AUT student visit news story

Employability skills in the real world

Employability skills in the real world

Last updated 4 September 2017
Last updated 4 September 2017

Lecturer Deepti Bhargava from Auckland University of Technology (AUT) brought along 15 students from AUT’s School of Communication Studies to the Tertiary Education Commission (the TEC) to find out what working in the ‘real world’ is like. 

The students, in their final year of study, were in Wellington on a field trip. Members of the TEC's communications team, headed by Denise Mackay, talked to the students about how working on your employability skills makes you stand out from the crowd.  

“The students greatly benefited from meeting the communications team of a public sector organisation. Such exposure helps them better understand the opportunities and challenges of public relations work,” says Deepti, who wanted to give her students the opportunity to talk to a range of communications professionals across lots of different jobs and organisations. 

Communications is often referred to as soft skills, which probably aren’t always taught in class but they’re equally as important as the professional skills students develop. “The real world is often very different from what you learn in class,” said Denise. 

Denise said there are two things she looks for when hiring new employees – qualifications and employability skills. “You need to bring more than just your qualifications or professional skills. Having the right attitude makes you more employable than the next person. It’s what keeps you in the job.” 

Whether you want to work in the public, private, or not-for-profit sector you need to work on your learnt behaviours, attitudes, beliefs and personal qualities to get your foot in the door. Attributes like resilience, willingness to learn, self-management, and critical thinking skills add tremendous value to a qualification, a trade, a diploma, or degree. In fact, many New Zealand government agencies use behavioural questions in interviews to establish your suitability for a role – it’s not only who you are as a professional, but who you are as a person.

Employability skills that will get you into a job and help you stay there

The TEC’s Careers Directorate offers advice on their website on skills employers look for.

An Employability Skills Framework on the Youth Guarantee website also provides a wealth of information on how to get work-ready. It’s not only a great resource for young school leavers and students who are planning their career but also for established professionals.  

The TEC’s Communications team (made up of media advisors, speech writers, internal and external advisors, online and content specialists, and brand experts) rely on a number of employability skills to help build their professional careers.

Some of the take-home advice shared with the students included:   

  • Be willing to learn, be a lifelong learner. Keep on learning and continuously invest in your career. Do as much as you can because it helps build your confidence and credibility.
  • Build relationships – that’s what Communications is about. It’s a priority for both internal and external audiences. The strength of your networks can help avert or manage a crisis. It will help you establish those all-important relationships. 
  • Set priorities. You’ll never have enough time, enough budget or enough staff. You won’t be able to do everything perfectly. You need to juggle your time, make some hard and sometimes difficult decisions.
  • Build your resilience. No-one has a good relationship with everybody, but you’ll need to find a way to make tricky relationships work and not let it break your spirit. Find a diplomatic way to get your message across. Learn to work with the tools you’re given and face each challenge with grace. 
  • Be a facilitator. Bring solutions to the table. Being solutions focussed will help build your career much faster. It’s not just about being technically proficient but about developing trust and confidence as an advisor and the value you bring. 
  • Adapt. Quickly. You never know when the goal posts will shift. Be prepared to not be prepared. The work often involves dealing with breaking news, drafting talking points for a last minute event, or handling reputational issues. Remain calm under pressure, use your critical thinking skills, and keep those relationships in-tact when the crisis is over. 
  • Persevere. Sometimes you’ll get writers block. Start doing a bad job until you can do a good one. Your stress levels eventually go down and you can think more clearly.    
  • Read a lot, and listen. In a complex organisation you’ll need to know a little bit about a lot of topics, as well as whom to go to for more in-depth information. Keep up to speed with what’s going on in the business.    
  • Learn to write well and in plain English. It’s not easy but it’s a skill worth developing, especially in a world where the currency is information.    
  • What and why are key questions. Often, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper to get the information you need. Be assertive and ask the hard questions. If you don’t ask you’re not doing the best job you can do.      

Preparing for your job

“Remember how you’ve overcome difficult relationships, because it will come up in interviews,” says Kylie McGillivray, specialist communications recruiter from Robert Walters, who was at the meeting. Kylie had great advice for job seekers at graduate and general manager level about how to be prepared.  

  • Start preparing before you start looking. Note all the examples of when you struggled with something. How do you cope under stress or scrutiny? How you overcame these situations is what will separate you from others. Hiring managers will ask questions like “Tell me a time when something was difficult,” or “tell me a time when you had to reprioritise something,” or “Tell me a time when you didn’t agree with your managers’ approach.”   
  • Manage your personal brand. How you come across is important. You resume must be the best marketing document it can be, no spelling mistakes. Make sure your attention to the details is second to none. 
  • Polish your online presence. There could be a Facebook group you liked five years ago that isn’t relevant anymore but it’s the first thing the hiring manager sees. What does your digital footprint look like and does it match your core values? 
  • Leverage technology such as Linked-In. It helps people come to you. Nowadays, it’s questioned when you’re not online. 
  • Find a job that is right for you. Recognise where you are in your career path and only apply for the opportunities that you can use to progress your career. 
  • Back yourself! If you’ve got 70 percent of what the job description requires, go ahead and apply. Women seem to be less inclined than men to apply for jobs when they feel they’re not 100 percent qualified – 70 percent is good enough. 
  • Assess every opportunity on its merit. Don’t only look at the salary but also at the type of organisation and the manager you’ll be working with. A good manager can progress your career. A bad manager can derail it. Spend time figuring out why you want the job. Focus on a few key roles and don’t spread yourself too thin. 

The AUT students took away real-life learnings about the importance of initiative, resilience, relationships, personal branding and ongoing professional development. “We really appreciated the TEC team for welcoming us and taking the time to contribute towards supporting the future of our practice,” said Deepti. 


Image: AUT students with members of the TEC's communications team