Variety is the spice of life: how to stand out from the crowd


The Mimic and the Kids – Claudio Beck

This week, one of our Careers Consultants, Marc Steward, tell us why it important to show off your more unusual work experiences…they’re more useful than you think!

So what should a Geography and Maths graduate do when they leave the University of Leeds? Play bass in the Kaiser Chiefs, of course! Talk about stating the bloomin’ obvious! (I predict a riot with that statement!…I now predict lots of eye-rolling following that comment!)

OK, but someone studying Political Science is obviously destined for Parliament or to stand outside 10 Downing Street, in the pouring rain, for a 2 minute live chat with Huw Edwards on the BBC evening news, right? Wrong! How about spending your whole week eating in some of the best restaurants in the world and writing about them? Jay Rayner does, and has done so pretty much since he graduated in Political Science from the University of Leeds in 1987.

Confused? There’s no need to be. Read any reputable careers information portal or a report from a major recruitment organisation such as the AGR (Association of Graduate Recruiters) and it will promote the fact that between 65-70% of graduate jobs are open to any degree.

Does this mean the degree you take is worthless, then? Far from it. You will not only acquire knowledge about a subject you enjoy, but you will undertake relevant research, embark of interesting projects, enhance key skills and secure a grade that will ensure that you can apply to your ideal employer(s) upon graduation.

However……employers and recruiters are also looking for a little bit more: the “well rounded candidate” (Grant Thornton, SunGard, Shell…the list of employers asking for this in graduate scheme and internship adverts is endless!)

So what exactly does well-rounded mean? Simply put, it means that as well as attaining a degree/postgraduate qualification, an applicant also needs to demonstrate key competencies a recruiter is looking for through other methods, too, including internships, paid work, extra-curricular activities and even interests. This is what makes an applicant “well rounded”. This helps an applicant stand out from other candidates, including those studying the same course as them. It means that in many cases, they can apply to jobs and careers in areas they may not have considered when choosing their degree in the first place.

Much of my work involves helping students to identify activities that they have embarked on which will stand out to employers and help them evidence and articulate key competencies required of the role they are applying to. Often, such stand out experience is not even on their CV in the first place. It sometimes takes a fair amount of exploration and challenging to help a student understand why an activity, which they deem irrelevant for a job or work experience role they are applying to, can make them stand out.

An example of this I use in some of my teaching relates to a law student I worked with a few years ago. She wanted to be a Barrister, one of the hardest jobs to secure for a postgraduate student. Her CV was very good, but in terms of becoming a barrister – or Pupil-barrister (trainee barrister if you like) – there was something lacking to make her stand out. Our first meeting was a CV check and I asked her if there was anything else to add to it at the end of the appointment. Reluctantly, she mentioned that she worked as a “children’s entertainer” (or a “clown” as I joked with her!) We discussed the reasons why this was not on her CV (she felt she would not be taken seriously). Eventually, after another meeting with me, she decided to add it to her CV. Why? Well, as a clown (sorry, children’s entertainer!), she was displaying key competencies required to be a barrister:

  • She was standing in front of people trying to make them laugh and children (and their parents) are a tough crowd, believe me! This means that she had to be a confident and competent performer
  • She was self-employed. 80% of barristers are self-employed. She understood how to generate work and was business savvy
  • She wanted to work as a family barrister (divorce, abduction, etc.). When I met her, she was a “Medical Clown” at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London which meant she had to make sick children, some of whom were terminally ill, laugh. This must be one the toughest things to do and a great experience for standing in court, as a barrister, dealing with sensitive issues, for example child abuse cases, and convincing a jury and judge of your client’s case.

This student had six pupillage interviews that year. At every one of them she was asked about her work as a clown. At a couple, she was asked about the courses she had studied at university. Her work as a clown was both relevant and stand out as a piece of evidence. The skills were transferable (this is a key word!) I am proud to say that she is currently a successful practising family barrister at one of London’s top chambers.

The important thing I try to get across with students I work with is do not dismiss any experience. A CV, cover letter, application form and interview are all examples of marketing tools. I honestly believe that the majority of activities and experiences a student does (within reason!) can be “sold” to an employer. Just like the skills you gain on your course here at the University of Leeds, understanding how to do this requires analysis, understanding the brief (job description and person specification) and articulating these in a relevant manner.

So, if you are reading this and are secretly harbouring the fact that you are the World Fish Finger Sandwich Eating Champion 2016 (U25 category), this could be the final piece in the jigsaw to securing that internship at Apple you always wanted.

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