When I am hiring for an entry-level position and see a degree on an application, my first reaction is, “Good. What else?” The reality is that a university degree is simply no longer very unique. There are, in fact, more than twice as many students attending university today as there were in 1980, and the proportion of Canadians with a degree continues to rise sharply every year. While a university degree has always been proven to be an effective baseline for the job market, it is becoming increasingly necessary for graduates to prove their value to employers above and beyond their degrees.
Often with no relevant work experience in the field they are applying for, it can be a struggle for graduates to do this. Starting once as an overwhelmed new graduate myself, I was able to find employment in the field of marketing research and rise through the ranks to a position where I was tasked with hiring new graduates. My experience as both an applicant and a hiring manager has given me some takeaways as to how graduates can differentiate themselves and succeed.
Show off your soft skills
The first thing applicants can do to stand out is to market their soft skills, such as the ability to prioritize tasks, communicate clearly and work with others. Soft skills are, by their nature, transferrable from one situation to the next, so you do not need related work experience to acquire them. It is important for applicants to show they have been active outside of getting their degrees and to leverage the soft skills they have gained from these extra-curricular activities. When I see volunteer and work experience on an applicant’s resume, I start to form an understanding of who they are as individuals. The last person I hired, for example, had never worked in marketing research before, but was able to show her organization and teamwork abilities through a series of summer jobs and volunteer positions.
Complement your degree with technical skills
Secondly, applicants can stand out by marketing their hard skills, such as a working knowledge of software programs. Hard skills, unlike soft skills, often cannot be acquired through a summer job or volunteer position, and thus, can be challenging to acquire. As a new graduate, I had a difficult time learning specific skills for the market research industry, such as project management and statistical applications. In order to gain this knowledge, I supplemented my broad university degree with a post-graduate certificate, as many graduates are doing now. A post-graduate certificate allows a generalist to turn themselves into a specialist by supplementing their broad university education with industry-specific technical skills. Additionally, many post-graduate programs offer internships, allowing students to get a foot in the door for their first job. In fact, a significant proportion of my current workplace is interns from post-graduate marketing research programs who proved their worth and ended up receiving full-time employment.
University enrolment and the workforce have changed a great deal in the past few decades. A bachelor’s degree is simply not as unique as it once was, and although an essential first step, is often not enough to secure employment on its own. It is, therefore, crucial for graduates to stand out from the pack by demonstrating value beyond their degrees.
Marc Herscovitch (Sociology ’10) is a Senior Market Research Analyst at BrandSpark International, a research consulting firm. He specializes in the topics of media, advertising, survey research and marketing. In addition to his working life, Marc is an advocate for issues regarding environmental sustainability, freedom of speech and helping students transition from university to the working world.