Online and self-directed skills development

See our employability skills briefing, which introduces eight core transferable skills and provides ideas for developing them.

In many sectors there are other highly relevant skills and knowledge you can learn that will help you when you come to apply for jobs.

If you develop some specific industry-relevant skills and build your technical knowledge and expertise, you can demonstrate real interest and motivation. This can place you ahead of other candidates by enhancing your attractiveness to employers in a sector.

Expand All

It is good to broaden your knowledge through additional study and research, if you can extend your learning on a practical project, it will build evidence that shows how you applied these skills to good effect.

Follow your interests and career goals, and consider acquiring new skills relevant to the industry and role(s) in which you are most interested. For example, if you’re interested in working in:

  • Publishing: learn how to use InDesign or other desk top publishing tools;
  • Policy or think tank roles: learn how to use STATA and R statistical software;
  • Software engineering: make a start in learning to code, or building websites, attend hackathons, and create personal projects visible on Github;
  • Data analysis: learn more advanced techniques in Excel, or start to explore R and Python which are widely used for advanced analysis of large datasets.

You shouldn’t have to pay. There are now many free resources and courses available online, which are both free and excellent, particularly for beginners and refresher or intermediate learning programmes. More advanced courses can be highly specialised and are more likely to involve a fee, but do research whether there are any free options. Places you can start looking include:

  • As a student at Oxford, Molly, the University’s IT Services Learning Platform, offers free access to a vast array of options, including full access to Linkedin Learning.
  • Look for MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) and other free courses, but make a judgement about the quality of the provider. Reputable sites, such as OpenLearn (from the UK’s Open University), Future Learn and Coursera offer long and short courses from many of the world’s top universities, and many are free.
  • Join a student society and participate in training offered by them – if there isn’t anything yet, why not set up a training programme for the society and invite support from alumni and employers in the sector?

Remember, the goal is to begin to develop skills beyond those acquired in your degree. Importantly, while you can use this to demonstrate your commitment and interest to an industry or role, graduate employers do not expect you to be an expert before you join them. Good employers will be fully committed to your training once you are working for them and asking firms about the training they offer new hires is a good point of focus in your career research.

The websites mentioned above offer a very a wide range of course subjects and content, and it is important to have some idea about the skill(s) you are trying to learn and the level of expertise you wish to gain. Be led by your research of the individual field, business sector and role(s) that you are targeting.

  • Start with the Occupation and Sector briefings from the Careers Service, which provide ideas and resources for building your skills and gaining experience.
  • Look at job profiles on graduate careers websites, such as Prospects and TargetJobs, and review the job descriptions for the roles you are considering.
  • Review information provided by professional and industry bodies, and also use industry publications and websites as they will often have information on training courses and tool kits that are relevant for the industry.
  • Seek information and ideas through the career pages of individual firms and look to see whether they are offering online and on-campus training events, or webinars and other information sessions where you might ask for ideas and advice.

Employers anticipate that graduates in general, and Oxford students in particular, will be capable and fast learners. Developing and using skills in your academic work is one channel to reinforce this working assumption, whilst taking an additional course or following self-directed learning can demonstrate further commitment. However, taking the next step and putting what you have learned into practice is a much more powerful and persuasive way to provide evidence to employers that you have practical knowledge (rather than theoretical) which could be of use to them.

As you complete any course or additional training, seek out opportunities or create practical experiences where you can use your new skills. Consider running you own projects, volunteer to do something for an individual or organisation, or look for ways to become more hands-on in a society or any other extracurricular activity.

For most companies, if you have some relevant work experience this is even more attractive as it is most likely to reflect the kind of work and day-to-day experience in their sector and business.  Any practical application of your skills can be highly persuasive, whether it is:

  • short-term work experience through a micro-internship;
  • regular hands-on experience by volunteering or within a society role;
  • practical experience with an employability programme run by the Careers Service – such as The Oxford Strategy ChallengeThe Student ConsultancyResearch Strategy Consultancy and The Agency;
  • work experience and internships of all kinds – the closer this experience is to the sector, company and position that you are targeting, the more directly relevant the experience will appear to hiring organisations.


There are near limitless possibilities and it will be useful to take time to identify what is of greatest interest to you personally and of most relevance to prospective employers.

Molly, the University’s IT Services Learning Platform, provides access to thousands of free online courses across a vast range of activities. Courses range from tips and advice on skills such as communication, teamwork and leadership, to technical skills and tools from beginner and entry level to expert. It is well worth investing time to get to know the platform and investigate what is available there.

When looking in a more targeted way, use our sector-specific guidance and ask for advice from alumni working at the firms in which you are interested about what would be the most useful skills to develop. As a very brief introduction, here are some possibilities:

  • Advertising and Marketing: use the free Google Analytics Academy to develop an edge in the data collection and measurement tools behind online engagement.
  • Business analyst roles: develop intermediate or higher-level skills in Excel and explore data visualisation tools and methods with IT Services free courses.
  • Business and General Management: the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Knowledge Bank on Leadership and Management provides guides and best practices covering a wide set of skills and challenges, including goal setting, problem solving, motivating teams as well as strategy implementation and decision making.
  • Cloud computing: AWS Educate, Amazon’s free and comprehensive resources for building skills in the cloud.
  • Data analysis and machine learning jobs: Start with basics in R, Python and SQL with Datacamp, LinkedIn Learning via Molly or other providers.
  • Digital skills: If you looking for a starting point to develop these skills, consider Skills Toolkit, the UK government’s new online platform, offering free courses on numeracy, marketing, data analysis and digital skills (many levels).
  • Entrepreneurship: Use the Enterprising Oxford portal as a gateway to find regular and one-off events and support, including workshops on understanding IP, free online entrepreneurship resources from Vitae and work led by the Oxford Foundry.
  • Financial Services: Join the ICAEW’s USS scheme and take the first six qualifying exams for their professional accountancy qualifications.
  • Law: use insidesherpa.comwhere, through virtual “internships” (more akin to online courses with exercises) with law firms eg Linklaters, Pinsent Masons, White & Case students can learn and practice  the practical skills required of lawyers eg  client pitching & communication, email & memo drafting, legal research, giving practical advice and so on.
  • Publishing: Learn InDesign or other useful publishing tools – try LinkedIn Learning via Molly.
  • TV and Film: Start by reviewing ideas and options for training with, an industry-led body that provides insight, career development and other opportunities to help grow for the screen industries.

Looking for more?

Check the CareerConnect platform for all our upcoming events and opportunities, book appointments, find jobs and internships, and more.

Login to CareerConnect