Robyn Townsend

Why Your Skills Matter More Than What You Studied

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It's that time of year in the UK when exam results come out. And young adults are filled with relief or disappointment over their achievements. I wish I could say your exam results don't matter to prospective universities. Of course, they do. However, I can tell you that down the line often it doesn't matter what you studied, but the skills you have do.
Let's go back a few years. I finished secondary school with acceptable grades and all I wanted to be was an artist. I hadn't cultivated any engineering skills at all. In fact, I wasn't allowed to study electronics as I was the only girl that applied for the class. (That's a conversation for another day).
From there I went to study Glass and Ceramics at the University of Sunderland. And I did have a career as an artist for a while.
But, now I am working full time as an engineer helping businesses build new products. Did my background in applied arts make that difficult?
Absolutely not!
In fact, it helped me stand out. My transferrable skills made me a stronger candidate than others with formal engineering credentials.
Why? Because employers are usually looking at more than your educational background. Employers are interested in your skills and what you can bring to the team.
Of course, this won't apply across the board. I would be very worried if an organisation offered me a job as a surgeon or an airline pilot. Yet most qualifications will allow you to gain skills that will apply to a range of industries.
This research from the United States has looked at what field professionals end up in. They found that while a large number of graduates went on to employment in a job that requires a degree. Only 27% in a field that matched their qualifications.
In the UK the results are pretty similar with graduates often swapping their specialisms shortly after graduating.
In fact, most people have changed completely by the time they reach their 30's.
So I am not an unusual case.
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So why study for a degree at all?

Going to university is much more common than it used to be. In the '60s only 4% of people went to university compared to over 40% now, as shown in this article.
So whilst in the past, you were almost guaranteed a job when you graduated, today that might not be the case. Now having a degree, no matter what field it is in, might be a prerequisite for many employers. But this is not the case across the board!
Most importantly further education allows you to figure out what you enjoy doing. You get the chance to discover where your skills and weaknesses are.
Take my degree as an example. Studying glass and ceramics taught me public speaking. How to perform under pressure from having to defend work in critical assessments.
I learned creative problem-solving skills from correcting all the things that got smashed!
It taught me to look at things from different perspectives. It taught me to refine my time management and deal with multiple deadlines at once.
And finally, it taught me not to be too precious about things that don't work out.
All in all, I learned that I enjoy making things, especially for other people. And that I am good at helping people bring their ideas to life.
You might have found it hard to connect art to engineering. But all these skills feed directly into what I do now.
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Thinking of a change?

You might be thinking, well this is great and all but how you transition from one industry to another?
For me, it has been down to hard work and dedication. I have never known what I want to do long term, but I have given my best to the opportunities that came my way.
In the end, it all boils down to jumping on the chances that come by and being someone that people can rely on.

Gain Skills

As I said before skills matter more than your educational background to employers. So whether you are off to study your undergraduate in September or you graduated years ago. Try to develop valuable skills that can be useful whatever you do next.
This might be technical skills like coding or project management. Or soft skills like time management, conflict resolution & resilience.
And don't forget even when you've graduated that doesn't mean you should stop learning. Places like Udemy & Skillshare are great ways to learn new things online. There is also loads of free content available at Open Learn.

Get Experience

The most challenging thing about a career change is demonstrating the right experience. Remember that you don't always need experience in the job you are applying for. But you will often need to show experience in relevant roles.
If you can, volunteer for organisations and get involved in clubs and associations.
I've lost count of the number of internships I did as an undergraduate. And I will still volunteer for local projects to gain experience if it's something out of my comfort zone.
Need some tips on how to manage learning & work, check my recent post with 10 productivity tips here.

Build Your Network

Finally, start building your network. There are countless meetups and societies on every topic in the UK. The events they run are all golden opportunities to grow your connections.
Finding opportunities is 100 times easier when people know who you are and what you are looking for.
Don't know where to start?
Look for events on and set up a LinkedIn account if you haven't already.
Have you had a different experience?
Have changed careers or are you still in the same field you started in? Leave a comment below and let's start a conversation.