From guest writer and Faculty of Humanities Careers Manager, Paul Gratrick.
It was the Bee Gees (and latterly covered by Boyzone) who once sang: “It’s only words, but words are all I have to write on this application form” …or something along those lines anyway. Writing a CV, cover letter, or in an online application form text box is often the first stage of many graduate-level applications. Whether you’re applying to a large corporation or a one-person start up, the first port of call to see if you are a “good fit” for that company is usually the written documents you submit.
I see many students – as do my colleagues – who sometimes find it hard to articulate their various experiences into words and phrases that employers will see the value of. We also see many students under-valuing (or not mentioning at all) things which an employer would want to see in an application.
Employers understand the sphere within which you’re operating; they know that months and years of paid experience are not available for all, and they do understand the typical roles that are available to students (e.g. part-time work in bars, shops, etc.). Employers typically aren’t so much concerned with where you have worked and what you did – they want to read how these experiences have equipped you with the skills that they need for the job they are hiring for.
To summarise what an employer is looking for:
Written application = provide evidence to show you have the skills/experience/transferable skills required in the job specification
The rest of this blog post will deal with six examples you can use to do this (other than more formal internship or paid summer roles) given the types of roles usually available to students during their degree years.
1. Part-time work
If you work part-time whilst you are studying (even just one shift a week) then put this on your CV. Whether you’re replenishing vegetable stocks in Aldi, mixing up a Mini-Mega-Milky-Mocha in Starbucks, hosting children’s birthday parties, waiting tables or serving hot dogs at Old Trafford, balancing any part-time job with your studies show great time management skills. Most part-time jobs you do will involve some sort of customer-facing element, developing customer service skills that any employer who has customers of any type will value.
2. Societies and Clubs
As a UoM student you have access to all kinds of clubs and societies, be those the 400+ official University ones ranging from sport, academia, interest groups and charities, to other clubs in the Manchester area. Membership of a society looks good in the “Interests” section of your CV to show what you’re into outside of your studies. However if you sit on the committee of any society (no matter the topic – so yes The Game of Thrones Society counts too!) then put that higher up your CV under “Experience” or “Positions of Responsibility”. Active participation like this shows your leadership qualities, and even event management and communication skills (if you run the society’s social media channels, for example).
3. Music and Sports
For some people, they grow up playing sport or a musical instrument. Whether you’re part of a UoM club or not, if you are an active player of any sport or musical instrument then include this on your CV. Playing sport/instruments requires dedication and mastery of craft – good qualities to show that you have. (True story: I have little ability when it comes to playing musical instruments but at University I often featured with a band because of my rap ability! Luckily no Youtube videos exist of such antics, but it went on my CV and it was an interesting talking point at interview.)
To include details of any volunteering activities on your CV, you don’t have to be in the Sudan with Brangelina or building wells in third world countries (although this is good, too). Any volunteering activity – local or otherwise – looks great on your CV as it shows an altruistic and compassionate side to your personality and often involves working in teams, providing great examples to use if you’re asked about a team experience you’ve been involved in. If your volunteering included fundraising then put how much you raised; it’s not a contest, but being able to quantify your fundraising gives a real-life example to back up the work you did.
5. Unpaid work experience
For some students (and employment industries), it’s often an accepted norm that you will undertake unpaid work experience in order to get experience. This isn’t ideal for all, but your unpaid experience doesn’t necessarily have to be days and weeks of experience at a company – working somewhere for just a day or two (sometimes called work shadowing) still looks good on your CV. Unpaid work shows a real dedication to the role/sector/company, and gives you “commercial awareness” of how a business works and experience of a professional environment, great for future applications and interviews. Within Manchester there are businesses of all kinds who are likely to have taken on students for work experience in the past. Use this local advantage and get in touch with companies for some experience. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.
6. Using your academic work
There are lots of skills you develop as a student. It varies from course to course, but most degrees now have elements of team/group work, presentations, seminar debates, project work, and the like. It’s more than okay to use these as examples of communication, teamwork, negotiation skills, etc. in your applications. Whilst a mix of academic and extra-curricular experience is great, there are some skills required that you may not be able to answer with your extra-curricular work. When using academic examples, just be sure to evidence how these have developed the skills required by the job description.
And so, in summary – if you feel like you haven’t done anything during your degree to develop your skills, the chances are you actually have! By virtue of being a student (and particularly a UoM student) you are exposed to all sorts of activities and these are interesting to employers. The key thing for any job application is to list the key skills required then go through your academic and extra-curricular activities and find the examples that match. If you’re not sure what to use, I’ve heard about an excellent Careers Service full of blog writing experts and Careers Consultants who can help you out, no matter where it is you’re trying to get to (and even if you’re not sure what comes next).
You can read more about transferable skills and what they actually are on our website.
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