’d like to learn, and consider how you can get them off the ground. Remember: people like working with interesting people – and having interests makes you… interesting!
If you’re looking for something that ticks all the above, consider signing up for National Citizen Service. It’s a two to four-week programme for 15 -17 year olds – including a residential activity break, skills-building and volunteering – that will help you develop the skills needed to impress any future boss. Read the testimonials to find out what it’s all about and why 72% of NCS graduates feel more confident about getting a job afterwards.
For more guidance on interview techniques, CV writing and developing transferable skills, take a look at the Young HPC toolbox. If you want to learn about STEM careers in more detail, our Jobs in STEM hub has the lowdown on some of the future jobs available and the qualifications, experience and skills you need.