Octane: Develop your employability skills | The Careers Service Octane: Develop your employability skills – Oxford University Careers Service
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As well as your technical and academic skills, there are other skills that any employer looks for when deciding who they want to work with, be they academic researchers, government, business, non-governmental organisations, public or private sector. While there are many lists of these ’employability’ skills, at Oxford we focus on the key eight skills – based on the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)’s report, Future Fit. We call this the Octane framework.

We recommend that you consider your current set of Octane skills, and find opportunities of improving them while at Oxford.

You’ll develop some of these skills within your course, but employers like to see them also developed through extra-curricular or co-curricular work. The Careers Service offers lots of ways of developing these too.

We describe the skills – and ways to prove or improve them – below.

Business Awareness

“Understanding what makes organisations successful, including the importance of innovation, and satisfying customers and other key players.”

Developing the mindset

These ideas are ways to start thinking about business awareness. You’re unlikely to use these as evidence of business skills in a written application, but they might be things you reference to demonstrate an ongoing interest.

  • Read about business in the FT, Economist etc.
  • Subscribe to sector based magazines or other publications.
  • Attend an insight day or employer presentations.
  • Take part in consulting case studies run by The Careers Service, advertised on CareerConnect.
  • Read business related autobiographies.

Short-term activities

These are all quick ways you can boost your business awareness, and mention in applications.

  • Budget for a complex travelling trip, or for a summer project.
  • Take part in a college Telethon fundraising event.
  • Raise funds for charity with a student society.
  • Attend the Building a Business course at the Saïd Business School.
  • Compete in Management Consulting case competitions.
  • Participate in online investment competitions.
  • Get involved in relevant student societies, such as Oxford Entrepreneurs, or the Oxford Guild.
  • Work part-time in your college bar.
  • Negotiate with a local business to give a discount to members of a student society you belong to.
  • Do a Micro-internship.
  • Consult for a local organisation (even if voluntary) or student society.
  • Suggest ways to improve efficiency at work, resulting in time or cost savings.
  • Sign up for the Enterprising Oxford newsletter, engage in their events at SBS and across the University.

Medium-term commitments

  • Volunteer regularly, for example via OxHub.
  • Join The Student Consultancy to get an insight into a local business.
  • Manage the budget for a student society, college club, newspaper, event.
  • Apply for an internship – for example, through our Summer Internship Programme. There are lots of different opportunities out there – see our page on finding work experience for tips.
  • Participate in Insight into Business – our termly programme designed to raise commercial awareness and demystify business.
  • Sell a skill! If you’re a member of a band for example, organise some gigs that will provide remuneration.

Long-term commitments

  • Organise an event that has to turn a profit, such as a concert, ball or a college bop.
  • 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.
Communication

Building rapport and feeling confident engaging others through listening, observing, writing, and presenting.

Developing the mindset

These ideas are ways to start enhancing your communication skills. You’re unlikely to use these as evidence of communication skills in a written application, but they might be things you reference in conversation at interview.

  • Debate ideas with friends – in person, on facebook and on whatsapp.
  • Initiate conversations with strangers. This can help you gain confidence in networking. Our Careers Fairs are great places to try this out.
  • Watch TED Talks about better presentations.
  • Write essays, and present your ideas in tutorials.
  • Arrange a couple of information interviews.

Short-term activities

These are all quick ways you can boost your business awareness, and can refer to in applications.

  • Deliver information to others in your own subject area – for example in a dissertation, or in a presentation on a research topic.
  • Write an article or review for a student publication, or for a national special interest magazine.
  • Take the Springboard course for female students.
  • Enter an essay competition.
  • Join societies, especially ones that involve debating.
  • Make publicity materials for a society or event.
  • Be responsible for social media for your Common Room or a student society.
  • Persuade guest speakers to attend a society event you are helping to organise.
  • Support college admissions with outreach work – for example by helping out at Open Days.
  • Visit schools to encourage students to apply to Oxford.
  • Secure corporate sponsorship for a club.
  • Create a YouTube presentation that explain an aspect of your course to people not doing a degree in your subject.
  • Take part in a college telethon fundraising campaign, encouraging alumni to donate.
  • Take part in Media Training if you are Research Staff. Research Councils sponsor these TV & Radio .training workshops at Oxford University.

Medium-term commitments

  • Create your own website / blog or twitter feed on your research for lay audiences.
  • Mentor students in years below you, or volunteer to tutor local schoolchildren.
  • Train with and volunteer for Nightline.
  • Write a regular blog on a subject of interest – or record your own podcasts.
  • 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.
  • Devise a marketing campaign for a student society, campaign or a college event.
  • Get involved in drama or team sports.
  • Learn a new language.

Longer-term commitments

  • Get really involved with any of the medium-term activities above!
  • Run a campaign about something important to you.
  • Consider ways to increase your leadership skills (below) – as being an effective leader relies heavily on communication.
Creativity

Being curious and innovative. Creativity is not just about aesthetics – it’s about disruption, variation and risk-taking.

Developing the mindset

These ideas are ways to start becoming more creative. You’re unlikely to use these as evidence of creativity in a written application, but they might be things you reference in conversation at interview.

  • Get into a creative mindset by trying to find a new route to lectures each day.
  • Brainstorm ideas with friends.
  • Talk to people who do things you don’t do.
  • Attend a lecture on a subject different to your own.
  • Try something new! Try art, music, dance, poetry, or creative writing – either on your own or with a society. You might find a new hobby…

Short-term activities

These are all quick ways you can boost your creativity, and you could refer to in applications.

  • Take up a new sport, learn a new musical instrument, join a choir, take up dancing… Try a new hobby, and see if it sticks!
  • Arrange to travel to new places, in new ways.

Medium-term commitments

  • Develop your own website, or offer to build one for a student society. (There’s no need to code it – but you could do this too if you like).
  • Approach a charity with a suggestion of how you might volunteer a specific skill.
  • Think of a unique fundraising event for a charity.
  • Work, travel or volunteer abroad. Our Summer Internship Programme offers lots of opportunities to do this.
  • Make something new happen in your college, department, or in a society.
  • ‘Up-skill’ yourself. Take a course at the Oxford Language Centre, or a free computing course at IT services.

Long-term commitments

  • Found a new society.
  • Apply for Laidlaw internships. These give you funding to do research of your choice, in leading institutions worldwide.
  • Turn a creative hobby into a semi-professional activity. Get published, exhibit, or get paid for performance.
Initiative

Analysing facts and situations and being proactive in developing new solutions or approaches. Initiating an activity rather than “joining in”.

Developing the mindset

These ideas are ways to start taking the initiative. You’re unlikely to use these as evidence of initiative in a written application, but they might be things you reference in conversation at interview.

  • Suggest activities to do with your group of friends, and make it happen. Don’t just be responsive.
  • Use social media to network.
  • Arrange a couple of information interviews.
  • Solve minor problems in your department/college in conjunction with staff. For example, issues which affect your mail room, catering, or welfare support.
  • Know when to seek help or advice!
  • Read about people who have taken the initiative.

Short-term activities

These are all quick ways you could take the initiative, and you could refer to in applications.

  • Solve a problem, or make something new happen in your college, department, or in a society.
  • Organise your own work experience by making a speculative application.
  • Take part in Oxford Entrepreneurs‘ 3 day pitch

Medium-term commitments

  • Volunteer – for example with Nightline, or with local community initiatives through Oxford Hub.
  • Learn, or teach yourself, a new skill that might be helpful in your career – for example coding.
  • Join The Student Consultancy and solve a real business problem for a local organisation.
  • Create a new speaker series for your department or a society.

Longer-term commitments

  • Apply for Laidlaw internships. These give you funding to do research of your choice, in leading institutions worldwide.
  • Start a campaign about something you care about, and get others involved.
  • Start your own business or social enterprise.
  • Set up a society, journal or club.
  • Set up an Oxford student arm of a professional organisation or a charity.
Leadership

Motivating, influencing, and guiding others including by providing vision and demonstrating integrity.

Developing the mindset

These ideas are ways to start thinking about leadership. You’re unlikely to use these as evidence of leadership skills in a written application, but they might be things you reference in conversation at interview.

  • Suggest activities to do with your group of friends, and make it happen. Don’t just be responsive.
  • Read leaders’ biographies.
  • Listen to shows and podcasts, such as Life Scientific, Desert Island Discs, and In our Time.
  • Attend lectures from people who are leaders in their fields when they visit Oxford – at the Union, in your department, at the Oxford Martin School and with societies.
  • Get inspiration from TED talks and other leaders and speakers.

Short-term activities

These are all quick ways you can start developing leadership skills, and you could refer to in applications.

  • Gather a team together to enter a competition, or a charity run.
  • Become a “parent” for Freshers in your college or department.
  • Organise a holiday for yourself and a group of friends.
  • There aren’t many short-term leadership activities you can do: most require commitment. However, in order to be a leader, you normally must get heavily involved in a team activity! See opportunities for developing teamwork skills in the last section, below.

Medium-term commitments

  • Be the student representative for an organisation that recruits or campaigns at Oxford.
  • Take leadership training or accreditation.
  • Propose and facilitate gatherings of researchers from different disciplines to brainstorm new ideas.
  • Join the Oxford University Officers’ Training Corps, which builds leadership skills.
  • Supervise others during a part-time job or vacation work.
  • 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.

Longer-term commitments

  • Take a position of responsibility in your Common Room – or, if you’re Research Staff, Oxford’s Research Staff Society
  • Run a student society, or take responsibility for one aspect of a society such as Sponsorship or Finance.
  • Take on role of Captain of sports team, or stand for president of a society
  • Produce or direct a play.
  • Organise an event, such as a ball or conference.
  • Become the editor of a large publication.
Planning

Scheduling workflow, planning resources, managing your own time, multi-tasking, and meeting objectives.

Developing the mindset

These ideas are ways to start planning effectively. You might use these as evidence of planning skills in a written application if you haven’t been involved in larger projects. Either way, you’re likely to be asked about how you organise yourself at interview, so these are useful things to do!

  • Set time aside to plan when starting a major activity.
  • Make revision timetables.
  • Make monthly and annual budgets, and stick to them!
  • Research different methods of planning – including the different tools available, and consider which suits you best. For example…
  • Use a diary or calendar.
  • Keep a “to-do list”.
  • Control your emails.
  • Download and use notification apps on your phone.

Short-term activities

These are all easy ways you can develop your planning skills, and can refer to in applications.

  • Plan an expedition, travel, or volunteer abroad.
  • 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.
  • Organise an away day for sports club etc.
  • Arrange your own travel itinerary on vacation – such as inter-railing.
  • Craft solutions to contingencies you might encounter (eg. finding resources for college events, securing bridging money between research contracts).

Medium-term commitments

  • Get involved with any extra-curricular activities while at Oxford – from membership of societies to part-time work. The ability to simultaneously juggle multiple activities and get a good grade is really effective evidence of an ability to plan.
  • Define responsibilities early when starting a collaborative task.
  • Volunteer to organise your Common Room’s annual elections.
  • Coordinate aspects of the Freshers Fair or other OUSU events.
  • Plan fieldwork or a research project.
  • Get involved with community projects.
  • Organise speaker series for society.

Longer-term commitments

  • Organise a campaign, ball, conference, or other large event.
  • Become the editor of a student publication, such as a newspaper, website or yearbook.
Self-Management

Accepting responsibility, being resilient and appropriately assertive. Reflecting, taking feedback, and developing yourself.

Developing the mindset

These ideas are ways you might manage your own development effectively. You’re unlikely to use these as evidence of self-management skills in a written application, but they might be things you reference at interview.

  • Learn from your mistakes!
  • Take control of your personal development by setting goals, and work out routes to achieve them.
  • Learn how to manage stress, for example with relaxation techniques.
  • Manage your time with active use of a diary.
  • Identify when and why you procrastinate, and find ways to avoid it. For example – schedule time into your day when you do nothing.
  • Set up and track career plans.
  • Focus your use of social media to further your career goals.
  • Take part in Springboard – a holistic development workshop for women.
  • Book one of our regular MBTI sessions through CareerConnect. Knowing your personality type, and how it affects your work, is a useful first step to self-management.

Medium-term & long-term commitments

  • Do anything that requires commitment, to demonstrate sticking power.
  • Do something that require training to complete, such as running a marathon.
Teamwork

Respecting others, co-operating, collaborating, negotiating, persuading, and contributing to discussions or joint projects. Successfully achieving a joint goal.

Developing the mindset

These ideas are ways to start thinking about and researching good teamwork skills. You can’t use these as evidence of teamwork skills in a written application – as they don’t involve teamwork! – but they might be things you reference at interview.

  • Remember that how you perceive yourself is not always how others perceive you.
  • Research Belbin and other team effectiveness models.
  • Read business articles on teams and teamwork.
  • Analyse great teams eg. In sport, F1 Pit crews, sky roadrace.
  • Go to a taster class in dancing, singing, or a sport.

Short-term activities

You’re unlikely to use these as evidence of teamwork skills in a written application if you have examples from other lists – but they might be things you reference at interview.

  • Have fun with a low ropes course.
  • Tackle an Escape Room game.
  • Play collaborative board games, or bridge.
  • Turn tutorials into team exercise; review others work, allowing each other to provide positive .feedback to jointly improve your skills.
  • Work with other “parents” in Freshers week to help new students.
  • Sign up for the Springboard programme.
  • Take part in our annual “Civil Service Policy Game” – advertised on CareerConnect. It’s a team activity used in the Civil Service Fast Stream selection process.
  • If you’re a researcher – invite others from different disciplines to hear about each other’s work, or brainstorm potential collaborations.

Medium-term commitments

These are all good ways you can get teamwork experience, and can refer to in applications.

  • Join a sports team. There are dozens of student-run sports clubs, and many more for individual colleges. See Oxford University Sports for initial ideas.
  • Get involved in a choir, orchestra or band – or help produce a play.
  • Get involved in sub-committees in your Common Room or in a society. For example, volunteer to be part of the team that runs your college ball.
  • Choose to do group project work, if the option is offered on your course.
  • Join The Student ConsultancyOxAid, the Oxford Strategy Group, the Microfinance Initiative, or Oxford Biotechnology Roundtable – for consultancy work within a team.
  • Get involved with one of OUSU’s Campaigns. They promote many good causes, from mental health to racial equality.
  • Join the University Officer Training Core (UOTC)
  • Volunteer with a youth group, or a local community organisation.
  • Participate in employer competitions that require teamwork.

Longer-term commitments

  • Stand for election to a committee in your Common Room or with a student society – and contribute to their collective decision-making.
  • Become part of the student team that runs Oxford Hub.
This information was last updated on 15 November 2017.
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