This post by Robyn Kannemeyer first appeared on Thesislink in November 2016.
You may be close to submitting your thesis but have you thought about what happens next? How will you transition from university to a career or from your graduate identity to a workplace one? What strategies are you using now to improve your chances of employment when you graduate? Higher education is supposed to improve our employability but there is growing recognition that a narrow disciplinary focus and professional skill set might limit employment outcomes. In addition, there is some contention regarding what constitutes employability and which graduate attributes are required to foster employability (Bridgstock, 2009).
Kinash, Crane, Judd, & Knight (2016) found discrepancies between the perceived strategies graduates employed and the actual strategies graduates used to improve their employability. What is interesting in this survey is that while many students may engage in part-time work in the belief that this will boost their employability (and pay bills), employers and higher education personnel did not identify this strategy as helpful for future postgraduate careers. Part-time work was overall perceived by these stakeholder groups to take valuable time away from other strategies which they felt would develop a more authentic career experience such as extracurricular activities, or volunteering. These activities in particular are seen by employers as enhancing an individual’s leadership and teamwork skills (Kinash et al. 2016). Graduates did not appear to associate extracurricular activities (student recreational and/or leisure pursuits) with employability in this survey.
In the Kinash et al. (2016) survey twelve different strategies were identified from research literature to improve graduate employability. How many of these strategies have you thought about or are currently using to increase your chances of employment when you graduate?
- Careers advice and employment skill development* – This would include: preparation of CVs and resumes, self-reflection, engaging in networking opportunities and job interviewing practice.
- Engaging in extracurricular activities*- Extracurricular community engagement is claimed to enhance a graduate’s employability by combining experiential learning, course work and possibly community service.
- Work experience, internships, and placements* – providing formal, supported practical opportunities in the work place. Highly valued as develop students’ technical skill-based capabilities and informs their career decision-making.
- Attending networking or industry information events* – may facilitate successful transitions between higher education and employment; and provide direct networking opportunities with employers.
- Professional association membership or engagement* – direct engagement between employers and graduates.
- Volunteering or community engagement* – strongly value linked so can transform a person personally e.g. increase resilience, courage and recognition of one’s impact on others.
- Part-time employment* – can be an effective way to learn industry skills as well as “soft skills” such as team-building and professionalism. More beneficial if industry related.
- Capstone or final-semester projects – this would involve a presentation or oral at which a student would demonstrate their learning acquisition (knowledge) and experience. The integrity of the research would be evaluated by a panel of experts.
- International exchanges – seen as an opportunity to broaden your cultural understanding and internationalisation of the curriculum (or students may see this as a break from serious study).
- Mentoring – in this context it is defined as social learning and an engagement between students and an employer
- Developing graduate profiles, portfolios and records of achievement – improves communication skill set
- Social media networks – this medium is part of a graduate’s daily life but can be utilised to improve employability e.g. LinkedIn.
Work experience, internships and placement strategies were most commonly used or planned to be used by graduates in the Kinash et al. (2016) survey to improve employability chances. However, the problem with these strategies is that there may be a financial burden associated with them. The first seven strategies (denoted by *) were selected as important by 50% or more of the respondents in one or more of the stakeholder groups (Kinash et al. 2016).
Yorke (2006) makes an important point that employability is an attribute that graduates need to continuously refresh throughout their working life. Universities around the world face increasing pressure to produce employable graduates (Bridgstock, 2009) so what does your university offer in the way of employability support?
AUT offers a range of services to students to help them with their career decision making and to improve their employability. Contact the Employability team (click here) for more information on one-to-one career counselling and employability workshops. AUT also runs the Edge Award which formally recognises students’ involvement in volunteering, leadership and employability activities (click here). Career Hub is AUT’s Employability Lab where students can:
- Find graduate jobs, part-time work, workplace experience (co-ops), and research project opportunities
- Register for employability workshops and employer events
- Book an appointment with one of AUT’s career or employability specialists
- Gain access to employers through AUT’s graduate recruitment service
- Browse AUT’s career resources, including the CV drop box
Embracing a number of these strategies will enhance your employability and may even help you land that dream job when you graduate.
Bridgstock, R. (2009). The graduate attributes we’ve overlooked: Enhancing graduate employability through career management skills. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(1), 31-44.
Kinash, S., Crane, L., Judd, M. & Knight, C. (2016). Discrepant stakeholder perspectives on graduate employability strategies. Higher Education Research & Development, 35 (5), 951-967. doi:10.1080/07294360.2016.1139555
Yorke, M. (2006). Employability in higher education: What it is – what it is not. Retrieved 18 November 2016 from, https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/id116_employability_in_higher_education_336.pdf