Leeds School of Social Sciences

How can students make themselves more employable come graduation?

Dr Chris Byrne talks about employability after graduation and what students can do to help set themselves apart from the crowd.

Image of smiling student ambassador

The prospect of graduation can be both incredibly exciting and daunting for students: Exciting because it signifies the massive accomplishment of getting a degree, and hopefully also the start of a career you will love, and daunting because it means subjecting yourself to potential employers’ assessments of your ‘employability’. This is a term that’s become more and more ubiquitous within universities in recent years. In a broad sense, it refers to someone’s suitability for a particular kind of employment. But what do we know about the factors that feed into graduate employability? 

This was the question that led me to undertake a study of how graduate employers form their views on the employability of job candidates. The findings of the survey experiment on which that study was based were in some respects worrying, and in other respects encouraging and potentially quite useful. The most worrying finding was that graduate employers still do, whether intentionally or not, discriminate between job candidates on the basis of a range of personal characteristics. For example, worryingly, the study found that changing a candidate’s ethnicity from white British to black British resulted in an 18 percent fall in their perceived employability. Clearly this is unacceptable and something employers should urgently take action to address.

Nevertheless, the research also showed that there are things all students can do in order to boost their employability prior to graduation. Some of these are fairly obvious. For example, it was not surprising to learn that getting a First enhanced the perceived employability of job candidates by around 15 percent. What was more surprising was that this effect was outweighed by job candidates having done a work placement as part of their degree (18 percent), or having studied abroad as part of their degree (23 percent), or having engaged in extra-curricular activities while at university, such as joining a student society (16 percent).

This is important to bear in mind when thinking about employability. Graduate employers don’t necessarily prioritise academic achievement in the narrow sense. These things do matter, but they also want well-rounded graduates, with skills that are transferable to their workplace. They also want graduates with some life experience, particularly if that means being comfortable with a diversity of cultures and languages. Fortunately, many of Leeds Beckett’s School of Social Sciences degrees include work or volunteering placements as standard, and also offer opportunities to study abroad, in countries as diverse as France and the US, and the Students’ Union is home to a thriving array of different societies.

With that being the case, if you want to make yourself more employable come graduation, you will have better results if, rather than spending endless nights in the library, you focus on taking advantage of everything that university life has to offer.

Dr Christopher Byrne

Lecturer / Leeds School Of Social Sciences

Dr. Christopher Byrne is a Lecturer in Politics in the School of Social Sciences. He researches and teaches British political history, political leadership, the UK Parliament, and contemporary political theory. Recent research projects include studies of the effect of neoliberal thought on the structure of British central government, the political afterlives of Members of Parliament, and the merits of Prime Minister's Questions as a means of democratic accountability.

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