Gaining skills and experience

Your job application will be stronger if you invest time and effort into your future career from early on at university. Make the most of the opportunities available to you during your time at Essex to develop skills for employment through experience in societies, volunteering and through paid work experience and internships. 

Essential graduate skills


Good teams are made up of different people with a variety of skills. Not everyone can be or wants to be the leader, and other team roles are just as important. Most companies are looking for people who understand teamwork: how to work together, why things may go wrong and what to do about it. They want people who can demonstrate their involvement in successful teams and the part that they played. So, look for examples of projects or work groups that you’ve been part of: events you’ve been involved in arranging, for example, or work experience. Were you part of a team? What part did you play? Were you the leader, the time keeper, the ideas person, the researcher, the note taker or the presentation writer? Was it always successful or did you make (and learn from) some mistakes?


Communication skills can help you with:

  • customer service - either face to face or on the telephone
  • written reports
  • writing emails
  • legal documents

With experience in any of these areas, you can show that you have learned skills and how to apply them in different situations. Just filling in an application form or sending a CV is a demonstration of your communication style and skills.

Companies take grammar and punctuation seriously, so proofread your papers carefully. It may help to get a friend to do it for you as well.

Problem solving

Organisations want people who will take responsibility for the work they do and make sure they meet their targets. That means thinking around the subject and working out how to solve problems that crop up on the way. You also need to ask questions if you're not sure or if you think you're going to miss a deadline.

You're probably better at problem solving than you think - it's something we do all the time. Think about:

  • how you deal with difficult people (flatmates, colleagues, customers)
  • how you deal with computer problems
  • problem solving games you may enjoy - crosswords, Sudoku, computer strategy games
  • how you manage your money
  • how you juggle your time
  • how you sort out shortages for team events

These are all seemingly small problems that you probably encounter frequently, so think about how you deal with them, what impact they have on you and those around you, and how you are able to resolve them efficiently.


Being confident does not mean being loud, brash or domineering; in fact, these are usually signs of a less confident person. It means knowing you have made the right decision because you researched and understood the situation to the best of your knowledge. Confident people are more likely to take criticism well, because it's part of the learning process, not a judgement on their abilities.

How to express confidence

  • maintaining eye contact (without staring)
  • having a strong (but not overpowering) handshake
  • giving well thought-out answers and holding your own under questioning


Many companies want employees to look for new ways of working and not simply accept established working practices. They will look for an ability to see things differently or challenge the norm.

Companies rely on staff to keep them up-to-date with changing technology and social media - and how to use the changing world to the organisation's advantage.

Think about something you have done differently to your peers, or what you have introduced to a programme or society that was new or made an improvement.

Think too about how you suggest changes and question things - sometimes you need to be sensitive to those around you who may have introduced the processes you want to change.

How to gain relevant work experience

Gaining relevant experience in the sector you are aiming for will be most useful. To find out the skills you need to get into a particular area of work, start by researching company websites and graduate comparison sites. You can then work out where your skills gaps are and how to develop those skills while you're studying.

Almost anything can give you extra skills. A part-time job or holiday work can build your skills and give you an insight into an industry - as well as showing potential employers that you have the initiative to find work to help you pay for your studies. It can also help you identify areas you don't want to work in.

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Careers Services Student Development Team