Making yourself employable

Reading this morning, I was struck by this article, about a recent uni graduate who’s now desperate for a job in the field that she studied in. Cherry struck a chord with me because her struggle is not in any way extraordinary. New graduates everywhere are in her position – newly qualified, highly skilled, willing to do anything, yet still out of work.

While we can’t help Cherry (unless anyone happens to know a digital media employer), we can learn a lot from her, and others in her position. I think that she hit the nail on the head when she said that, in terms of getting a job out of uni, “no matter how much knowledge I have picked up through studying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” She’s a prime example of how a degree is not a golden ticket to a job – as well as working hard on building your academic skills at uni, you have to work just as hard on building your networking skills. The sort of skills that get you noticed by people with clout in the working world. People who know people who can get you jobs. 

It all sounds very crafty, I know, but Cherry’s story is a timely reminder of how strategic new grads need to be if they’re going to stand a chance in today’s incredibly tough job market. Awesome grades are great, but they’re not enough anymore. Here are five easy things that you can start doing now to boost your chances of job success later.

1) Work experience. After having moved to Australia just for the opportunity to work for free, Cherry writes, “If I had real world experience as well as my education, I believe that I would have a much higher chance of being given the initial opportunity to prove myself.” She’s absolutely right – there’s no better way to prove your value to a position than by letting other people see you do it. But don’t expect other people to organise this for you. Get out there, sign up for everything, and don’t expect to get paid. Work experience gives you valuable CV material, priceless referees and a great insight into your chosen career.

2) Make the most of uni staff. I’m sure that I don’t have to remind you how much you’re paying to be a student. GET YOUR MONEY’S WORTH. The staff at uni aren’t just there to give you knowledge – if they were, they’d all have been out of a job when Google was invented. Never forget that they are highly respected members of their field of expertise, with great experience and fantastic contacts. Book a time to see them in their office hours. Talk to them about your academic interests and career goals. Email them for advice. Be assertive, positive and respectful. Don’t be stalkerish.

3) Revisit old contacts. Remember your favourite English teacher, who always believed in your brilliance? Well, I can almost guarantee that they still do, and would be happy to help you fulfill it in whatever way that they can. Same goes for past employers and managers of any organisations that you feel you’ve proved yourself in.

4) Make friends. Of course, having friends is important for lots of reasons. But the silver lining of a wider social circle is an increased chance of knowing someone who knows something about a potential opportunity. It’s fairly simple: the more people you know, the more info you get.

5) Live a balanced life. Get into stuff. New stuff. Take up a sport or a hobby, try your hand at volunteering, think about how you might be able to contribute to society. It doesn’t matter  if it’s relevant to your career path: employers always want to see well-rounded people with a broad range of skills. Plus, it can only help you with tip 4.


A message for new BA students

Today, six years ago, I was very happy. My boyfriend and I had just moved into our first flat. I had been accepted into a voluntary position as a counsellor at Youthline, and was working two paid jobs – one as a barista at a cafe in Christchurch’s beautiful New Regent Street, and the other as an administrator at a rehab centre. I was 19, with a gorgeous tan from my first OE in Europe, and just about to start my BA.

The tan faded in a couple of weeks. It was followed, each December, by another year of my youth. Four years after starting my degree, all three of my workplaces crumbled. After another two years, most of the significant architectural landmarks of my childhood, along with my relationship, had followed. Last month, I turned 25, and – according to the New Zealand government, at least – lost my youth entirely. 

And yet, today, six years after starting my BA, I’m very happy. While my youth is gone, my tan is back – revived by a trip to North Queensland to see in the New Year. As I write this from the lounge of my own flat, I’m looking alternately between the bush-clad, villa-studded hills of Wellington and the floor, where my cat is sprawled in a perfect square of sunlight. I’m running through my to-do list for the next few weeks: finish Term One lesson plans, sort second publishing deal, book next holiday.

To me, all this suggests that change is inevitable, and that the the most important thing we can do is to prepare for it. And that’s where the BA comes in. Every entry on my to-do list is exciting, but I couldn’t achieve any of them without my degree. As the haters will eagerly profess, a BA is expensive, time-consuming, and devoid of hands-on skills. What they don’t realise, though, is that a BA is also a powerful tool for change. By enabling me to meaningfully think and work, mine has allowed me to navigate the most changeable time of my life to date and to come out the other side with a smile (and a tan) on my face.

So, to the new BA students of 2013, remember: getting your BA isn’t about getting a bit of paper at the end. Sure, it’s a nice bit of paper, but even the snazziest bits of paper can be crushed, burned, or washed away. Getting your BA is about getting choices, freedom and resilience. So, while haters are always gonna hate, BA grads are always going to adapt.

Sort your enrolment, get the stuff you need, and prepare to change your life forever.