“We have a relatively young workforce,” says HR Director, Marc Van Hoecke. “Overall, we have 950 people working for us in Belgium and the average age is around 30. 67 percent of our people can be classed as ‘Generation Y’.”
Now more than ever, it is vital that undergraduates suitably prepare themselves for job applications and interviews.
Appealing to an employer
In addition to thinking about the careers they intend to pursue, graduates should also consider the factors that will make them attractive to employers. KPMG in Ireland has been providing additional support to the undergraduate community this year. “We’ve always done a lot of work in Ireland’s universities in terms of recruitment,” she says. “But this year, we did something extra by running a series of ‘Boost Your Employability’ sessions at ten colleges.”
Running in campuses on both sides of the Irish border, the sessions attracted around 530 students. Those who attended were given advice on a range of topics, including searching for jobs, preparing a résumé, conducting interviews, researching employers and communicating effectively.
More than the usual advice
As Janis stresses, the Boost Your Employability sessions were in addition to services offered by career advisors within the individual universities. “Career advisors have a difficult task as they have to cater for a high volume of students, so they can’t always provide the depth of information that people require”, says Janis. “Our sessions were designed to offer advice to students from an employer’s perspective”.
Janis acknowledges the challenges facing undergraduate and graduate jobseekers. “As a student, you don’t really have a lot of work experience,” she says. “And if you’re entering the job market for the first time, it’s difficult to differentiate yourself from those in the same situation.”
The value of evidence
Academic qualifications will always count for a great deal, but when employers weigh up rival applications they always look beyond impressive grades. “Evidence of career motivation is one of the key factors,” says Janis.
The key word here is ‘evidence’. Every applicant will routinely express a strong desire to work for a particular employer. The challenge facing the jobseeker then is to demonstrate genuine motivation. “It starts with researching the role properly,” says Janis. “You need to be able to show that you understand the employer, understand the role and have an interest in the industry.”
Hence the importance of many topics covered in the Boost your Employability sessions. Crucial skills include carrying out proper research and knowing how to impart enthusiasm for not only a job and an employer but also an entire industry.
In addition to motivation, employers also look for evidence of at least some of the attributes and skills that will be required of new recruits. And while the majority of graduates won’t possess extensive work experience, Janis says that applicants should assess what they have done in terms of the skills that employers want.
“On the face of it, a job working as a waitress or waiter doesn’t necessarily relate to the type of work you’d be doing for a professional services firm,” says Janis. “But if you think about it, some of the skills you acquired doing that kind of work are transferable: communications skills; the ability to work with customers and members of the public. It all has relevance.”
The same applies to voluntary work or work undertaken during gap years. Not only does such activity provide life and work skills, it can also be directly relevant to the values of the employer. “For example, if the employer has an active corporate social responsibility (CSR) program it can help align the applicant to the organization.” As Janis points out, it’s not just companies that gain from CSR.
A positive response
In addressing these and other challenges facing Ireland’s student community, KPMG’s Boost Your Employability sessions have garnered an enthusiastic response from participants. “We asked for feedback at the end of the sessions and it was all very positive,” says Janis.
Given Ireland’s current economic situation, few undergraduates can look to the future with complete certainty. However, the insights provided by KPMG’s sessions have been helping the new generation of jobseekers stand out from the crowd in the application process.