Thanks to COVID-19 and the safety measures put in place to keep everyone safe, opportunities for work experience have been thin on the ground. However, there's still a variety of ways you can improve your employability - all it takes is a bit of initiative

Over the course of the past year the coronavirus pandemic has caused employers to postpone or cancel work experience and internships. According to a Prospects survey, 26% of final year students lost out on an internship in 2020 because of COVID-19.

As a result of the pandemic, employers have had to find new, innovative ways for students and graduates to carry out work experience and an ever increasing number of employers now run virtual work experience schemes, enabling students and graduates to gain essential experience from home.

While nothing replaces real, on-the-job experience there are still a number of things you can do to boost your chances of employment.

Pick up a hobby

We've all got interests that we'd like to indulge 'if only we had the time' but with some lockdown measures in place it seems we'll all have more time than we thought during 2021.

Starting a hobby demonstrates initiative and a passion for learning. It'll also help you occupy that tricky 'hobbies and interests' section of a CV or application form.

Because of social distancing measures due to the pandemic, many group activities or contact sports are off the cards. However, there are still a variety of options for you to consider. For example, you could:

  • learn a coding language
  • start writing a novel
  • learn how to cook/bake
  • get outside and figure out how to plant and grow
  • take up an instrument
  • start a book club
  • teach yourself to a new skills such as painting, sewing, crafting
  • take up photography.

Take an online short course

There's no better way to improve your graduate employability than by embarking on a short course to improve your skills.

Short, online courses are available in a range of subjects, so if you want to learn how to use a certain piece of software, discover what's involved in a particular role or brush up on soft skills there will be a course for you.

The course doesn't have to be related to your career. Any course taken demonstrates to employers your initiative, drive and organisational skills.

Course providers include FutureLearn and Coursera and a number of universities run Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are free to join.

If you'd like to commit to something longer term, an online Masters degree might suit you.

Learn more about online learning.

Start reading

To be as prepared as possible for the world of work, do some research into the industry and sector you want to join, paying particular attention to companies of interest. To find out what certain roles involve, see job profiles.

Despite the restrictions caused by coronavirus, many graduate employers are still recruiting so to keep up to date with preferred employers and to learn of vacancies follow them on social media.

It’s also a good idea to do some interview prep. In-person interviews may still be possible, but with social distancing rules in place, many organisations are also relying on phone and video interviews - so make sure you know what to expect.

Improve your online presence

Take a look at your social channels and ask yourself if they're employer-friendly. Employers do look at a candidates social media channels to gauge whether they'd be a good fit for the job/company.

To tidy up your social channels:

  • Adjust your privacy settings. If you don't want recruiters to be able to see your profiles make sure they're set to private.
  • If profiles are public, delete any posts that could damage your chances of success - for example, wild holiday pictures or posts containing controversial comments or bad language.
  • Consider whether your profile handle looks/sounds professional. If not, change it.

To improve your presence:

  • Follow organisations and professional bodies of interest to keep up to date with the latest news and developments.
  • Like, comment and interact with employers and peers.
  • When posting, include relevant hashtags to ensure your posts are seen by the right people.
  • Think about setting up separate work accounts.

Also, if you're not on LinkedIn, you should be. Join and start building your profile now.

Learn more about social media and job hunting.

This webinar featured in the Prospects Future You: Live event in November 2020.

Sign up as a volunteer

Volunteering looks great on your CV and will give you excellent examples to use during job interviews. Activities don't have to be related to your career, you'll be surprised how many transferable skills you gain.

Again, because of social distancing, some community or group projects may be unavailable. To find out what you can do, search Do-it and Do-it from home. With travel restrictions in place, some volunteering abroad programmes will also be off limits - but did you know you can volunteer online or carry out solo tasks in your area?

You could become a telephone or virtual volunteer for a charity, or a check-in-and-chat volunteer for the NHS. Alternatively you could collect shopping or medicines for vulnerable people in you community.

Search for voluntary opportunities.

Learn a language

Having a second (or third) language under your belt can help you to stand out in a competitive jobs market. Business in all forms is increasingly international so mastering a well-used language such as Portuguese, Spanish, French or German will often give you an edge.

The hard work and dedication that learning a new language entails is bound to impress employers.

There are plenty of online and auditory resources available to help you to become bilingual, as well as a number of apps.

Craft the perfect CV

Don't neglect your CV. When the time comes to apply for jobs you'll wish you’d kept it up to date. If yours could do with a bit of TLC, now's the time to do it.

Spend time casting a critical eye over your CV. Does it contain unnecessary or inaccurate information? Is it formatted correctly? Does it include all your skill and experience? Could you personal statement do with a rewrite? Keep an extra eye out for errors or typos.

Discover how to write a CV and take a look at writing a personal statement for your CV as well as our example CVs for inspiration and guidance.

If you take up any of these employability-boosting activities, don't forget to add the skills and experiences to your CV.

For those who've graduated and are ready to find work, explore the Office for Students' (OfS) Graduate employment and skills guide (2021).

This Prospects webinar aired May 2021.

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