Put your skills to work with Europass

You can acquire valuable job skills not only in regular employment but also by participating in student organizations or doing volunteer work. The Europass CV is a handy tool for presenting all the know-how you have accrued.

“It is difficult to stand out, as there are hundreds of applications for many open positions,” says Tiina Naskali, Planning Officer for International Academic Affairs at the Food and Environmental Sciences Deparment at the University of Helsinki.

It is increasingly important to be able to clearly and comprehensively present your skills. The job seeker would be well served by also being able to identify and document skills that he or she has not acquired conventionally in formal studies or paid employment but in hobbies, volunteer work, or internships.

Naskali advises students on matters related to graduation and moving into the job market. A central challenge in her work is bridging the gap between higher education and the job market, and developing the job skills of students.

Naskali has previously worked in student organizations, labour organizations, and as a career coach. “I have always been interested in what happens after graduation, how the student is able to gain a foothold in the job market after completing his or her studies,” she says.

The Europass is a useful tool for comprehensively presenting your skills. Naskali has used the Europass herself since it was first launched. “I think it is very clear. It is easy to find essential information.”

Wide-ranging know-how

Many higher education degrees include a compulsory internship, which enables a student to gain a feel for working in his or her field. If students do not acquire job skills in internships, they may be lacking at graduation. “Participating in student organizations during your studies is an excellent way of obtaining the skills needed in the job market. It is possible to learn administration, project management, and networking.”

In her own Europass CV, Naskali has documented her work at the University of Turku Student’s Union, among numerous other positions. In 2013, she worked as the National Officer of International Affairs at the Junior Chamber International Finland alongside her day job.

Volunteer work in NGOs can be a valuable asset in the job search. “Many people understand this, but the idea that only formal studies or paid employment should be included in the CV is still widespread.”

If one sticks to including only these traditional elements in one’s CV, this may mean leaving in significant gaps, which can raise questions when applying for work. “It is much better that a job seeker documents having spent a year volunteering in India, for example, and describing the skills that he or she learned there than to leave a year’s gap in the CV.”

As a career coach, Naskali met entrepreneurs who had had to leave their business after a career spanning decades. Sometimes they said they didn’t have any skills. “I asked whether they had ever conducted an audit or whether they had any employees. Immediately we discovered many skills that my client had not realized he had.”

Describing your skills is challenging

Naskali has actively used the Europass CV during her career, and considers it a good tool. Naskali’s own CV is comprehensive: in addition to her extensive work experience and her degrees, it includes clear descriptions of her organisational and communication skills.

It pays off to put an effort into properly drawing up the Europass CV. Later on, it is easy to update it and tailor it for applying for specific jobs. “It takes time to do the Europass properly. Appropriate guidance is essential”.

Sometimes university students are advised to compile very concise one-page CVs, but this may lead them to leave potentially important information out. In the Europass CV, one is able to not only document experience but also skills. This is also a challenge.

Without sufficient guidance it may be difficult for the job seeker to know how the sections for communication and organisational skills should be filled out, for instance. It may also be challenging to assess your language skills using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, if the Framework is not familiar.

“You have to be careful about assessing language skills. Very few employers test job applicants’ actual language skills during the recruitment process. This may result in awkward situations on the job, if you have overestimated your language skills when applying,” Naskali notes.

You shouldn’t lie on your CV, but you should downplay your skills, either, she says. You should depict your skills as well as you can and then see if it is enough.

The Europass is a well-known tool all around Europe. Employers' expectations for CVs and work experience vary a lot across different countries. In Finland, all experience has to be documented; in many countries the ability to present one’s skills is emphasized. Finnish job seekers do not necessarily include references in their applications, but in many countries, they are essential.

“If you know people who have worked abroad, it is useful to compare CVs created in different countries. You might learn tips that can be put to use here in Finland, as well."

You can acquire valuable job skills not only in regular employment but also by participating in student organizations or doing volunteer work. The Europass CV is a handy tool for presenting all the know-how you have accrued, an expert says.

Text: Juha Rudanko
Photo: Samuli Siirala

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