Careers Service


It's easier to think about your skills if you have recent experiences to reflect on - what have you done during your degree, particularly any work experience, voluntary work, social activities where you've organised or interacted with others?

Find out what skills and experience employers value and figure out how you could develop these during your time at University.

Learn how to weave together all these strands of your life into a compelling story.

For a deeper insight into your skills, try using psychometric tools - it's a good idea to test yourself before an employer asks you to sit them for a job you really want.

Reflect - how are you doing?

If you're an undergraduate at the University of Manchester, try our My Future questionnaire (login to My Manchester required) to find out where you're strong and what you could do now to improve.

Want some further help?

Here are some resources and ideas to support you in:

  • Understanding your own skills
  • Understanding the skills valued by employers
  • Telling your story
  • Using psychometric tools to understand yourself better

Your own skills

Your degree helps you develop many skills beyond your core subject.

  • Programme handbooks and unit descriptors often highlight the additional skills you will develop.
  • Your School or programme may also have a skills audit you can do .

Skills can also come from any part-time jobs or work experience or social activities you take part in.

However, it's often hard to recognise your own skills, particularly the ones which come easily to you.

  • Not sure what skills you should be looking for? Try our online list of skills or download our Editable Employability Audit (Word document) for ideas.
  • Why not enlist the support of a friend and help each other articulate your strengths?
  • It's sometimes easier to start with something concrete - try describing to each other what you did last week/last month/over the summer. The person listening can pick out examples of where you were demonstrating eg. flexibility or decision making skills.
  • Describing to someone else what you've done is also good practice for interviews and constructing CVs and applications. You could get them to ask clarifying questions until you could describe your achievements to someone who doesn't know anything about you - such as an employer.

Skills valued by employers

Do you really need all the skills on our employability audit?

No! Different jobs look for different strengths - but not always the ones you might expect. Accountants need strong communication, interpersonal and teamworking skills as well as being able to manipulate a spreadsheet.

Employers normally include details of the skills they want in any job adverts or careers websites. Adverts have to be short so that will tell you the skills which are really important to that employer.

How can you find out which skills are generally needed in which careers?

  • Prospects - types of jobs With around 400 types of graduate job profiles, you can find out which skills employers want by job type. Pick out a job type you're interested in and under "Entry requirements", you can find the skills and qualifications employers need (and it's also got salaries ...)

Not sure which career you're interested in?

  • Prospects Planner You could try this online career matching tool and find out which careers are a good match for the skills you have.

Telling your story

There are lots of resources available to help you with CVs, applications and interviews (see Communicate), but simply recounting what you've done only gets you part way there.

Reflecting on what you've done and on what the employer wants, and linking them together with interesting and distinctive examples is what turns a run-of-the-mill application into one which gets short-listed.

Are there any threads running through your life which will strike a chord with an employer?

  • For example, have you taken apart electronic equipment from an early age, built your own PC, and set up a network for your housemates? Even if your degree is geography rather than computer science, many IT consultancy firms would find your background very interesting.

Can you illustrate your skills with examples beyond your degree?

  • A few degree-based examples are fine, but everyone else on your course could give the same examples.

In your work or social life, what have you done which had a specific end result? Was it quantifiable?

  • For example, "I raised £600 for charity as a team of 5 by organising an end-of-term ball, negotiating £200 of sponsorship from a local pizza take-away".

Have you had any unusual or distinctive jobs, or had to take on extra responsibility?

  • Have you spent a summer working in a completely new environment, either location or type of workplace?
  • Working in a family business, such as a local take-away or on a farm, could give you real commercial awareness and resourcefulness from an early age.
  • A summer picking fruit at local fruit farm could turn into a short-term business as a supplier to all your friends and family.

What has been your proudest achievement within a job so far?

  • For example, you might have worked in a call-centre, but what about the call you took where you had to deal with a crisis - which got you an "employee of the month" award?

Psychometric tools

These can be important in two ways:

  • Positive - they can be used to help you understand where you are strong and also how you might appear to other people.
  • Less positive - they are sometimes used as tests which you will need to pass to get into certain jobs.

Psychometric tools to help you

Personality questionnaires - there are no wrong or right answers with these, and they are not timed.

  • Could give you feedback on your key strengths - good for applications.
  • Can give you insights into how you appear to other people, and which other personality types you find it difficult or easy to get along with - useful for assessment centres.

As a University of Manchester student, you have access to a free online personality questionnaire, the Type Dynamics Indicator, plus a Learning Styles Indicator:

Psychometric tools to test you

Verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning tests - these are timed, with clear right and wrong answers.

  • Often used by larger employers in their competitive "graduate schemes"
  • If you take these early in your degree, could give you feedback on areas to focus on during your degree.

As a University of Manchester student, you have access to free reasoning tests:

Taken a test and not done as well as you'd hoped?

  • Don't panic - you may not have done as badly as you think. You're measured against other students, so by definition, most students taking the tests will be "average".
  • If you have a disability such as dyslexia, you may be entitled to extra time for tests used by employers.
  • If it's early in your degree, you have time to improve before you apply for jobs for after you graduate.
  • If you don't think you can improve or really hate these tests - you could simply apply for jobs which don't use tests.

Which jobs use these tests?

  • Mainly jobs with larger employers, where they expect lots of students or graduates to apply, such as the high profile "Graduate Schemes".

Which jobs don't use these tests?

  • Most jobs - especially with smaller employers, creative and media jobs, jobs in universities, jobs where they need specialist skills, jobs where interpersonal skills are more important ... the list is endless.
  • Even large employers who use tests for a high-profile graduate scheme often recruit graduates into other jobs which may not use tests.

If you have your heart set on a career where tests are used but you struggle to get through them, why not talk to someone in your preferred career, or in the Careers Service, to see if there are other routes in.

It may take longer to get where you want to be but it may not be impossible.