Relating extra-curricular activities to the skills employers want

30 January 2017 | Careers Advice | Guest Author

You are about to leave school or college and are applying for apprenticeships. Thankfully, you continued playing the piano or football with your local team; you may have managed to get involved in sports, music or perhaps the debating club. Great, you are equipped with qualifications, extra-curricular activities and of course a great personality and an irresistible smile.

The specification for that apprenticeship scheme includes terms such as ‘motivation,' ‘self-starter,' ‘team player.' So, all you need do is list your qualifications, your various activities, and state that you are a self-starter, a good team player and of course you are highly motivated. What could go wrong?

Well, the reality is that lots can and does go wrong! Where is the evidence to prove you are a self-motivated team player? Believe it or not your evidence lies with your extra-curricular activities.

Over the years you have developed a basket of personal skills while participating in different extra-curricular activities. These skills are transferable and greatly valued by employers; a reported 70% of businesses say that students that have done extra-curricular activities standout, and 64% say they tend to be more successful (World Challenge report, 2015).

Employers are keen on applicants who have done a range of extra-curricular activities because those applicants are likely to have developed relevant transferable skills such as teamwork, leadership, conflict and crisis management, motivation and communication. While students increasingly recognise this, they do not necessarily know how best to uncouple these desired transferable skills from activities such as playing a musical instrument or being on a sports team. Similarly, how do you explain that you understand the transferability of these skills to the work environment?

You can organise the skills gained from extra-curricular activities into four groups.

Grouping Extra-Curricular activities:

Personal Characteristics/Skills Positive Mental Qualities Interpersonal Skills Intrapersonal Skills Employment Application and Awareness
Adaptability Independent travel abroad      
Commercial Awareness       Part-time work
Competitiveness Individual or team sports      
Leadership Captaining a sports team Chairing a society    
Negotiating   Staff-student committee    
Planning & Organising     Organising an event  
Problem Solving     Playing chess Allocating society funds
Self-motivation Training for a marathon   Learning an instrument  
Teamwork   Playing in an orchestra   Fundraising
Communication   Performing in a play Debate  

Having a set of personal skills is a start, but to what extent can you apply them when in varied and different situations? Transferability.

Transferability is influenced by the degree to which the extra-curricular activity and the work environment are similar. The transfer occurs more easily when the two situations are similar (near transfer); being appointed head boy and being promoted to section manager. However, far transfer - when the two environments are significantly different, presents the opportunity for greater overall impact. An example of this could be applying aspects of the regimented approach from the cadets to working in Research & Development.

Personal characteristics such as being self-assured, the ability to relate well with others and having a learning and transfer mindset also influence transferability. First, there must be a willingness to learn and to absorb information. Once learnt, but only then, is there the potential to apply what has been learned to other environments or situations. One must, however, be able to recognise similarities between situations, a talent that can be developed by successfully being involved in a wide range of settings and with different people.

So, get involved and whatever you do, don’t shy away from pressing home the breadth and depth of the transferable skills that you have gained.

Ambroz Neil

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