Standing out in a crowded market

Writing in the Observer today (9/8/09), Prof Ian Roxburgh refers to the modern phenomenon of academic inflation. The year he graduated from Nottingham University (1960), 6.4% of graduates got first class honours and 25.5% 2:1′s. This compares to figures quoted in the Observer showing that last year in the UK there were 13.3% firsts and 48.1% 2:1′s.

In the same Observer Letters Page, a Psychology lecturer from Liverpool University claims that, in his experience, “The vast majority of students lack basic skills such as the ability to write grammatically or to evaluate a scientific argument.”

It’s a problem facing recruiters – how to identify really good candidates when there are so many graduates around with good degrees. But it’s an equally big problem for the graduates themselves. How on earth are they going to stand out from the crowd and get noticed by employers?

Let me suggest a solution. As an employer, I’d be impressed by other factors – less measurable perhaps, but criteria that help me distinguish those with the ‘X’ factor. Things like your willingness/ability to:

  • Write and speak well
  • Form good relationships
  • Innovate
  • Be curious and seek to understand
  • Empathise with others
  • Coach and nurture others
  • Inspire and enthuse others
  • Be self-motivated
  • Be entrepreneurial
  • Lead
  • Show respect
  • Know when to shut up
  • Allow others to shine
  • Handle adversity
  • Be reliable and take responsibility
  • Show determination
  • Have strong values and be guided by them

These criteria are harder to measure than academic success but may ultimately be the difference between a job offer and a rejection. So as a graduate, ask yourself this…do I have these characteristics and secondly, do I CONVEY them in my CV or when I’m interviewed?

And finally, if you’re in business and looking to compete successfully, consider how your target audience is going to distinguish you from the raft of others out there offering similar services. Have YOU got the ‘X’ factor?

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