By Fern Shiels

Contrary to popular belief, every so often an undergraduate student takes time to contemplate issues other than: ‘How could Marxist theory be applied to this?’ or ‘Which Netflix series serves as the best procrastination material?’.

For many of us the question of ‘what am I going to do after graduation?’ can be far more stress-inducing than any deadline, especially when your degree isn’t one leading to a natural career path.

Although I  may be able to sympathise with employers hesitant to recruit those from a purely academic background, I believe we do the university system an injustice in assuming it leaves graduates so ill equipped for the workplace.

So how does university prepare us to be good employees – and where does it fall down?

There’s a lack of ‘transferable skills’…

As an English Literature student I’d be lying if I said this didn’t particularly apply to me. My ability to translate Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into modern English does not make me particularly suited to a career in marketing, for instance.

…but we do have the ability to learn quickly

Within weeks of starting an academic degree you are expected, with very little guidance, to be showing levels of independent research and critical analysis far higher than was ever expected in school. That’s not to mention the amount of content universities pack into courses in such a small amount of time.

If a graduate is lacking in the workplace skills an employer would like upon starting a new job, chances are they’ll be able to pick them up pretty quickly.

We may have an inaptitude for teamwork…

There’s a reason why the sentence ‘we’re all working together well on this group project’ has never been uttered on any university campus. Throughout university we are bombarded with singular pronouns: ‘If you put in x amount of work, you will achieve y grade’.

University is a time to be the good kind of selfish: to focus your efforts solely into a subject you’re passionate about and – much as I cringe as I type this – to grow as a person.

Whilst this may be wonderful for three years, at the end of it we are unlikely to adapt all that rapidly to a situation where we have to work together as part of a team – which is going to be important in the workplace.

…but possess superb self-management

This year I receive all of seven and a half hours of teaching a week, which basically means that for the vast majority of my time I am unsupervised. No one is going to motivate me to read those 500 pages a week or to get those 5000 word assignments in on time other than myself.

If I do run into any issues, managing to have an in-depth conversation with a tutor about it is almost impossible during a once weekly office hour, so the ability to problem solve becomes vital for survival at university.

In a workplace context, an employee from my kind of background is likely to approach problems with initiative, and is less likely to need high levels of guidance or supervision in order to flourish.

So, does an academic degree shape us into a good employee or not?

It is likely that graduates like my soon-to-be self may not be completely ready to walk straight out of our final exam and into a workplace.

The skills that university does provide us with, however, mean that we can bring initiative, time management skills and an eagerness to continue learning to our first graduate roles.

And that’s not mentioning the intellectual prowess and creative genius we bring to the job… 🙂

Find out more

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About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.