Making the most of the university experience

With a fresh academic year just around the corner, a new book by two York University professors shows students how to turn their studies into skills that will make employers sit up and take notice.

Professors Tom Klassen and John Dwyer have co-authored Flourishing in University and Beyond (2005), which offers crucial tips on how students can approach their courses as a practical training ground for professional success.

Their number one rule: choose the courses you love, not the ones you think will translate into the best-paying position. This is especially important for students just entering university.

Left: John Dwyer

“Don’t take accounting if really you want to write, even if the job market for accountants is better,” says Dwyer, a professor in the Business & Society Program, in York’s Faculty of Arts. “The best route to meaningful work is to do what you’re good at and what you like doing. Employers can smell enthusiasm a mile away – roughly the same distance as an impostor.”

More tips include:

Join in: Even if you aren’t required to work in groups, volunteer to tutor classmates or sign up for extracurricular activities. Employers will want to know that you can thrive as part of a team.

Learn to think outside the textbook: Creativity can be learned by taking a leap and trying new things. In presentations, devise a different or unconventional way of communicating information. Put extra thought into your introductory paragraphs of essays or reports. You may not have creative licence all the time, but learning to think flexibly and navigate around existing structures will be prized by a future boss.

Get organized: Keep on top of assignments by devising a time-management system that works for you. You should be able to prioritize tasks and slot enough time for each, especially when the work load is heavy (i.e. around exam time). The ability to multi-task while keeping on top of deadlines is valued highly by employers.

Go beyond Google: Visit the library and get acquainted with the resources in your chosen field. Employers will expect you to be able to find relevant information and disseminate it accurately and quickly.

Give yourself room for improvement: Instead of throwing that essay together the night before, allow yourself enough time for a second draft and careful proofreading. Employers are looking for people with critical abilities and problem-solving skills; a good way to learn is to practice on your own work first.

Speak up: If you’re shy or have trouble speaking in public, start small by volunteering answers to questions in class or actively participating in discussion in lecture groups and tutorials. Top notch verbal communication skills will help you land that job, and keep it.

Flourishing in University and Beyond contains chapters devoted to each of the four skill sets most in-demand by employers: communicating, problem-solving, teamwork and adaptability. It explains the mechanics of the post-university job search, including creative tips for networking and interviewing. The book also touches on the delicate transition from school to work and what new grads can expect during their first year of employment, and how to cope with these challenges.

Right: Tom Klassen

“Many employers complain that new hires have state-of-the-art knowledge, but an inability to apply it to real world situations,” says Klassen, a professor and coordinator of the Public Policy & Administration Program, in the Political Science Department of York’s Faculty of Arts. “But nearly all the skills you will learn and use in your courses are the identical ones you will need for an interesting, challenging and well-paying job.”

Flourishing in University and Beyond is available at the York University Bookstore next week. It expands on its previous edition, A Practical Guide to Getting a Great Job After University, published in 2003.