As the job market becomes increasingly competitive, tertiary students need to improve their employability skills to differentiate themselves from the crowd. Enhancing their employability skills will not only give them an edge in the job search, but also position them for jobs with better prospects. Employability means more than just getting a job; jobseekers must exhibit the skills and mindset to gain, create and maintain work; in short, they must be able to perform effectively to contribute to organisational success. In short, having good employability skills allows individuals to get a job, manage their career and adapt to challenging work situations.
Personal qualities, teamwork and communication skills
According to Chun How Chin, academic manager at Jesselton College Sabah, tertiary students can improve their employability in several ways. "Jobseekers should possess not only the hard skills gained through academic studies, but also the personal qualities that enhance job performance. Tertiary students can enhance their knowledge and skills by enrolling in continuing education or joining internships, besides finding mentors or joining trade associations for enrichment," he began.
Tertiary students must develop self-motivation and initiative tend to have better employability. "Employees are expected to work unsupervised, so they must be able to make responsible decisions independently to obtain positive outcomes. They can show that they have initiative by getting relevant training and work experience. Further, they can undertake roles, placements or courses that encourage them to clearly define task requirements and successfully implement them. Since organisations regard self-motivation and self-reliance as valuable traits, tertiary students should not only establish and fulfil their own personal and professional goals, but also request feedback on their projects, skill sets and other undertakings," suggested Chin.
Teamwork ability is a vital aspect of employability. "Tertiary students can acquire teamwork experiences by undertaking group projects, work placements, team sports, environmental projects and other group activities. Additionally, they can join steering committees, boards, councils or volunteer groups," he revealed.
Written and oral communication skills are as fundamental to employability as technical qualifications. "Before graduation, tertiary students should learn how to write an effective resume and cover letter. They should do presentations and join mock interviews to improve their presentation skills. Further, they should research common interview questions and craft answers that demonstrate a range of employability skills. Moreover, they should ask a lecturer or mentor to provide feedback on what they have prepared. To improve their verbal and written communication skills tertiary students can also join public speaking forums or volunteer as spokespersons for programs or events," said Chin.
Effective life skills, professionalism and integrity
According to Nurul Nabilah Wawan, communication lecturer at Jesselton College Sabah, tertiary students should develop effective�life skills�to increase their employability. "Current organisations not only look for qualified employees, but also for individuals who can create a future path with innovative ideas. Therefore, tertiary students must exhibit high motivation, positive attitudes and good time management skills. Additionally, they must be able to use different means to communicate with clientele in geographically dispersed locations through writing, emailing and social media," she elaborated.
Professionalism and integrity are important employability skills to master for every job. "Tertiary students should join professional networking groups and leadership development programs to develop a sense of professionalism and integrity. They should take their future work life seriously and learn how to effectively manage their time and deal with pressure. They should also familiarize themselves with professionals in their chosen field to emulate their action and behaviours. Additionally, tertiary students must provide evidence that they can complete projects and tasks reliably and ethically. Professionalism also includes personal standards, such as time-keeping, appearance and ability to treat others with respect; hence tertiary students should complete a professional ethics module to refer to in their interview," explained Nabilah.
Volunteerism, commercial acumen and innovation
According to Dr. Siti Aishah Berhan, CEO of Jesselton College Sabah, doing volunteer work is fundamental to employability. "Tertiary students should do some volunteer work because it is a great way to contribute to their community and show that they are willing to help others without any pay incentive. Volunteerism helps build relevant work experience, while allowing them to make good use of their spare time," she remarked.
"Tertiary students who do volunteer work during the weekends or holidays indicate that they are doing more than just relaxing with their smartphones all day. They should work for a cause that they are passionate about because they may find a new area of employment that interests them. Besides, they can establish useful contacts since volunteering allows them to meet people from all types of careers paths and the connections may offer great recommendations on LinkedIn or serve as references," said Siti.
Commercial acumen is an important element of employability that is needed for creative problem-solving and decision-making. "Tertiary students should develop the ability to evaluate business situations and apply their expertise accordingly. Besides technical knowledge, they need to demonstrate relevant knowledge on industrial developments and global affairs by researching the wider industry that their potential employer is in," she added.
Tertiary students must develop an innovative spirit to have better employability. "They should be able to suggest innovative ways to do tasks or solve problems since potential employers prefer creative individuals who can add value to an organisation. Therefore, tertiary students must demonstrate the ability to bring something new to the potential employer, while satisfying the fundamental job requirements.� Instead of speculative ideas, they should provide evidence on how they have added value to something previously, for example, by using the innovation funnel to improve a product or service," Siti reiterated.
Resume, social networking and self-reflection
According to Stepheny Teo, business lecturer at Jesselton College Sabah, tertiary students must not only have experiences in doing projects, part-time work or volunteering, but also a resume to effectively present their achievements. "A well-written resume enables jobseekers to document their experiences in a precise manner. To improve their employability, they should revise their resume and make it easier to comprehend, besides tailoring it each time they apply to a different job. They should list their experiences in a way that is meaningful to each potential employer and ensure that it is free from grammatical and punctuational errors," she elaborated.
"Tertiary students must be accurate and truthful about their academic, work and extracurricular experiences since they are required to provide references for every job. They should list their experiences using bullet points to make it easier to read. However, they should avoid listing any personal hobbies or interests since the resume is a professional outline of their real-world experiences," added Teo.
Networking helps increase one's employability; hence, tertiary students should build a LinkedIn profile. "LinkedIn is a social networking site that is dedicated to professionals and the profiles themselves tend to be interactive. Tertiary students can list any skills that their connections can vouch. Since potential employers often refer to LinkedIn profiles for examples of work and any personal recommendations, tertiary students should include their LinkedIn profile link on their resume," she suggested.
"Employability is not limited to listing professional experiences only, but tertiary students should also reflect on these experiences to know what skills or attributes that they can capitalise on and how they can reapply them at a job setting. Self-reflection allows them to conscientiously step through their own experiences, while helping them to identify the skills and attributes that they have acquired," concluded Teo.