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The 21st Century Graduate: Lessons to Stay Ahead

01/08/2014 11:50 BST | Updated 01/10/2014 10:59 BST

At Enternships we oversee thousands of graduates taking their first steps into the world of work; whilst the economy is showing signs of recovery and job opportunities are increasing there is also an increasing amount of competition for every graduate job. This means that if you are joining the race you have to be prepared for what the world of work entails. Here are three top lessons to stay ahead as a 21st Century graduate.

Welcome to the career helta-skelta:

Step off the education treadmill and prepare for the unpredictable world of work

There was a time when procedures and predictability were the norms in the world of work. The Henry Ford "Model T" conveyor belt method of production dominated business thought and practice but in the age of the knowledge economy and exponential spread of information and proliferation of technology that model is redundant.

Our education system hasn't necessarily adapted to this change and in many ways still reflects an education system fit for the Victorian era, designed with predictability in mind. We jump from Primary to Secondary school to College and perhaps University and then we are thrust into the world with a sense that this predictable system will remain the same, looking for that next 'safety net' - perhaps a graduate training scheme or maybe a Masters to defer the eventual and slightly scary foray into the world of work?

In reality the world of work is far from linear and increasingly chaotic. Gone are the days of the 'career ladder' and instead we are faced with the career 'helta skelta."

As a result a premium must be placed on 21st century graduates developing the skills to adapt to this radically changing landscape. However accepting this paradigm also comes with taking some risks and accepting the increased possibility of failure. You are going to have to try new things; look beyond the norm and explore new opportunities.

Things may not always go to plan but that comes with the territory - embrace it don't fear it.

Don't Let Your Degree Define You:

Reflect on the multitude of skills you have acquired and your passions when applying for work rather than focusing on the narrow discipline of your degree.

A 21st century graduate has to take a step back from their degree qualification and analyse what skills they have which can be applied to a variety of job roles rather than the one which was specified on your degree certificate.

For example if you have a degree in Accountancy that does not mean the only career you can pursue is being an accountant. Far from it. The most important factor of your accounting degree are the skills you acquired during the degree. For example accounting requires an almost obsessive penchant for detail and analysis, organisation and a competence with numbers. Now removing the "Accounting" from the equation and focusing on these skills, how many job roles could this be applied to now? Here are a few of the top of my head: Trading, Management consultancy, Teaching, Data Analyst and many more. Think beyond the status quo to stay ahead.

Keep learning:

Learn faster and smarter, filter the information you need to excel

Darwin said that the survival of the fittest does not rely on the strongest but those that are most able to adapt to change. When it comes to graduate employment the wise words from the godfather of modern day science still ring true.

As I have spoken about previously an increasingly important character trait which employers are looking for the ability to learn and adapt to the ever changing world of work. Nowhere is this more apparent than the technology and digital sector (which is fast representing the vast proportion of new job opportunities.)

With the rise of online-learning you can learn to code for free; do a Stanford Machine Learning course from your bedroom or be inspired by the world leading authority on Motivation.

A successful 21st century graduate must remember that their degree is only the start of their journey and professional development. Learning never stops. They must develop the ability to selectively learn from the breadth of resources and information available and filter through the noise.

In summary, my advice to a 21st Century graduate would be that the only certainty is uncertainty so the quicker you become comfortable with uncertainty and how to navigate the "brave new world" the further you will go.