What can you do to prepare for a tough job market? Stephanie Griffiths, who joined the British Council in the UK this summer, shares a few tips.
The issue of youth unemployment is one most of us are familiar with, whether through the media, personal experience, or the experience of those close to us. This is perhaps not surprising: young people now account for over one quarter of the world’s workforce, but represent half the unemployed population.
Unemployment, under-skilled employment and poorly paid work can affect even the most experienced and highest-achieving graduates. Here are a few things you can do to help you stand out and be considered for the job you want.
International experience is highly sought after by employers across a range of sectors. Indeed, six out of ten employers give extra credit for international student experience, according to a QS world university rankings report.
A report by the European Commission found that international experience is linked to higher levels of tolerance, confidence, problem-solving skills, curiosity and decisiveness. Another study indicates that internationally mobile students are half as likely to experience long-term unemployment compared with their non-mobile counterparts.
This doesn't mean you should immediately hop on a plane to an exotic location on the other side of the world. Developing an international outlook starts at home, online and at university, as well as overseas. But if you are looking to experience another culture abroad or in the UK, a great place to start is with the British Council's Study Work Create programme. Here, you can find opportunities to travel and work abroad – especially useful if you do not get to take a compulsory year abroad as part of your studies.
Improve your foreign language skills
Related to international experience is the ability to speak a foreign language. According to the UK manager of a major recruitment firm, 'the more languages and experience with different cultures you can bring to a company, the more you can help expand its global reach.'
Further evidence of this can be found in the British Council's Languages for the Future report, which argues that the UK has a language deficit. It points to a survey in which '70 per cent of responding businesses value language skills among their employees, particularly in helping to build relationships with clients, customers and suppliers'.
But don't worry, you don't have to be perfectly fluent to speak a foreign language. Even an elementary level of proficiency shows that you have the willingness and confidence to learn another tongue.
Take the initiative
The ability to take the initiative – that is, being able to take action without being prompted to do so – is a highly desirable attribute in a new recruit, and you may be asked to give evidence of this in an interview.
Employers want to know that you're able to work on your own, find solutions to problems, and step away from the detail and see things in context. Presenting evidence of these things at an interview will put you at a great advantage.
An example from my own life: I took a year out of my university studies to pursue a self-arranged work placement overseas. I also worked as an au-pair during this time. In interviews, I was able to show that I sought new opportunities, took chances and – perhaps most importantly – had the confidence to do so.
Seek positions of responsibility while a student
Positions of responsibility take many forms. Common examples include part-time employment, exchange programmes, volunteering, and mentoring. Employers look for this kind of experience on your CV because it demonstrates accountability and organisation.
Many universities, companies and charities, both within the UK and abroad, have programmes that offer these kinds of opportunities. They may not fund an around-the-world trip, but many cover some of the expenditure, and should therefore be considered.
Apply, apply, apply!
The idea that 'you will never get it' is the very reason many young people miss out on opportunities offered to them: they have been defeated even before applying.
Applying for different opportunities, be they internships, placements or jobs, will vastly improve your ability to sell yourself. Be prepared for a series of rejections, but remind yourself that even the most successful people have experience of this. You've nothing to lose, so go for it.
With approximately 300,000 graduates leaving university in 2013/2014, grades only make up one part of the story. Your expertise, skills and experience outside of your studies count just as much.
UK students, apply for IAESTE work placements and discover other opportunities to travel and work abroad or in the UK.
Find out how international opportunities benefit individuals and employers, and support UK prosperity, in our latest report.