“These days, there are up to hundreds of applications to many vacancies, which makes it challenging to stand out,” explains Tiina Naskali, Planning Officer for International Academic Affairs at the University of Helsinki.
This makes it increasingly important for applicants to clearly and comprehensively present their skills. Job seekers should also be able to identify and document competence not acquired through conventional studies or paid employment but in hobbies, volunteer work or internships instead.
Naskali advises students in matters related to graduation and entry into working life. There is a key challenge related to bridging the gap between higher education and working life, and developing students’ working life skills.
Naskali has previously worked in student organisations, a trade union, and as a career coach. “I have always been interested in what happens after graduation and how students gain foothold in the working life after their studies,” she says.
The Europass is a well-functioning tool for describing competence diversely and comprehensively. Naskali herself has been using Europass since it was launched, “I think it is a very clear tool. It makes it easy to find the essential information.”
Many higher education degrees include a complementary internship that provides students with experience of the working life in their field. If a student does not acquire working life skills through an internship, these may be insufficient as the student graduates. “Active involvement in student organisations is an excellent way of obtaining the skills required in working life during studies, as this allows students to learn about administration, project management and networking”, Naskali explains.
Indeed, Naskali has used her Europass CV feature to document her work experience in the University of Turku Student’s Union, and she also worked as the National Officer of International Affairs at the Junior Chamber International Finland alongside her day job in 2013.
The volunteer work carried out in organisations may be a valuable asset in job seeking. “While many understand this, there is also a widespread belief that your CV should only include studies or paid employment.”
This might result in gaps in a person’s CV which raise questions in the job seeking process. “It is much better for job seekers to report, say, having spent a year volunteering in India and describing the skills acquired during this compared to leaving a one-year gap in their CV.”
As a career coach, Naskali used to encounter entrepreneurs who had been forced to leave their business after a career spanning decades. Sometimes these people said they had no skills. “I asked them if they had ever conducted an audit or whether they had had employees working under them. Immediately, we were able to reveal a lot of competence that they were personally unable to identify.”
The challenge of describing competence
Naskali has been actively using the Europass CV during her career and considers this as a good tool. Naskali’s own CV is comprehensive: in addition to extensive work experience and higher education degrees, her CV includes clear descriptions of her organisational and communication skills, for instance.
Naskali emphasises the importance of taking time to properly draw up the Europass CV. Updating and tailoring the CV to suit the positions you apply for later is easy. “It takes time to carefully prepare the Europass. Good guidance is key.”
At some higher education institutions, students are guided in preparing very concise, one-page CVs. In this context, there is a risk of omitting essential information. In addition to work experience, the Europass CV enables comprehensive description of skills – which is also the challenge of Europass.
Without sufficient guidance, job seekers might find it difficult to know how to fill out the sections on communication or organisational skills. Similarly, assessing language skills using the European Common European Framework of Reference for Languages may be challenging for those unfamiliar with the framework.
“Applicants must be careful in assessing their language skills. Very few employers test the applicants’ true language skill levels during the recruitment process. If you have overestimated your language skills, you might run into awkward situations at work,” Naskali notes.
She also reminds that people should not lie in their CVs, but they should also not downplay their competence. Applicants should describe their competence as well as possible and see if this will suffice.
Europass is a tool well-known across Europe. Employers in difference countries have highly different expectations of CVs and job applications. In Finland, all competence must be indicated with certificates; in many countries, the applicants’ ability to describe their competence is highlighted. Finnish job seekers may not include any references in their applications, but these are essential in many places.
“If you know people who have worked in different countries, it is a good idea to compare the CVs they have prepared. This allows you to learn tips that also work in Finland.”
Text: Juha Rudanko