Students Staff

Enhancing your skills

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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!

Ways to gain experience

  • The Big Essex Award - investigate, experiment and get involved to make the most of your Essex experience.
  • Students' Union vTeam - volunteering boosts skills and confidence, builds a network, can help you find a career path and gives something back at the same time.
  • Volunteering England can also help you with ideas and contacts for volunteering.
  • Clubs and societies - build skills, network and have fun at one of more than 160 clubs and societies at Essex.
  • Internships help you develop skills that will help when you look for permanent work.
  • Essex Abroad - add an international dimension to your studies and career plans by studying, working, volunteering or researching abroad.
  • Proficio - first class advanced training opportunities for doctoral students.
  • UROP Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme - the University's unique opportunity to work alongside an academic on a research project. You will learn new skills which will enhance your CV and you will be paid a bursary.

Top five skills

There are five top skills a graduate needs.

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?

Team roles

Communication skills can help you with:

  • customer service - either face to face or on the telephone
  • written reports
  • writing e-mails
  • 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.

Getting it right

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

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
  • what 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.

People can be quietly confident, and it can still come across in conversation or an interview. So, prepare well:

  • research the company and the role
  • think carefully about why you want to work there and do that job in particular (they will ask!)
  • think about why you are suitable for the role and what you have to offer them.
  • Remind yourself of your CV and what you have written on the application form so you can talk confidently about the things you've done.


Self-confidence is more of a belief in your own ability to succeed. It's a good thing, but don't overdo it; no-one likes people who are too brash or cocky, especially people who are supposed to be learning something.

Show your confidence by:

  • 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!

Times Top 100 Graduate Employers

These 'generic graduate skills' are also mentioned in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers:

  • Leadership
  • Commercial awareness
  • Company awareness
  • Responsiveness
  • Initiative
  • Innovation
  • Critical thinking
  • Task management
  • Ambition
  • Adaptability
  • Personal effectiveness
  • Influencing
  • Integrity
  • Thrives on challenge
  • Technical ability
  • Entrepreneurial