Future Fridays: helping to unlock your career

Skevoulla ChristouGuest blog post by Skevoulla Christou (University of Surrey, Biochemical Society Intern)

Getting onto the career ladder can be very difficult. Employers want experience, which is not always easy to get, and with long skills lists for jobs it results in a vicious cycle; you need experience to gain experience. Although job descriptions and titles can vary, a similar set of skills will be asked for time and time again, and understanding these skills can help to unlock your career.

These skills can range from specialist knowledge and techniques to more general skills such as teamwork, and they are called transferable because you may gain them in one job or environment, and can apply them to another. The job role will determine which of the skills you need to be highly competent in. The good news is that transferable skills can be gained in a variety of ways and it is likely that you already possess some of the most frequently requested. These are (in no particular order):

  • communication – verbal, written and listening,
  • analytical and research – collecting and interpreting information,
  • planning and organisational – completing tasks in an efficient manner,
  • problem solving and creativity – troubleshooting and thinking outside the box,
  • leadership and management – effectively organising a group of people to complete a project,
  • initiative and self-motivation – showing that you are a hard worker and can think for yourself,
  • interpersonal – also called “people skills”,
  • teamwork – helping a group to complete a task,
  • flexibility and multitasking – being able to handle changes and more than one task,
  • computer and technical – scientific techniques and software

Work experience is often sought by employers as it is an obvious way to provide evidence of your skills in a work environment. However, understanding that skills are transferable allows you to draw on different areas of your life where you have used them. One way in which you gain many of these skills will be through your degree. By meeting deadlines, you are showing planning, organising, multi-tasking and creativity. Your final year project will show communication skills, as well as analytical, research and specialist knowledge. Thinking about the different tasks you were set and how you approached them may highlight to you the skills you already have.

Part time jobs and your extra-curricular activities can also be a great source to show your skill set. Being able to maintain a part time job role alongside your studies helps to show self-motivation and you also gain the skills of the job role itself; this could be teamwork, leadership and interpersonal skills. Your extracurricular activities, which could include being part of a sports team, society, outreach work, volunteering or being a course representative, will also allow you to develop a lot of skills. If you hold a position of responsibility within your extra-curricular activity, you can show communication, leadership, teamwork, planning and perhaps even financial skills. Even though you may not have gained or developed a skill at a workplace, a relevant example from elsewhere will still show an employer that you possess it.

Although there are various ways in which to gain skills, it is important to conduct a “skills audit” where you evaluate your skill set. This self-reflective activity will allow you to identify the skills in which you are particularly strong (where you can give lots of examples and feel competent), those which you have but require development and those which you do not have. You can focus your evaluation by attempting to do a skills audit against skills listed in the job description of a role you would want. If there is a particular skill that you require but don’t possess, this will help you to identify it and focus your search on getting relevant experience. The key is to be proactive and seek out opportunities where you gain new skills.

It is also important to consider which of your skills you enjoy doing most as this may lead you to pursue a career where these would feature.  Being able to carve a career in something you enjoy doing will make it easier to excel. This may change as you move through your career and are exposed to more work environments, skills and knowledge. However, if you decide to have a career change, transferable skills will allow you to prove to an employer that you have the skills and can do a job. You will gain and develop skills throughout your career and these will help you to unlock the next stage, whatever you decide that to be.

Useful links

Biochemical Society internship and placements information: http://www.biochemistry.org/Education/Highereducation/Internshipsandplacements.aspx

Transferable skills table: http://www.biochemistry.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=LgzuE6NI84U%3d&tabid=791

Quick test to evaluate your skills: http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sk/skillstest.html

TargetJobs skills and competencies advice: http://targetjobs.co.uk/careers-advice/skills-and-competencies

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