Developing Employability Skills


A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.

 Steve Jobs

Although we have been talking about skills as a part of the collection of qualities that combine to make you an individual, this does not mean that these skills are as fixed as your height, or as difficult to change as the shape of your nose. Personal skills can be acquired, developed and improved.

A shy person may be able to speak fluently and confidently when discussing a subject (e.g. politics; a favourite writer) which they know well and feel strongly about; somebody who considers themselves "hopeless at maths" on the grounds of a low GCSE grade may happily work out their living expenses for each term and evaluate the various loan options available. Your interests may also influence the skills that you choose to develop.

You should now have a short-list of skills that you wish to improve: you may also have noted down some ways in which you might do this. These could include the following:-

Play sport!

The Sport Industry Research Centre calculated that the average graduate who played sport while studying earns £5,824 (18%) more than those who didn't. 21% of graduates who played sports had experienced unemployment compared to 27% of those who didn't. Sporting students develop skills such such as team work, communication and leadership. 

Through extra-curricular activities e.g.

The University of Kent Student Development Unit has a range of activities here which can help such as Student Tutoring in local schools.

Through your home life

e.g. Organisation and Planning (combining running a home and family with your studies if you are a mature student).

Through your course

Course projects, dissertations and extended essays can be particularly valuable here. As well as the skills of independent research, and planning and organising your own work which they bring, sometimes you can choose the topic so that it is relevant to the type of work you wish to enter, giving a strong plus point for your CV.

The sort of people that we’re looking for are the people who will go out and find the opportunities.
The opportunities are out there. You’ve got sports societies, the student union, the university
squadron, voluntary work, paid employment: it’s out there, it’s just whether people can be bothered
to go and do it…I think it’s down to the individual.

Royal Navy

Through work shadowing

e.g. Investigating (talking to people about their work); Decision Making (whether or not to pursue this career further).
The University of Kent Careers Network can help with this. See

Through vacation and part-time work

"Academic qualifications are not our only important requirement. We will also expect you to have taken on positions of leadership and responsibility and show real ability to take initiative."


While it is possible to get vacation work experience with relevant employers (e.g. accountants, computer companies) financial pressures mean that most students have to take any vac. job they can get. Later on, when they make applications for permanent jobs and employers enquire about their work experience, they find it hard to believe that these jobs can be of relevance to their future career.

Students often say "I haven't done any real vacation work - not anything that would be relevant to a career - just a bit of shop work, bar work, waiting on tables and so on. I couldn't put anything like that on an application form".

But what employers tell us is that they do value this type of work experience and wish that students would make more of it on their application forms!

Here are some of the skills that you might gain from shop, bar or restaurant work:

Some popular employers (the Civil Service, solicitors’ firms) recruit early. The best opportunities for taking part in employers' undergraduate vacation training schemes are available in the summer vacation after your second year - but you may need to apply for these opportunities before the Christmas vacation in some instances.

The Careers Service has a vacancy database listing vacation jobs and courses. Also see our Work Experience page

Examples of ways to develop skills.

You could also use these as evidence in an application to show you had these skills.

WRITING skills

  • Writing up a project or dissertation
  • Writing for the student newspaper
  • Writing a report for a course placement
  • Essays, dissertations, project reports
  • Secretary of student society
  • Publicity materials for a charity
  • Letter to raise sponsorship for an event


  • Joining a campus drama group.
  • Public speaking or debating
  • Seminars
  • Working as a receptionist in a vacation job
  • Market research, telesales, bar work
  • Showing 6th formers round campus
  • Course presentations
  • Student radio presenter


  • Year abroad or independent travel abroad
  • Working part-time while studying
  • Changing courses
  • Combining study with family
  • Shift work or working at short notice


  • Working on a group project
  • Rag fund-raising
  • Team sports
  • Working as a clerical assistant in a busy office
  • Group project
  • Duke of Edinburgh's Award
  • Team sports
  • Playing in an orchestra or band


  • Preparing Student Election Statistics
  • Analysing data from an experiment
  • Vacation job as a market research interviewer
  • Voluntary work for a publisher
  • Creative solutions to coursework problems
  • Chess, computing, role playing
  • Overcoming obstacles to achieve an ambition e.g. Raleigh International


  • Suggesting changes to a course when a student representative
  • Getting relevant work experience/project work/sponsorship
  • Starting your own business: selling on Ebay
  • Starting a new society
  • Creating a website
  • Coping with a sudden crisis
  • Stretching your loan to go further


  • Organising your revision schedule
  • Planning a trip round Europe with friends
  • Stage manager for a play
  • Campsite representative for Eurocamp
  • Managing a course project
  • Organising sporting events
  • Organising charity events
  • Students' union activities
  • Organising concerts for the elderly


  • Leading a group project
  • Chairing a student society
  • Captaining a sports team
  • Being a playscheme helper
  • Guide leader
  • Air training corps
  • Course or hall representative
  • Mentor in school



  • Negotiating the rent with your landlord
  • Negotiating the late handing in of essays
  • Staff-student liaison committee
  • Resolving an argument between friends


  • Arguing your case in a seminar
  • Getting club members to turn up for events!
  • Fund-raising for a local charity
  • Telesales job in the vacation



  • Researching for coursework in the library
  • Student journalism
  • Finding out about different careers through work shadowing
  • Market research interviewer in a vac. job
  • Building your own computer


  • In lectures!
  • Helping the student telephone counselling service
  • Working as a waiter or barmaid



  • Deciding which modules to take next year
  • College Welfare Representative
  • Buying an expensive item (car or computer)
  • Targeting appropriate customers in a sales job


  • Working in a pub or bank
  • Budgeting your expenses over the year
  • Interpreting a statistical table for your course
  • Treasurer of committee
  • Fantasy share portfolio e.g. BullBearings


  • Current affairs interest
  • Taking business options on a course
  • Organising events
  • Reading financial pages of a newspaper
  • Fantasy share portfolio e.g. BullBearings