If you’re a graduate lacking in professional experience, it is essential to help employers see the commercial
Get to the front of the graduate queue by highlighting the relevance and value of your degree to employers.
Don’t assume that an employer will immediately understand how your degree is useful — especially if there’s no obvious link between what you studied and the bottom-line impact on a business.
Having a degree won’t necessarily make you stand out. In a live Q&A on digital publishing, George Walkley says, “Excellent academic qualifications don’t necessarily distinguish a candidate if nearly everyone has them.” If you lack professional experience, spell out the relevance of your degree to an employer.
Close the gap
Think about what makes your degree commercially valuable. A degree in modern languages will allow you to deal with a firm’s foreign customers or to translate or interpret in meetings, negotiations and correspondence, for example. A degree in marketing or business studies may have given you the skills or theory a company needs to compete more effectively or gain market share. Highlight projects or real-world case studies that are directly applicable to your target roles and companies, and relate them to the requirements of the role. For example: “trained to spot and adapt winning marketing strategies in the (food) industry” or “learnt to analyse the characteristics of successful product spin-offs”.
If your degree was not business or industry-orientated, focus on skills you acquired. Beyond time-management and ability to work under pressure, critical and independent thinking skills are key areas for recruiters. Demonstrate these by emphasising dissertation or coursework research, using terminology such as “investigated”, “evaluated” or “assessed” to illustrate the depth or extent of your research. Include any positive comments from your supervisor.
You may have developed other strengths which give you an edge. Social media or technology skills are increasingly in demand. Suzanne Kavanagh says, “If you know how to use social media and have examples of how you have built awareness, conversation and followers online with successful calls to action (make a donation, advocacy or peer-to-peer promotion of a particular issue) they will be of interest.” Include any experience you have of creating a blog, Facebook fan page (for your department, for example) or social media campaign.
Emphasise relevant extra-curricular activities
Employers like to see initiative, leadership, and commercial savvy. If you set up or ran a society, managed an event, or demonstrated problem-solving ability, then you’ll have gained valuable skills, regardless of the results of your efforts. Highlight activities that demonstrate teamwork or communication skills, or which prove your ability to see through a project to completion.
This article on what employers look for has more advice on what to emphasise.
Although some graduate schemes insist on a 2:1 and above, don’t feel you need to include your degree result if you think it undersells you. Instead, give your degree title and then emphasise other qualities and achievements. List modules or coursework that have practical relevance and include any specialisations that show you’ve gained deeper insight or experience.
Make the most of your education section if you have little professional experience. Consider including a subheading “Academic highlights” or “Academic achievements” for any awards, scholarships, special projects or notable extra-curricular activities. As with everything on your CV, choose strategically: include something only if it helps build a favourable image of you, or is relevant to the employer.
Include internships, or any relevant work experience gained during your time at university, or as part of your degree
Originally Published in Guardian