Identifying and building your skills

Stand out in a crowd of applicants

So you don't think you've got anything to offer employers aside from your qualification? You’d be surprised how many skills you’re developing, alongside your technical and professional skills, as you study, work and play. Here are some pointers from four employers.

An important part of preparing for employment is to think about the skills you have developed from all aspects of life and see how they transfer into roles you’re wanting to apply for. Some people call these soft skills, others call them transferable skills.

Skills that are transferable collage

“So you think you don’t have any experience? Well you do,” suggests Seek NZ senior account manager Gemma Richardson. “Ask yourself what transferable skills do you have from all aspects of your life that could get you through the door into a starting role? This includes skills learned during study, project work and volunteering - all great ways to develop and demonstrate transferable skills.”

Retail, hospitality and volunteering are gold

MYOB NZ education manager Shailan Patel says many students under estimate the skills they’re developing through part time jobs and volunteering.

Retail, hospitality and volunteering skills are extremely transferable – they are gold - especially if you’ve been dealing with people with problems that need solving,” he says. “Think about what you want to do, where you can transfer your skills and where the opportunities are, then seek them out.”

Shailan got his current role because he was good at building relationships, a hugely important skill for his role at MYOB. This doesn’t mean that technical skills are not important, adds Shailan, but employers are keen to find people who align with the organisation’s culture and values and can add to it.

Barista in a coffee shopEY Oceania campus projects manager Hannah Booth says the applicants that make an impact when applying for the EY graduate programme are the ones that have taken time to really think about who they are.
“We do look at grades but we also want to know about the other things you’re participating in. Don’t discount anything you do as irrelevant.”

She strongly advises you give as much credence to your part time work in your CV as you do to study or clubs. “Working at a supermarket, for example, shows you are dedicated, you show up to your job and know how to work in a workplace. It may not be relevant to what you’re going to do in the future, but it is relevant to your application because it demonstrates valuable skills to us.”

What have you learned through experiences?

Show us you can make lemonade out of lemons, says Auckland Council Graduate and Intern Programmes Lead Career Advice Lacey Knight.

“Talk about how you turned a difficult situation around. Over lockdown some students spoke of setting up phone trees to connect with people around them. That sense of community makes someone stand out to us at Council. I also like to hear candidates talk about the volunteering they’ve done.putting puzzle pieces together

She emphasises that every experience is a learning opportunity and it is those experiences that need to become your individual story.

Gemma recommends making the most of opportunities to upskill while you’re studying, building on your transferable skills and finding new experiences, including in voluntary roles.  "To upskill is to prepare for the future, you need to understand how your industry is changing and what skills are in demand."

She also advises you should be careful not to pigeonhole yourself too early in your career. "You might need to go side wise to get more experience or take on short term contract roles but it all builds up experience. Be resilient and open to adapt.”

"You also need to build up skills you feel you’re lacking, suggests Hannah. “If you don’t think you’ve got good teamwork skills or public speaking skills, find a way to improve those skills,” says Gemma.

Shailan encourages students to look online to find free webinars of interest. “You can join webinars in Australia, US and Europe. There is more opportunity to get involved in some of these networks and groups at the moment because you’re not limited to attending in person."

Don't forget to research!

“Research the industry or industries you’re wanting to enter, suggests Gemma. "Ask yourself, 'What business do I want to work for? How do I get in there? Where are the opportunities?'”

She recommended students look at the Government’s Budget to see where government investment is investing - and keep an eye on the market by looking for industries with potential job growth over the next year.
“Do your research, leverage your skills and think about what’s on offer, short and long term,” Gemma advised.

Useful sites to research include -

Help right under your nose

There are plenty of courses and workshops running on campus and online to help you build transferable skills, such as joining Toast Masters to improve your public speaking, joining clubs, or signing up for the AUT Edge Award or Beyond AUT Award.New employability award workshop at AUT

The awards require you to do volunteering (often in group settings) which is a great way to build up your confidence in a more supported environment.

Want some help?

AUT Employability and Careers runs workshops each week on networking, personal brands, LinkedIn profiles, job search etc for AUT students. There are also regular presentations from employers.

You can attend in person at the Employability Lab WA202 on City Campus or find an online workshop.

Sign up to Elab Online to book a workshop or employer session. Not been on Elab Online before? It's easy. Simply click on the link, put in your student password and ID and you're there.

Written by AUT Employability and Careers writer Angela McCarthy