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How to Prove or Improve your Skills | The Careers Service How to Prove or Improve your Skills – Oxford University Careers Service
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About employability skills

When hiring, employers all look for a set of core skills. You will normally be asked to give examples – in your application or at interview – of times you have demonstrated these skills.

When you get around to applying to jobs, the ability to demonstrate these employability skills is as important as being able to demonstrate excellent grades in your degree. As the core skills are largely transferable, you should find ways to prove or improve them even before you start to think about specific jobs. Of course you will continue to develop your skills and learn new ones even when you find a job, which will contribute to your ongoing career progression.

You will be able to evidence some of these skills through your studies. For example, any Oxford student who has to write essays as part of their course, should be able to use this as an example of good written communication skills. However, the way to stand out from your peers is to demonstrate them through work experience and/or extra-curricular activities.

Below we’ve listed the core skills, and extra-curricular ways you might develop them.

Core skills

Initiative & problem-solving

Recruiters look for students who can analyse facts and situations, and generate creative solutions on their own. To demonstrate these skills you could:

  • Start your own society, social enterprise or small business.
  • Think of a unique fundraising event for a charity.
  • Offer to set up an Oxford student arm of a professional organisation or a charity.
  • Join The Student Consultancy.
  • Approach a charity with a suggestion of how you might volunteer a specific skill.
  • Develop your own website, or offer to build one for a student society.
  • ‘Up-skill’ yourself. Take a course at the Oxford Language Centre, or a free computing course at IT services.


Employers want graduates who have good interpersonal skills, and can communicate orally and in writing – to explain, analyse and persuade. To demonstrate these skills you could:

  • Write a regular blog on a subject of interest.
  • Contribute articles or reviews to student publications.
  • Offer to make publicity materials or be responsible for social media for a charity.
  • Stand as secretary of a student society or your Common Room.
  • Record your own podcasts on a topic of interest.
  • Persuade guest speakers to attend a society event you are helping to organise.
  • Secure corporate sponsorship for a club.
  • Apply to become the Oxford brand ambassador for an organisation you wish to join as a graduate.
  • Take part in formal debates with the Oxford Union or the Oxford International Debating Society.
  • Mentor students in years below you, or volunteer to tutor local schoolchildren.
  • Create YouTube presentations that explain aspects of your course to people not doing a degree in your subject.
  • Represent your peers on a student-staff consultative committee, and negotiate positive changes to your course.
  • Volunteer to help with outreach and access events: assist at Oxford open days, and visit schools to encourage students to apply to Oxford.
  • Take part in a college telethon fundraising campaign, encouraging alumni to donate.


Organisations want employees who can work in groups to achieve something tangible. To demonstrate these skills you could:


Employers look for the ability to motivate, influence and organise others. To demonstrate these skills you could:

  • Take a position of responsibility in your Common Room.
  • Run a student society, or take responsibility for one aspect of a society such as Sponsorship or Finance.
  • Captain a sports team or lead on training.
  • Produce or direct a play, or organise an event, such as a ball or a gig.
  • Join Oxford University Officers’ Training Corps, which builds leadership skills.
  • Volunteer with youth organisations, such as the girl guides, scouts, or even a cycling proficiency group!
  • Join The Student Consultancy and become the team leader.

Commercial awareness

All organisations – including not-for-profits – need employees who understand the key factors behind successful businesses. This includes the importance of innovation – and the need to provide customer satisfaction and build customer loyalty. To demonstrate this skill you could:

  • Participate in Insight into Business – our termly programme designed to raise commercial awareness and demystify business.
  • Organise an event that has to turn a profit, such as a concert, ball or a college bop.
  • Join The Student Consultancy to get an insight into a local business.
  • Suggest ways to improve efficiency at work, resulting in time or cost savings.
  • Negotiate with a local business to give a discount to members of a student society you belong to.
  • Take part in consulting case studies run by The Careers Service.
  • Join relevant student societies, such as Oxford Entrepreneurs, or the Oxford Guild.
  • Start your own business or social enterprise! Our Entrepreneur in Residence offers one-to-one business mentoring, no matter what stage of development your idea is at.
  • Take part in virtual investment competitions online.

Organisation & planning

Employers want to see evidence that you can schedule resources and multi-task to achieve objectives to a deadline. This could include: budgeting, time management, multi-tasking and meeting objectives. To demonstrate these skills you could:

  • Organise a ball, bop, conference or campaign.
  • Volunteer to organise your Common Room’s annual elections.
  • Organise an away-day for a society, or an inter-university match for a sports club.
  • Co-organise the support for admissions interviews in your college.
  • Coordinate aspects of the Freshers Fair or other OUSU events.
  • Become the editor of a student publication, such as a newspaper, website or yearbook.
  • Arrange your own travel itinerary on vacation – such as inter-railing.


Recruiters look for students who can demonstrate flexibility, resilience, readiness to accept responsibility, appropriate assertiveness, readiness to improve own performance based on feedback and reflective learning, and self-starting skills.

  • Do any extra-curricular activities or part-time work in addition to your degree. This will signal to employers that you can balance various responsibilities and workloads.
  • Set yourself personal goals that require training to complete, such as running a marathon.
  • Organise your own travel abroad in the vacation.
Job-specific skills

The majority of employers will look for some mix of the core skills above, although some will be more important than others, depending on the job.

Many jobs will have additional skills they look for. Advertising careers, for example, are likely to want some evidence of creativity, and charity fund-raising may want to see evidence of your having used databases. When you have an idea of the jobs you want to apply for, you should investigate what sort of skills you should start to develop in preparation for your application. One way is to look at the current jobs on offer on CareerConnect.

Below are a few non-core employability skills, and suggestion of how to develop them.

Computing & IT

  • Enrol in a free course at Oxford’s IT Services, to learn how to do something new. There are similar opportunities elsewhere in Oxford too: Oxford Women In Business, for example, run free coding workshops.
  • Download professional software, such as Adobe Creative Cloud, and see how proficient you can become during the free trial.
  • Familiarise yourself with another operating system.
  • Take online courses to improve your abilities in all aspects of Microsoft Office.
  • If you already have strong computing skills,design an app, offer to make a website for a student society, or ask your college IT officer if you can volunteer to help out.
  • Join CompSoc, or attend Oxford Geek Night to learn from developers and designers


  • Organise a language exchange with another student – weekly chats over coffee – to mutually improve your language skills. Swap English idioms for Spanish subjunctives, for example.
  • Learn a new language completely, with a course at the Oxford Language Centre, or take classes with one of the national societies at Oxford such as the Japanese Society.

Cultural awareness

  • Join a national or regional society that’s not your own. It will increase your knowledge of another culture, and lots of exciting food…
  • Spend a few weeks on a cultural study programme. There are, for example, several schemes where students can visit China, with everything paid for except the airfare.
Our resources
  • The Student Consultancy – designed to develop a range of employability skills, irrespective of whether you want to become a consultant!
  • Insight Into Business – a termly programme of three workshops designed to develop your commercial awareness and demystify business.
  • Business Mentoring – one-to-one appointments with our Entrepreneur in Residence to help you get your own business idea off the ground.
External resources

Student Societies

There is no comprehensive central list of student societies at Oxford University. The following websites offer long, patchy lists, however:

Other activities

For other extra-curricular activities, see our suggested links in the list of skills above. Remember too that any work experience will provide evidence of a mix of employability skills.

This information was last updated on 14 September 2016.
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Recent blogs about How to Prove or Improve your Skills

Making the Most of Your Internship

Blogged by Rosanna Mills on November 9, 2017.
  • When: Wednesday 29 November, 12.30-13.30
  • Where: The Careers Service
  • Book: via CareerConnect

If you are participating in a micro-internship this term, or planning any kind of internship in the near future, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead and work out how you can really benefit. How can you make an impact? How can you impress your employer? What can you do to maximise your experience for the future?

All of these questions and more will be answered at our event next week. Join us to hear essential advice from Careers Service staff and gain an insight from our guest speakers: a current host from the Stockholm Environmental Institute, a previous micro-intern for The Nasio Trust who is now employed by the charity, and a Trinity Term 2017 micro-intern.

Although the event finishes at 13.30, you are welcome to join us afterwards for tea and coffee, and to chat with other interns and our speakers. Come prepared with all your internship questions!

Booking is required for this event, and is now open on CareerConnect.

Competitions galore

Blogged by Hugh Nicholson-Lailey on October 31, 2017.

Lots of firms across all industry sectors run competitions that students can enter, often in teams of 2 – 5. Competitions may be run locally (and exclusively for Oxford students) or opened globally with eye-catching prizes and finalists being flown out to an exotic location for the last round of judging.

A little bit of google-work will quickly lead to sites that bring these together (e.g Student Competitions), but you may also hear about competitions directly from firms at our Career Fairs or via email shots.

Individual companies sometimes pitch competitions to us directly, such as Rolls Royce – who have just launched a data visualisation competition open to anyone with a creative problem-solving mindset. Everything they need to know about the competition can be found on their dedicated online portal on the  Rolls Royce – where you can also register to take part and win a ten-week internship with the RR Digital team.

There are also third party platforms that partner with firms to run competitions. For example, Agorize are currently promoting 4 team competitions in healthcare, eco-energy innovation, airport planning and business strategy and prizes that include a ’round the world ticket’, flights and the chance to see your project integrated into the company’s business.

European competitions:

International competitions:

So why not scan the horizon, pull together a team and give it a try?

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