Student confidence affects employability, progression and participation: and with academics increasingly being judged on the basis of these, it’s important to find ways we can help.
Research has shown that while students from a public-school background are actually less likely than state-school students to earn 1st or 2:1 degrees, they still are more likely to waltz into graduate positions (see Boffey, 2013). Some of that can be put down to contacts made whilst at school, but employers will tell you that a great deal of it is to do with confidence. Confidence shows when an applicant with no or little experience says just the right thing to indicate he or she is ready to join the team and tackle new tasks. It shows when applicants feel secure enough to look recruiters in the eye and hold their own in discussions.
Confidence based on nothing, however, is ultimately meaningless. For that reason, universities trying to help students bridge the state/public school gap encourage students to take on voluntary posts, reach for leadership positions at work or on campus, and put their best work forward for competitions. When students know they have really accomplished something, their confidence will be more than shallow self-regard.
Specific to supporting students into work (graduate jobs or work during their time at university), careers advisors and lecturers should provide instructions on how to research potential employers and use that information to best advantage. Having that background knowledge will help them formulate strong, informed responses at interviews, and develop good questions to ask recruiters. Internships can also help, although it’s important to insist that interns are given real opportunities, not used as free secretarial/administrative labour. And before undertaking internships, students should practice asking for a chance to do what they actually came for, creating their own opportunities if need be.
But confidence is about more than just getting a job. It plays a major role in keeping students on track while they’re at university, and helping them make the most of their opportunities while there. Sometimes all that’s needed is a lecturer who takes the time to talk individually with students—PDP meetings or just after a tutorial are a good time—and suggest ways they can get more involved with non-academic campus activities, get more out of group project work, or feel able to contribute in class.
Self- and peer-assessment activities can also be useful in helping students see, in black and white, what they are actually good at and the skills they have that others hold in high regard.
Creating and promoting activities that aim to bring out the best in students is also important. For example, a small amount of money for a cash prize can motivate multiple students to do things like create a business plan, think of a great idea for improving their campus or city, or submit their best written work. Just remember that many students will need a quiet word in their ear from a trusted lecturer before they dare to try. Personal encouragement—even just a few words of suggestion at the top of a well-written essay—can make a real difference.
Boffey, David (2013) “State school graduates failing to reach job potential, study finds,” Guardian, 12 January. [Accessed 12 July 2014]