askST Jobs: My child just entered university. What can she do to stand out in her future job hunt?

Building up one's portfolio during the undergraduate years will make the future job search easier. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

In this series, manpower correspondent Calvin Yang offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q: My child entered university this year. I don't wish to stress her out, but I can't help but feel kiasu as her grades are average. What else can she do to stand out in the job hunt upon graduation?

A: The good news is, times have changed and employers today look beyond good academic qualifications and grades when hiring.

Instead, they place strong emphasis on relevant work experience and expect a broad range of skills including digital competency, leadership, analytical thinking, project management and communications skills, said Dr Timothy Chan, vice-provost at SIM Global Education.

As for being kiasu (Hokkien for fear of losing out), experts say that it is never too early to start planning and preparing for a career after graduation.

Building up one's portfolio during the undergraduate years will make the future job search easier, added Ms Linda Teo, country manager at ManpowerGroup Singapore.

Dr Chan also said: "It is necessary for university students to think about employability at the start of their courses, not the end. Otherwise, they would have missed the opportunities to acquire the necessary competencies to take competition head on upon their graduation."

A good starting point is to have your child tap her university's career support office. These offices usually offer services including career profiling, which helps students learn about their personalities, strengths, as well as competency gaps that they need to work on.

Your child can also consider having a career mentor to know the ins and outs of working life, said Dr Chan. For instance, if your child aspires to be a chartered accountant, join a mentoring scheme that matches her with an experienced chartered accountant.

Outside of school, attending networking events with industry professionals may help job seekers get noticed, while building up contacts for future employment.

Not sure what networking events are? They vary from structured ones like workshops and talks to social gatherings such as happy hour meet-ups and school reunions. These can be held by agencies, companies or alumni associations.

Undergraduates can maintain these networks using LinkedIn. They can start by connecting with peers and lecturers on the platform, and subsequently add in people they have met.

Ms Teo said: "Having an extensive network will help them access more job opportunities, especially in the long run as employers are always looking out for new talent as part of their succession planning."

But nothing beats getting real-life working experience through internships and industry projects while in university.

If you are lucky, you may even be offered a full-time role upon graduation.

"Start early and try to do an internship during semester breaks," said Ms Teo. "Completing internships will also add substance to the curriculum vitae and help one to stand out from the other fresh graduate job seekers."

With a fast-evolving economy, the skills needed today are constantly changing. As such, the university programme that your child is enrolled in may not cover all the latest in-demand skills.

Thankfully, many institutions identify gaps between skills needed in the job market and skills they are teaching, and offer bite-sized courses covering knowledge or experience in a specific subject, said Dr Chan.

These short courses, typically aimed at working adults, may even be stacked up towards qualifications such as diplomas. They can be completed within several weeks.

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