It’s hard to decide what you want to spend the rest of your life doing. But what’s equally hard is to decide what to study at university when you’re not sure what you want to do with the rest of your life. You don’t want to do a degree that’s going to limit your options when you graduate, but you do want a degree that’s going to give you a good chance of getting a job. So what do you do? We had a chat with Estelle Jackson who works in resourcing for O2 to find out how a big company views degrees, and what they look for besides educational qualifications.

“For me, the most important thing when you’re looking at CVs is that it demonstrates what skills that degree gave them,” she says. Obviously if you’re doing a medicine or a law degree, those skills are quite specific. But that doesn’t mean that a degree in a broad subject isn’t going to give you skills.

“Having a degree shows quite a few important things: that you can commit to something, that you can work under pressure, that you can work to timescales, can work as a team – because usually you end up doing a project with other people,” Estelle explains. “It shows you have time management skills and can work independently too. Those are the kind of skills that recruiters assume you have if you’ve been to university. And those are the key skills that you’ll find you need in the workplace.”

“In that sense, having a degree isn’t as important as being able to demonstrate that you’ve got those skills from that degree,” she adds. “At the end of the day, getting a degree shows that you can stick at something for three years and you can achieve something.”

If you don’t know what you want to study, Estelle recommends picking something that you enjoy doing. “You’ve got to make sure that you follow a path that you’re passionate about.”

“I did my degree in psychology and statistics because I really enjoyed getting to know how people work,” she says. “I knew there was a bit of medicine in the course content and I was really interested in exploring that. And I also knew that there was quite a lot of business psychology and I thought that would stand me in good stead whatever I went into in the future.”

“I didn’t go to university thinking ‘I want to be a psychologist’ but I knew that the course had lots of different areas that I would be interested in learning more about.”

And are there specific degrees that Estelle always looks for when she’s assessing candidates? Well, not really. “I do quite a lot of work with marketing at the moment so a marketing degree is advantageous because that gives you a good background,” she admits. “But we wouldn’t not look at somebody because they’ve got a degree in English because for copywriting and advertising, that degree would be very useful.”

Really though, what’s more interesting to a lot of recruiters is what you’ve been up to outside of the classroom. Having a degree is great, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. You definitely need to make sure that you’re getting involved with more than just your degree while you’re at university.

“If I’ve got two CVs in front of me and I’ve got one person who’s got a first but they don’t reference any interests and they’ve quite obviously lived in their books for three years and I’ve got somebody who’s got a 2:1 but they were editor of the university newspaper and they were on the rowing team or they had other things, that demonstrates that they can multitask a lot better,” Estelle says. “In real life you don’t just sit at a desk all day with your earphones on and not do anything else. You’ve got to interrupt other people and build relationships and work to timescales. Definitely make sure that you put any societies or other things that you’re involved in at university on your CV – that’s really important.”

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