My 11 Suggestions to Improve Your Employability


VanEfferink_smallOver the past year, I talked to many people who were looking for a job, an internship or an assignment in geopolitical analysis. Some had suddenly been laid-off, some had decided to become a freelance professional and some had just obtained a university degree. They had nonetheless something in common: skills, talents and a certain drive. This blog post is meant as an encouragement to all to whom the first sentence applies.


LI_imagesLinkedIn is a fascinating platform where people looking for jobs meet people offering jobs. Framed this way, LinkedIn greases the wheels of the labour market. Its importance has increased recently after unemployment started to rise in several countries. As a result, people looking for a (first) job have become much more visible on LinkedIn.

Last week, I shared a quote on the European Union in various groups. In one group, the resulting discussion eventually consisted of over 15 contributions. As I shared various interests with the contributors, I sent and received some invitations to connect.

The e-mail from Samantha that triggered this blog post

In response to one of my invitations, I received this message:

Dear Mr. van Efferink,

Thank you so much for the invitation! Your career path seems fascinating. Do you have any tips or guidelines for an upcoming college grad interested in the IR policy/business world?



[Note: Samantha gave permission to use her first name and message in this blog post before it was published]

My response to Samantha’s message

Bridge_198hI would like to seize this opportunity to give some general suggestions. In fact, I have also received similar requests from students and more experienced job seekers with other backgrounds than Samantha’s. So based on my working experience and what has worked for me, I made a list of 11 suggestions for those looking for a (first) job. As with all lists, some tips will suit someone better than the others.

My 11 suggestions to improve your employability

  1. Focus on chemistry and positive energy while networking and not on “higher/lower-than-me” considerations.
  2. Have at times cups of coffee with people in your professional network, as nothing can beat human contact. So instead of relying on online contact only, appreciate the role of non-verbal communication in bonding processes. After all, to like someone after a proper conversation is much more valuable than a virtual like.
  3. Urge friends to criticise you, even unsolicited, as this the best way to keep on developing your personality and skills. Nothing is as rewarding as well-meant and well-founded criticism. Proverb 27:6 in the Bible tells it all: “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”
  4. Learn to distinguish right from wrong advice. Even the best advisers give wrong advice at times. The best indicator is your inner voice, which likely becomes more reliable when you get older.
  5. Do not copy routines of successful people without first checking whether they suit your personality.
  6. Find a productive balance between giving and taking as -if you do- they will beneficially reinforce each other.
  7. Be honest to yourself and accept the things you are not good at. This could save much time, energy and disappointment.
  8. Find a productive balance between what you like, what you are able at and what the labour market demands.
  9. Focus mainly on a couple of your interests and skills. This makes it easier to become excellent at certain things and make a difference on the labour market.
  10. Take however at times assignments/jobs that bring you out of your comfort zone. They will challenge you and help to further improve yourself.
  11. Try to see something positive in every “no” you hear or read (this may be the hardest to do). Success is not only about how you perform after receiving the green light to do a job or assignment, but also how you deal with set-backs. A “no” means that one door won’t open for you, but -from a positive, constructive and forward-looking angle- also implies that you have room to open other doors. Sometimes you simply have to knock on 10 or 100 doors before someone eventually opens the door. Actually, you will find it easier to do something with this suggestion once you have found a way to follow-up on the previous ones.

A final piece of advice for students that aspire a career in IR

Regarding Samantha’s actual question, about tips for people with an IR background, I would advise to do some additional courses in macro-economics, international economics or related fields. I have actually experienced candidates for a country risk analysis position being turned down due to lack of economic skills. Global political and economic trends are more intertwined than often assumed. Therefore, knowledge of economic concepts, theories and models raises the employability of someone with a BA or MA in IR considerably.

A final observation

To conclude, I know it is not easy to quickly raise labour demand. This should however not release us fom the duty to make an effort to improve the employment prospects of the job seekers in our families, among our friends and in our societies. After all, employability is not only an individual, but also a collective responsibility.

3 thoughts on “My 11 Suggestions to Improve Your Employability

  • 2013 (June) at 07:37

    Really like this article. It is informative and supportive!

  • 2013 (June) at 19:31

    Thank you for this article Leonhardt. For me one of the most important aspects is to make sure that you make personal connections with your business contacts. It’s very easy to see through someone who is just networking, and this sometimes can leave a bad taste in your mouth.

    Personal contact, through having a cup of tea, through smalltalk, or through discussing last night’s soap opera is more likely to allow you to build the long term contacts that will eventually become of use to both them and you. It’s important to be professional, but a personal level of professionalism is also important.

  • 2013 (June) at 13:42

    You are definitely on the right track when you say that personal, face-to-face meetings are more effective than simply virtual ones. However, one needs to do further research into the cultural nuances of the various countries. Having said that, most countries have something in common…The old adage…”It’s who you know, not what you know.” Americans need to understand that many other countries do not do business based solely on knowledge, skills, and/or education. After a brief overview of a potential employee or business associate, the successful partnership will actually depend upon the nature of the ‘friendship’ that had evolved from the brief relationship. Finally, it is integral to understand and research each country’s business culture with whom you wish to do business (whether it be a business negotiation or job) before dealing with them. For example, China is a good example of the importance of ‘friendships,’ while Japan might not be.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.