Future You transcript

Boosting your employability webinar

September, 2021

This is a transcript of the boosting your employability webinar held on Tuesday 21 September as part of the Future You series


Host: Ellie Reynolds


  • Emily Packer, careers consultant, University of Cambridge
  • Jay Russell, campus jobs manager, University of Reading.
  • Richard Farquhar, employability adviser, University of Bedfordshire

Episode transcript

Ellie: Welcome everybody to boosting your employability webinar. My name is Ellie and I work for Prospects and today I'm joined by Emily, Jay and Richard, who are our careers advisers panel. This is a half an hour webinar so we have 20 minutes for panel discussion, and then 10 minutes at the end for any questions that have been submitted into the Q&A function. So throughout the webinar, if there's any questions that you'd like to submit, please feel free to do so and we'll try and get them answered at the end. So if we just jump right into it, if I can ask all the panelists to introduce themselves, and to tell us a little bit about their role. So Emily, if we could start with you?

Emily: Yeah. Hi, everybody I'm Emily Packer I'm a careers consultant for the University of Cambridge. My role really ranges from doing lots and lots of one to one support, running group sessions, and working lots with employers to recruit our candidates at Cambridge, as well as helping faculties and your tutors and academics to make the most of employability within their courses.

Ellie: Brilliant and Jay if we could hear a little bit from you please.

Jay: Hi, everyone. My name is Jay Russell, and I'm the manager of the campus job service at the University of Reading. So I work very closely with colleagues in careers but I actually work for the university's HR team and I'm responsible for our student and temporary staffing service. So each year we have about 2,200 students who work for the university, and we pay about £2.2 million in a huge range of different roles that our students do for us. Hence why employability is a really hot topic and a good thing to be talking about.

Ellie: Brilliant. Thanks Jay. And Richard.

Richard: Hello, everybody. My name is Richard. I'm a employability adviser at the University of Bedfordshire. So my role typically again is the same as Emily's in one respect where I do deliver a lot of one to one guidance for students and drop in appointments. I’m also linked to specific academic departments throughout the university, STEM subjects being one of them. And that means that I go into those sessions in curriculum and deliver employability based sessions as well. That's me.

Ellie: Thanks Richard. Thanks guys. So if we jump straight into the questions, and Emily, if we can start with you answering first and then if we go Jay and Richard if that's okay. And so for the first one, great one to start off with what is employability and why should improving it matter to students who are at university now?

Emily: I think the first thing to say is employability is essentially about both hard and soft skills. So yes, it's about those hard skills that you need to do certain jobs. But it's also about soft skills, resilience, teamwork, negotiating, managing are all of those things. So it's a mixture of those things. And the most important thing around discussions on employability as lots of its focus towards what employers want from you. It's far more empowering to think about employability skills as giving you more choice in what careers you have. So essentially, the more skills you develop, the stronger you become in resilience and teamwork and all of those things, you give yourself more choice to choose from more careers.

Jay: And I would completely agree with everything that Emily has just said it's about giving you the opportunity and putting yourself in the best position when you go to apply for those jobs. But from an employer's perspective, you want to stand out as an employer who's advertising a role, they might have 10 applications, 100 applications, 200 applications. If you've got the right employability skills, you've spent the time working on your skill, set those soft and hard skills so that you stand out and that ultimately you get that job that you really want.

Richard: Yeah, I'd agree with both, Jay and Emily actually. I also see it as your ability to develop all those skills, gain all the knowledge that you need for the industry that you're hoping to move into. But it's also your ability to show recruiters in that field that you're ready for employment and that employment could be while you're a student, and you're looking for part time jobs, maybe an internship or even coming up to your graduation when you're maybe focusing on graduate schemes, etc. It can be temporary roles as well. But I see it as your ability to sell yourself in a way that you're able to show them that you're ready for what they have on offer while you're hoping to join the organisation.

Ellie: Great answers guys, and just for anybody who's attending that would be unsure Jay could you just give kind of description of what you mean by a hard skill and a soft skill?

Jay: I think it was actually Emily that talked about hard and soft skills so I might defer to her if that's okay.

Emily: Yeah, of course, it's so a hard skill would be something that you essentially have to have for a role. Let's say that's using c++ or Python, it could be that you need to understand child protection laws. So those are the things that are really specific to a role, that's a hard skill. And a soft skill is something that you are using, which is a little bit less, I couldn't do a test on it, essentially. So that could be team leadership, it could be negotiation skills, it could be resilience, where you're able to come back from failure, I can probably give you a test to see if you can use Python or c++, I can't really test you on the day to see if you're resilient, that's something you're going to need to talk to me about through a story. And actually, I'll build a picture up from your application. So hard skill is more likely a technical skill or specific piece of knowledge that proves that you are able to do something soft skill is something about how you manage things and how you cope with things.

Ellie: That's brilliant. Thank you very much, Emily. And if we go on to our second question, and it's two in one here. So what would you say are the benefits of joining a club or society while at university? And what other extra-curricular activities can a student get involved in while at uni?

Emily: All of us could talk about this for a solid hour. So I'm going to be super quick as I'd love to hear from everyone else. But first of all the benefits are, it's really good fun, and it breaks up your study. But essentially, all societies and clubs are split into doing work for community getting better at an industry or more knowledge about an industry you want to be in, or to be in a competitive environment like sports. So those all give you separate skills. If you are in a society and in a role, like a treasurer, a marketing event, actually, you can, it's almost like being as part of a small business. So it gives you lots and lots of skills, there's lots of benefits there. So the most, you know, important thing is that you have fun when you're doing it and you build a community of friends. Even better than that you look like you're actually exercising some of the skills that you hope to use in your career.

Jay: I think it's also a way for you to demonstrate employability skills, that you may not be able to demonstrate from your academic studies. So for example, if you are applying for a position and it talks about a leadership role, or teamwork as being an essential criteria, if you are on the football team or the chess society, and you've taken up a leadership position, you're the captain of the football team or you're the treasurer of the chess society, you can talk about the skills that you have demonstrated in those clubs and societies that are directly relevant to the organisation that you've applied to. And it's a way to complement your studies in a really nice way that and as Emily says, enables you to have fun at the same time. For the second part of the question around the what extra-curricular activities. Yeah, you want us to cover that as well. So I would divide those into two separate groups. Some of those extra-curricular activities might be things that are organised by the university itself. So there might be a program where you can go into local primary schools, for example, I know a number of universities run those kind of skill transfer schemes. It might be a part of the university that is dedicated to work on sustainability issues. So slightly different from students’ union activities, those are university run activities. Or it could be something completely outside of the university bubble as it were, you may work with a local charity, you might go into the local Oxfam shop and do some work there. You might work to do some volunteering with a local charity on their social media. So there's a there's some kind of on campus university based activities, whether that students’ union led or university lead, and then there's breaking out with a bubble and getting involved in stuff off campus.

Richard: Yeah, I'm a big advocate for student societies. What can I add to that? So I see, I see students societies as a great way of developing your skill set your confidence levels and everything that's been mentioned already. But also, there are different types of societies like Emily suggested as well, there are the sports based societies or hobby related societies. Where I'm a huge advocate for is one particular society and that’s Enactus, and not all universities will have an Enactus program, but a lot of them will. And at University of Bedfordshire, I am the Enactus advisor for our team. And what's great about society like that it's about developing community based projects that make a difference in your local community. And so you're able to take not just a theory or creating a project, but actually implementing it. So those societies can be fun, and it's about engaging and making friends, etc. It's a society like that, or similar based ones, that you're able then when once you graduate, once you move on, you're able to talk to that recruiter about things that you've put in place, and projects that you've created, and actually be able to discuss the outcomes of those projects, because that's the meaning isn't it behind kind of how effective it was these great fun as well, there's competition elements to it. So I think societies are brilliant. Societies like that, I think take it to the next level. And that's, that's perfect. That's kind of  I see it as from your developmental point of view. Perfect. From an activity point of view. Yeah, I think Jay covered that perfectly off campus on campus, you could look at events to be a part of, if I refer back to my university, you know, if there's career based events, if there are employer webinars, if there are programs and awards that you can get and be a part of, as well. Yeah. I could talk forever on that as well.

Ellie: That was really, really interesting, some really good insight there. And, Richard, if we can come to you first with this next question then, and then it will go to Emily and Jay. It kind of leads on from what you were saying actually about the developmental societies. And in terms of kind of jobs at university then what opportunities are available on campus for students?

Richard: Yeah, of course, typically, jobs such as working for the SU, maybe considering working for your SU store or retail shop and cafe bars, you could also may be thinking a little bit further away out of field, you could maybe consider approaching your careers team. Sometimes they have budgets where they're able to employ students on working for a particular events and supporting events in that respect. We are the University of Bedfordshire have an outreach team, as well as students sometimes can get employed from that perspective and go out and kind of represent the university to younger students as well. Also, if we're thinking of the new kind of world that we're in, I know there are some universities that are employing students to enforce COVID guidance. And the job title wouldn't be COVID enforcer because that sounds quite harsh like you should have a super cape or something. But there are jobs like that that are materialising that maybe hadn't materialised in the past. So I think there's a lot of jobs out there, every university will be slightly different. And you can look further afield and you can look in the community as well. But there are jobs yeah for sure at university. Certain times of the year will be better in terms of finding them. Now really.

Emily: So yeah, if you're looking at jobs specifically on campus there's essentially if you think of every department of your university as a small business, there may be a job there, library is a great place to start, particularly at busy times, or over the summer for new book deliveries, etc. increasingly digital archiving, if your university has any associated museums with it, as we do at Cambridge, there may be volunteer programs there or even, you know, paid employment. I'm a great advocate for summer workshops, some ambassadors, where schools might come in, and more specialist groups to do ambassador work that could be residential. If you have any research laboratories, or scientific laboratories in your university  and they have summer research placements, or even just a lab technician, that could equally be an art technician as well reprographics sometimes need extra help. Certainly, I'm sure Jay  will talk about this, but joining your temp bank, if there's any admin, particularly on UCAS clearance day, you know, there's you know, there's so much and the beauty of it is you don't just have to do one thing, you could do some widening participation work, you could do a bit of temping, so you can really spread things out. But as Richard said, also look outside your university community, because every university is slightly different in what they can offer.

Jay: From my perspective, I think there's a difference in or there can be a difference in the number of jobs available between a campus university and a more city based university. I've studied at both types of universities, and there can be a difference there. But in general, most universities will need students to be open day ambassadors, so promote the university to prospective students and new students who will be thinking about joining the university typically there’s open days in early autumn, and then springtime. So that would be those kind of peak employment times for that kind of work. Most universities will have an alumni team that typically would ask for students to come and work in those teams, and make telephone calls to former students or alumni of the university, if they want to volunteer their time, or their money to enhance the university for the benefit of everyone. So there are some kind of key points in the year that you can look for that work. As Emily said, every department is like a mini business and there will be potentially some admin work available some research assistant pipe work that's available, but I would suggest being really flexible and, and trying to broaden your objectives. So if you're thinking I'm a history student, I must get a role supporting history, academics and their research that may or may not be possible. So definitely keep looking for that history assistant position, ask the question if your lecturers and your academics. But if you're wanting to build up more general transferable skills, or you really just wanted to earn some money, then do broaden your horizons a little bit. Look at those temp banks, look at what the students' union is offering in terms of their employment, speak to the careers team about any jobs that they may have, or may be aware of that happening either on campus or off campus. So my advice would be to be quite flexible and to look far and wide, rather than being quite so pinpointed.

Ellie: Great, thank you. And for our next question, if we just divert slightly off the kind of employability at university or jobs at university. Can you tell students what type of hobbies or jobs employers are looking for on CVs? Emily if we can start with you, Jay and then Richard.

Emily: Sure. I think the most important thing is something is better than nothing. You know, and you must do something that you enjoy. There is no point joining something or trying to be involved in something that you think you should be doing, but really is not bringing you any kind of joy in your three, four years. So I suppose the two main words I can give you for what's going to add value is impact and commitment. So you know, if I can speak to a rower, for example, who says well I get up at 5am every day and I train five days a week that's commitment and it's huge impact and that's probably somebody I'm going to want on my team. So do something that's fun and that you enjoy because that's going to come across, and you're going to probably get more out of it. But something that you commit to, and that you have impact in Enactus as Richard talked about is an excellent example of that, where you're actually doing something and making an impact in your community shows an entrepreneurial spirit. So something that means that you can achieve something and that you can commit to it is really key. Employers do this is important for some of your industries. Let's say you want to go into international development, or work in NGOs or a non governmental organisation, a charity that works further afield, I'm going to want to see that you have worked with those types of people, I'm going to need to say that you are committed to maybe fundraising, that you know how to organise projects that you have worked with all, you know, supportive, vulnerable people you know, I need to see that evidence. So that's if you've even got a small idea of what you want to do career wise, tiny, it could be working with people, then make sure your activities aligned to giving you some of that experience. And, you know, the same with, let's say, on the other end of the scale, you want to be a consultant or a banker, they're probably really going to be interested in Well, how have you shown that interest and before you can get any internships, you know, it's really useful for you to go try these things out and see if you're interested through your societies, because it's a very low risk way of trying out these activities. So first of all, enjoy it. But they want to see commitment, where you've made an impact and where you have chosen activities that align to your career area, once you get there, until you get to that decision to just try things out that are going to get you out there.

Jay: I would also add that if it's a way of demonstrating skills that you perhaps have from your GCSEs, or A-levels, that you're not necessarily demonstrating through your academic studies. For example, if you did A-level Italian or a level French, and you're pretty fluent in those subjects, if you join the French society or the Italian club, and you're able to then continue to talk about those to an employer through your club or the society that you've been involved in, it's a way of just subtly reminding them that you stand out because you've got that extra language skill that somebody else might not have. I would also suggest that if you are a student who's maybe studying philosophy, or science or another humanities subject, and that you're most of you will go into business, whatever that form will be, whether it's working in a university, or whether it's a big multinational organisation with banking offices throughout the world, that will have some link to business, if you can join Enactus or another business society on the entrepreneurship society, it shows that you've got that forward facing look on the future, and that you're interested in the types of organisations and the work that you'll be doing in the future. It's not to say anything less about your degree but it shows that you've got other interests outside of your degree. And that leads on to my third and final point that recruiters are managers, they're human beings too. And they want people who are nice, rounded people to work in their organisations. If it's five to five on a Friday, or five to six on a Friday, they want to be able to have a chat with you and say, so what's your plans for the weekend? What are you up to? One answer could be I'm going home to read academic journal articles, which is fine if that's what you're interested in. But if you're able to talk about work/life balance and give something else that you're interested in cinema or you're a rower or you're a basketball player, they may not do any of those things, but at least you've got something else that you can talk about, and they can connect with you on a more human level other than just your academic studies.

Richard: Yeah, and that's a really good point, isn't it? When we think of interests, and we think of how we kind of sell ourselves to an employer, from an application or a CVs points of view I've always seen interest as a conversation starter. When you're going through that interview process, and yes as Jay mentioned once you’re in that organisation, understanding kind of what you like and what you do outside of work is key to building relationships, because it's building relationships, that kind of is, is what we're about, isn't it? It is about the job, but it's also about us. And it's about teamwork. So one point I would like to mention and make is if you are going to include interests and hobbies, on an application or on a CV for a particular job, I would just say be true to yourself. And be specific, don't be generic. So if it is that you like walking, don't just say that you like walking because if we break that down, walking is just a bodily function, isn't it? But actually, if you've mentioned that you like going hiking, and actually have been to certain places in the UK such as Snowdonia, Lake District etc that's a conversational starter. So it may not even come up in an interview or even when you're in the job itself. But it represents kind of who you are and what you like, outside of formal workplace life. And I think that's key really.

Ellie: That's great thank you for your answers guys. I have noticed there's a few technical issues, and there's a bit of screen freezing. So if you have been affected and you're watching the webinar, I'm very, very sorry about that. Hopefully, the audio is coming through fine still so that's the main thing. We've had a couple of questions come through that we'll try and answer before the end, because there's some really great ones. This is from Sophie Mae, she’s asked if you have a lot of skills and experience, but you find it difficult to jump in and sell yourself during group interviews what can you do? Emily, if we could start with you for that one?

Emily: Yeah, sure. This is where there's two answers to this, I think the first thing is, if your career service runs assessment centre training, because that's normally where you're going to get a group interview, or interview round. That's what your career services, you know, we love helping you with this kind of thing. So if we, you know, if you can run workshops, if your service runs workshops on it, then go to it, because it's a safe way to practice. But my advice that I actually train on assessment centers, so my advice there to you is, in an assessment center, it's not about being the loudest person and it's not about jumping in actually, as an observer of assessment centres, the scorer is far more likely to score that person down. So first of all, don't think that loudness or jumping in or talking all the time is necessarily a good thing. However, if you're in a competitive process, you need to put yourself forward. And a way to do that is essentially, in a, if it's in person, you have to kind of go for it. And you have to kind of put yourself forward. And that's where doing some training beforehand, even with a careers adviser and employability assistant can help you, you do have to kind of go for it if you find difficult. The second thing is, don't forget that if you're doing a group interview, it's probably one element of a whole day. And that means that you're going to be scored and they will have seen you and you'll have other chances to really talk about yourself. It's rare in a group interview, it's going to be about you, it's going to be about how you interact with each other on timed tasks, it's not going to be about you talking about yourself. So don't worry if you don't get everything across because it will be across the whole day that you will get monitored and measured. So don't go away from that interaction, feeling like you didn't talk enough. But if you know in yourself, you're not somebody who is going to easily get your way in recognise that and do some practice sessions around it. And I would also say that this is actually links really well with our society's chat and our part-time work chat because it the more that you can if you can get yourself onto a committee of a society or do some part time work. I think it was Richard, but it may have been Jay said actually it's about building confidence. And that's the best thing that part time work or volunteering can do for you. If you're not somebody that puts yourself forward. Sorry, that was a long answer. But I completely get the question, probably the question I get asked the most. So practice, you have to go for it at some point. But don't worry if you don't, because you've got a whole day to get scored.

Ellie: Perfect. Is there anything anybody else would like to add to that one? We all good. Brilliant. I think we've got time just for one more it's a really good one that's come through actually. Being a Masters student where my course includes an industrial placement year, when is the right time to start applying for these placement roles? Who'd like to jump on that one?

Emily: If I meant to go first, I'd say now, basically, now start right away, you can't start too early.

Richard: I was going to say the same thing. And if your placement process sits with the careers department, get in contact with them and engage with them now, as quick as you can. And when we're talking about practicing and applying, start the practice as well. So if it is interviews etc start at the same time, it's not just about searching for the job. Because once you find one, even if it is a placement, new, then there's your time sensitive then aren't we because you found one new you're applying for it, and you need to do the practice I n a short time window, searching starts now.

Ellie: Perfect. And we have we are bang on time, but I'm just gonna put this one to Emily, it's just come through. And Emily mentioned providing evidence of things that we have done. What sort of evidence is that? Would you just be able to clarify that?

Emily: Yeah, absolutely. So for example, you might take on the marketing or events manager role of a society, best thing you can do is find out how many social media followers there are, how many people come to events before you then three or four months into your tenure have a look at the events that you've run? Have you run more events than other people? How many more people came to your events? How many more social media followers have you got? Those are tangible numbers that show impacts. And other ways you can show impact Richard mentioned about being specific about your sporting. So if you've been hiking, I want to know how high, how far and where to. And if you're a swimmer, and you train, I want to know how many times a week and for how many hours. If you are a member of Enactus, for example, we're giving it a big shout out today essentially it's entrepreneurship but for social good. So who are you helping? How much? You know, how many volunteers have you had? How does that small venture work? And you know, what's the what's the reach. So as soon as you start university, if you haven't yet, or if you're going into your final year, or your Masters and just about to join something, take numbers, you want to know how well you're doing all the time, you'd be hard pressed and I would challenge you to not be able to show some impact if you're in an active role. And even if you go and you set, let's say you just want to do some careers research and you go to different fairs. And you go to different webinars say well I went to 15 webinars on this and I learned this and this and here's the people I met, everything has an impact. So take some numbers, find out what you're doing, understand the history and impact of anything you're involved in.

Ellie: That's brilliant. Thank you so much, Emily. And we've had so many questions come through, but we just, we're already over. So unfortunately, we're not going to be able to get through those now. There is loads of information on the Prospects website so I'd really suggest them if you need any careers advice going onto there. But also, of course, the main thing would be to go and speak to your careers advisers, your careers departments at university. That's really important as well. I'd like to say thank you to Emily, Jay and Richard. It's been really informative, really great to hear from you all and I hope that all of our attendees have taken something away from this session. So thank you very much, and enjoy the rest of your day. Bye.

Transcript ends.

Note on transcripts

These transcripts are produced using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. The audio version is definitive and should be checked before quoting.

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