Student Employability Guide

Useful insights from the experts

When deciding whether or not to go to University, there are so many factors in the decision – gaining independence, studying a subject that interests you, meeting new people; but for 89% of students, becoming more employable was the reason they embarked on their degree. It makes sense. In 2018, the graduate median salary was £10,000 higher than the median non-graduate salary.

However, despite this emphasis on career prospects, only 46% of students know about the employability services offered by institutions. Out of those who do know about their university, only 4% use this service frequently, with almost half using it ‘rarely’.

While 7 in 10 of students feel that University has made them more employable, the same amount of students feel stressed about finding a relevant job when they graduate.

With an obvious priority placed on employability, and mounting pressure to find a job after, we looked into creating a resource available to everyone, giving actionable advice throughout your degree and to ease your mind when it comes to finding your perfect graduate role.

According to the HESA student record, in 2018/2019 there were 2.38 million students studying at UK higher education institutions, with 1.8 million being made up by the undergraduate population.

That's why we have rounded up an expert panel to talk is through everything to do with ‘employability’ – from defining the word, to making the most of university, to tips and tricks for when it comes to looking for work.

We'd like to thank the contributors for their invaluable advice and the time that they put into constructing this student employability guide.

  • Johnny Dixon

    University of Manchester

    Employability Executive

  • Jasmine Ward


    People & Talent Manager

  • Craig Pemblington


    Head of Projects

  • Ash Young


    Managing Director

  • Alex Law


    Former Placement Web Developer

What Makes You Employable?

The logical starting point is to define the meaning of employability as it can be a daunting and often vague. Is it a tangible asset? Is it something about your character? Or is it related to your experience and skills? To get to the bottom of what it really means, we’ve asked our panel to define what it is..

  • Johnny Dixon, Employability Executive

    Employers value skills and experiences, but this doesn’t have to come from work. You can get experience and skills from volunteering, work shadowing, competitions and even from travelling. Be proud of your experiences and make sure you tell employers about them because they’re what set you apart!

  • Jasmine Ward, People & Talent Manager

    To an extent, experience can be taught. It’s all about the attitude, drive and emotional intelligence that I look for the most. When I screen my candidates, I love to ask situational questions, such as “tell me about a time when you XXX” or “what does a good day at work look like to you?” This really help tap into how a person works, what drives them and whether they’re going to make a positive impact in the company.

  • Craig Pemblington, Head of Projects

     Employability goes beyond work experience. Whilst certainly having work experience can make you more employable and contribute to readiness for work, employable graduates are more than this. They’re resilient, can communicate well, they are adaptable to changing demands, they’re driven to achieve results and crucially they’re committed to their own personal development and how their own growth can be of value to their prospective employer.

  • Ash Young, Managing Director

    Employability is not just one thing - it is the culmination of your studies, character, work experience and importantly, your general life experiences. It is not just a case of having a shining CV, you have to have enthusiasm and passion to match. That’s why when hiring at Evoluted, we look for the things beyond just work experience as this is often what sets people apart. For example, starting your own side projects, websites or blogs allow you to develop employable characteristics, such as initiative and drive.

  • Alex Law, Former Placement Web Developer

    Having done a year in the industry sandwiched within my University course allowed me to take on a different perspective on the content that is taught in University - where I can clearly see the value in the material that is presented to me and apply them to the workplace, which is much more motivating as a student than blindly following things that a lecturer teaches.

How Can Students Become More Employable?

Our panel agreed that when it comes to defining employability, it is certainly is not limited to specific work experience – it is holistic, it is any experiences that will shape you as an individual and an employee.

One of the best ways to obtain this kind of experience is making the most of your time at University – there will be many opportunities to expand your skillset and CV. So, what are the best ways to get stuck in during your studies and enhance your chances of employability?

  • Johnny Dixon, Employability Executive

    Take advantage of the environment at University. There’s no other time in life that you’ll be able to have access to so many opportunities. Definitely get involved in a society because this is the perfect way to get some experience organising events and managing finances. It’s always good to engage with your careers service to see what they’re offering; you’ll be surprised by the number of events and opportunities that they can offer.

  • Jasmine Ward, People & Talent Manager

    Have a think about what is important to you, your values or your long-term aspirations. Once you’ve got that, see how you can gain some experience/understanding in those fields, whether that’s volunteering, interning or setting up your own groups/forums. It all contributes to building your own employability!

  • Craig Pemblington, Head of Projects

    Graduates gain employability skills through their degree, their volunteering, their social activities, participating as active members in the community and in many other ways, in addition to work. Volunteering takes many forms. Charitable causes are dependent on the skills of active volunteers and are a great place to develop employable characteristics as well as to learn about how organisations work. There’s a tremendous social benefit to be gained from giving your time to volunteering, in addition to the skills you develop whilst doing it.

  • Ash Young, Managing Director

    University should not just be about your degree and academics - it’s actually the perfect time to start your own side projects and ventures. While you’re developing skills through University and perhaps have more free time than when you’re working, it is a chance to test out the things you’re learning and push yourself. 

    You’re bound to make mistakes and the project won’t become the world’s next big success, but you will learn so much. When it comes to interviewing for jobs, you’ll have some tangible experiences to talk about and apply to the role.


  • Alex Law, Former Placement Web Developer

    When talking to employability team members they will always harper on about making your CV more personalised so that employers are employing a person and not just a set of skills. While, sure, this is important, but I would like to make sure that people are still aware that the base stills are not glossed over. 

    University forms the building blocks of not only the material covered in the course, but also how to learn independently, which is important to a company as companies will hire to grow and will want employees who are able to grow along with them.

Should I Go on a Placement Year?

Some courses offer the chance for students to take on a years work experience as part of the degree. This usually takes place in between the second and third year of study, making courses. 

Our panel, including a former placement student who has now secured a full-time role, give us their insights into student placement years.

  • Johnny Dixon, Employability Executive

    Placement years are a great way to get some industrial experience whilst you study.

  • Ash Young, Managing Director

    At Evoluted, we take on placement students in our development team, working with Sheffield Hallam University, plus many members of our team were hired after their placement with us.

    This is invaluable to the students and to us a business, they are able to , and we get a fresh, new perspective. We’ve even had a placement student join us full time once they graduated. 

    If you have the option to, it’s definitely worth giving it a go, the chance to learn in a different setting and gain relevant work experience will put you into a great position for the future.

  • Alex Law, Former Placement Web Developer

    Having joined Evoluted after completing a year long web development placement, I found:

    • There have been too many lessons for me to list
    • The value that a year in the industry brings is far greater than skipping the placement year and finishing your degree a year earlier
    • Experience is not the only thing you gain during placement – there is so much to discover!

Advice for After University

The big one – what do you do after University ends? Looking for your graduate position is really going to put your newfound employability to the test.

Our panel agree that while it’s something that is bound to cause stress or worry, it should be an experience that is embraced rather than feared.

  • Johnny Dixon, Employability Executive

    Take advantage of the support available to you at University, where your careers service will be able to offer you help with figuring out what you want to do, writing a CV and applications, and also offer you some insight into what employers are looking for. 

    It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do, most people don’t! Just make sure you do something and don’t sell yourself short. Job hunts can be difficult and stressful, so it’s really important that you remain resilient, not taking any rejections personally and requesting feedback when possible. This is the ideal way to learn about what employers in certain sectors are looking for and to improve yourself as a candidate.

  • Jasmine Ward, People & Talent Manager

     A lot of people want to stuff everything they’ve ever done on their CV, which is great, but it doesn’t show great commercial and business initiative. It’s a cliche, but keep it relevant, neat and brief - no more than two pages maximum, in my opinion.

  • Craig Pemblington, Head of Projects

    Charityworks graduates need to demonstrate that they are committed and passionate about creating social change.  They know that whilst the programme develops them into future sector leaders, through a mix of group and individual-based learning, one-to-one mentoring, national events, peer support and research, the programme exists primarily to work through them - serving the beneficiaries that the charity sector exists to help.

    We ask applicants to our programme to demonstrate their commitment to social change but this could be in many ways.  Whether you've spent a year abroad supporting overseas communities, or you volunteer an evening a week for a local charity, it's not the nature of the experience, but the fact you are passionate about changing the world for a living.  Previous voluntary experience in itself isn't necessarily a requirement - you may care for a relative or a friend for example, but you can show that social change is a priority for you. 

    Most importantly, the most successful graduates on Charityworks are open-minded about the cause area and job they do.  They can take their soft skills and apply them to professional roles, that could include campaigns, policy, research and fundraising, but also HR, or people development, finance, IT, business development and core areas of an organisation.

  • Alex Law, Former Placement Web Developer

    A common trait for alumni who applied but were unsuccessful in becoming employed after graduation was the inability to take rejection of job applications.  Being told "no you are not good enough for this position" is surely demotivating, but the majority of employed people will certainly have applied for more jobs than they have worked.  It only takes one successful job application to become employed!

    Another thing is to take advantage of services your University may provide. Be it the employability team or even lectures for extra guidance.  Remember they are employed to be utilised by you!

About The Contributors

Learn more about the contributors and their roles, what employability means to them and why they decided to contribute to this guide.

  • Johnny Dixon, Employability Executive

    Johnny Dixon is an Employability Executive at the University of Manchester. In his day-to-day role, he assists current students and alumni with becoming more employable in their life after University.

    Having joined the organisation as an intern, following his graduation from a Masters Degree in Philosophy. Johnny quickly progressed and is now responsible for ‘Enterprise Club’, which is a celebration of students taking alternative career routes.

    "Getting students to be proud of their achievements and skills is a big part of my job. My focus is on entrepreneurial students, but most students don’t realise that what they are doing is actually enterprising and something they should be telling employers about. Even if you’re in a band or organising club nights, you’re developing your employability and you should be proud of the skills you’re gaining."

  • Jasmine Ward, People & Talent Manager

    Jasmine Ward is a People & Talent Specialist at JRNI – involving a mix of HR, culture and recruitment. Having joined the company in 2016 as the Office Manager, Jasmine has worked her way up, building experience in HR and recruitment – she was promoted in November 2019 to People & Talent Manager

    With her job requiring her to find the best people to suit JRNI’s culture and roles, in addition to her own experience of carving her career path, Jasmine is perfectly placed to advise on how to be employable and what employers are looking for.

    "Employability is important to me personally because I’ve managed to carve out my own success by building my own personal brand, by being mindful of how and where I invest my time. I have learned the most from when I’ve asked for help and recognised where my flaws lie, asking for constructive feedback on my work or projects is something I always do.

    Employability is also important to my role too, I’m an internal recruiter for a tech company, I’m always looking for an amazing candidate, and get really excited when I find a great fit for our growing company."

  • Craig Pemblington, Head of Projects

    Craig Pemblington is Head of Projects at Koreo, Charityworks and 2027 Programme. He is a social impact campaigner and senior project manager with a passion for social mobility. 

    Charityworks is a scheme that gives students who are looking to work in the charity and not-for-profit sector a chance to develop skills and explore this passion. Craig’s role places him perfectly to give advice to students, particularly those pursuing a career in not-for-profits.

    "My role on the Charityworks programme is to lead the development of our charity partners, so we can host as many exceptional graduates as possible, each year. Over the last few years, feedback from organisations across the sector has influenced the advice and support we provide to graduates, and it’s so important that we access the best talent to support the sector in achieving its social aims, support and prepare graduates to become future sector leaders."

  • Ash Young, Managing Director

    Ash Young is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Sheffield-based digital agency Evoluted. While at the University of Sheffield studying software engineering, Ash made a website for his friend that propelled his career. He has not had a job since.

    Having to hire for and run an agency, Ash offers an excellent perspective on what employability is and how you can forge your own sense of it.

    "In my role as Managing Director, I come into contact with a lot of young, aspiring students - be it in development, marketing or other areas."

  • Alex Law, Former Placement Web Developer

    Alex Law undertook a placement year with Evoluted while completing his year, following his graduation, he joined the team full-time to begin his graduate career.

    This means that Alex has a great understanding of what a placement year can mean for student employability, in addition to offering a fresh perspective having recently graduated.

    Having gone through it myself, and also seen those around go through their own versions at every end of the spectrum, I just want to tell my own tale and share my own experiences.  Letting people know that having an unclear future is completely normal and that it may only seem scary because that's what we tell ourselves.