There are lots of ways you can improve your employability at school.
You’re probably doing some of them already without even knowing.
But how do you know if you’re on the right track?
We asked 20 top professionals - including a doctor, a diplomat and Skepta’s tour manager - how they did it.
Here are the 8 top ways, with quotes from the pros.
Extracurricular activities are one of the best ways to gain some employability skills while at school.
Joining a club or society shows:
- Time management skills
- Passion and interest outside of school
...and much more. These activities could be anything from fencing to filmmaking. But if you do already have a career in mind, a relevant club or society is even better.
“I took part in the Young Enterprise competition and did a range of public speaking competitions.” - Rhys Rosser, Barrister at 2 Bedford Row.
“I was always very busy with a wide range of extracurriculars. I did Model United Nations, volleyball, European Society, volunteering with the Singapore Red Cross... Potential employers will look at the skills you’ve acquired through these kinds of activities: teamwork, analytical skills, leadership, presentation, debate, stakeholder management, accounting..” - Erika Terrones-Shubiya, Associate at Goldman Sachs.
If you are involved in lots of activities like Erika, this shows employers that you are a well-rounded person with multiple interests and skills.
“My school was quite jam-packed in terms of activities. Although I wasn’t getting traditional work experience because I was at boarding school four-fifths of the year, I kept becoming more well-rounded. It was quite international too so I met lots of people from different backgrounds.” - Mary Agbesanwa, Consultant and Founder of the ‘Now You’re Talking’ Network.
2. Build a Portfolio
Are you an aspiring creative?
If so, your portfolio is your secret weapon.
It can start with jotting down ideas or taking a picture of your latest project. But it can blossom into a detailed account of how your skills and ideas have developed, with evidence for every stage.
This doesn’t only apply to art or design. A portfolio is an excellent employability tool for:
- Web design
- Film, TV and Radio
- Performing arts
...and many more.
“I organised music events, I did an exhibition... I was busy every night because it was more fun that way.” - Katy Edelsten, Senior Creative at Wieden + Kennedy.
“I worked a lot on my art portfolio while I was still at school. I also attended drawing workshops, similar to what is taught in Design Technology, and was constantly making things in my school workshop. Because of this, I managed to work on teams for voluntary projects designing and building art installations with other designers and architects.” - Karl Mok, architect and founder of design studio TA!LAB.
Your portfolio is something you will keep adding to and improving throughout your creative career.
“Whatever you create, whatever you put out into the world, if that’s what you want to do for a living, put it out there. And if you’ve got 10 things in your portfolio, when you do thing number 11, you just replace number 1. And it just gets better and better from there.” - David Davies, Tour Manager for Sketpa, Sigma and others.
Plus, the act of creating a portfolio is no mean feat. It demonstrates an excellent work ethic!
“Learning the importance of a good self-lead work ethic was exceptionally important.” - Ben Hunter, Award-Winning Filmmaker.
3. Part-Time Work
Part-time employment shows your readiness for the world of work.
It often involves skills that future employers will be on the lookout for, such as:
- Commercial awareness
- Customer service
- Time management
- Problem solving
- Attention to detail
It doesn’t matter if the job itself doesn’t feel like your dream career. Any employment before leaving school will build up your professional profile and skills.
“I always had a Saturday job and I went back to college to study A-level English Literature to improve my writing skills before I applied to do my BA degree.” - Karen Peacock, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder at Albaray.
“I did a few work experience placements that I organised myself and I always worked part-time.” - Victoria Sloan, Front-End Software Engineer at Teamwork.
Volunteering can be an effective way to start working in your ideal industry. This especially applies to those pursuing a medical career.
“In terms of things to enhance my UCAS form, I was a volunteer at the Royal Free Hospital. That meant I could do anything that wasn’t medical: some days it was admin, some days it was helping nurses with more menial tasks like clearing up, filling in menu cards, going to the shops for patients, even just plugging in the TV for them. It’s one of the biggest hospitals in London, so I got to see everything.” - Dr Charlotte Leigh, General Dental Practitioner.
If you are considering a career in human rights, international development or charity work, then any volunteering will show you are keen to get started.
“I volunteered for the British Red Cross while in the UK, and also interned with an NGO.” - Perseverance Ganga, Programme Policy Officer at the UN World Food Programme.
5. Work Experience
Many schools encourage work experience, often in year 10 or 11.
It can feel a bit daunting, especially if you aren’t sure which career is for you. But rest assured, any work experience will boost your personal statement and show initiative.
“It’s not just engineering work experiences that benefit you going forward. It can be any kind of work experience, it will still help your soft skills. The week’s work experience I did at Maplin’s taught me to work in a team. The football club I was in taught me how to work in a team. Things I didn’t think were benefiting my career at the time actually were, I just didn’t know it yet.” - Bhavik Bhatt, Thermofluids Engineer at Rolls Royce
6. Focus on School Work
This might sound like a no-brainer.
But it’s important to balance your activity in and outside of school. This is especially true if you want to pursue a more academic degree such as maths or law.
“I think the best thing you can do to improve your employability is to do well in school. Get the grades, that’s the number one thing. I did also do some work experience at a solicitor’s firm locally – and I’m sure that helped – but the main thing is the grades. School is your job when you’re a student, it’s important not to forget that. Get work experience when you can, but it’s extra.” - Kathryn Finch, Solicitor and EDI Consultant
“I took a weekend job and got involved in school leadership opportunities. Beyond that, my main focus was getting the best grades I could to go to university.” - Ben Simpson, Diplomat in Libya.
There might be things you like doing in your spare time that don’t fit into the categories so far.
That’s totally fine!
Spending time doing something you’re passionate about still demonstrates employability.
For example, learning something online is a great way to show initiative and passion. Plus, some online courses provide certificates or qualifications.
“Now, there are so many online courses. I always tell my prospective students to go on Khan Academy, Coursera, Edex. I didn’t know about those when I was at school - I only heard about them at university. If I could go back, I would definitely take advantage of those free online resources.” - Bhavik Bhatt, Thermofluids Engineer at Rolls-Royce
Pursuing a hobby might not feel like you’re improving your employability, but you’d be surprised. The skills and experiences you learn now will help you again and again in the world of work. Not to mention, they make great talking points in interviews!
"I did loads of things… I didn’t know it was for employability at the time - I just liked doing stuff." - Katy Edelsten, Senior Creative at Wieden + Kennedy.
8. Try Everything
The best approach is to try lots of different things and find your passion!
“It’s important to do things that you’re really interested in rather than just doing something for the sake of it.
There’s no set list of things you need to do – you don’t need to play football or hockey or rugby, you don’t need to play in an orchestra. Plenty of students do things that are totally out of the box.
You just want to be passionate about it so you can talk about it well. It’s really obvious in an interview whether you’re genuinely interested.” - Dr Manik Kohli, Specialty Registrar.
“I did some days of work shadowing in different fields, and I worked as a helper on a playscheme for children with physical and intellectual disabilities.” - Vicky Mckechnie, NHS Clinical Psychologist.
“To study veterinary medicine you have to show that you get involved in activities at school outside of the classroom, like sports, music or other clubs. All vet schools vary slightly in what experience they want prospective students to have, so best to look this up before you apply.” - Michael Lazaris, Small Animal Vet.