Advice for graduates on how to get ‘work ready’

driving a car

Try to road-test a career.

Following our blog post last week on the ‘work readiness’ of Ireland’s graduates, this week we return to the AHECS Biennial conference and report on observations from employers on how students and graduates can help themselves in this regard.

As we know from our surveys of graduate employers, work experience is the key to building employability skills in the eyes of Ireland’s graduate employers. This was reiterated at the conference, particularly the importance of having worked in a customer-facing environment.

One very large graduate recruiter stated that one of their key selection criteria is that a candidate must have a minimum of three months’ work experience in a customer-facing role. This is because they use competency-based interviews and, in their experience, students without work experience are unable to succeed at interview unless they have real-world experience with which to frame their answers. Competency-based interviews are popular with many employers so this is an important consideration.

Students were urged to research both their potential sectors of work and their prospective employers, to ensure they are both ‘employer ready’ and ‘work ready’. Students should not make the mistake of applying for the graduate programmes of companies who may be courting their class or prominent on their campus simply because of their high profile. It’s all too easy to apply for a well-known sector or company without fully thinking through the implications of your choice. You must be able to demonstrate that you have a very clear understanding of what that company does, and that you share these interests and have a clear desire to work in that sector. If you haven’t done your research, then, regardless of your academic record, the chances are that you will be unsuccessful in your application.

Relevant work experience is key to this, as it demonstrates that you have ‘road tested’ either the sector, the company or both. It can also help you by-pass the increasingly rigid minimum criteria. Many graduate programmes stipulate a minimum 2:1 entry criteria, but a leading electronics firm on the panel described how this year the company hired a significant number of graduates with a 2:2. This was either because they had completed an internship with the company (and so were known to them), or because through other work placements they could demonstrate their interest in and passion for the sector. Equally, candidates who could show their communication skills and had experience of working in a team were sometimes seen as more credible candidates than those with better academic qualifications.

The general truism is that your qualification will get you the interview but your skills will get you the job. An addendum to that now is that a relevant co-op placement or work experience can make you ‘work ready’ and considerably enhance your employability.

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