Planning and organising
“Being able to articulate your abilities to an employer – not in a boastful way but by giving evidence of what you have done – is a key skill.”
Carl Gilleard, Former Chief Executive, Association of Graduate Recruiters
What do recruiters want?
Having the ability to plan and organise is a skill many recruiters consider essential. Many adverts will simply ask for someone who can "plan and prioritise their time" or "organise resources effectively"; others, however, might not make it so obvious. Phrases such as the below also mean the recruiters are looking for planning and organisational skills:
- “Show us you’re flexible, organised and committed”
- “Excellent attention to detail is required”
- “Effective manager of both time and resources”
- “Ability to deliver on time and to budget”
- “Investigate new processes and set clear criteria”
- “Plan and implement change”
These quotations are all taken from adverts for graduate roles. As you can see, even though the wording varies, they are all looking for candidates who can prove that they have the skills and the personal commitment to plan thoroughly, set clear targets and adapt, if necessary, to ensure that they can deliver quality work on time and on budget.
How to be an effective planner and organiser
Having the ability to plan and organise is something we all have - in fact, most of us use these skills on a daily basis. Being able to combine study, job and family commitments requires you to plan and organise yourself and your resources.
Whilst some people do this naturally, with others it takes more effort, but whether you are a natural planner or not, the skills and abilities you need to plan and organise a project are exactly the same. Planning a project, which could be anything from an academic dissertation, a celebration, or a work-based assignment, will involve:
- Knowing what you want to achieve and have a clear vision of the end result.
- Setting regular objectives along the way so you know when you are on track or, even more important, behind schedule.
- Making an action plan based on these objectives and arranging the resources to carry it out.
- Drawing up a work schedule or timetable and set deadlines, communicating regularly with others if necessary.
- Effectively managing your own time.
In order to be able to set and achieve these plans, you need to have some organisational skills. These include:
- Researching – identify possibilities, keep up to date with information, keep aware of developments or issues which could impact on your project
- Prioritising – identify critical tasks, arrange tasks in a logical order, be adaptable and adjust plans if necessary.
- Record keeping – make sure you keep accurate records so you know what needs doing, when and (if applicable) by whom; make sure you also record what has already been achieved or agreed.
- Time management – you need to be able to estimate the time and effort required to complete a task, and be able to manage your own time effectively so you can meet all your commitments.
- The ability to multitask – you have to be able to deal with more than one thing at a time, and be comfortable with challenge and variety.
- Interpersonal skills – to organise anything effectively requires the ability to work well with other people. You need to have good communication skills and be confident and assertive, without being confrontational or aggressive.
Gaining these skills
Below are some examples of how you may already have gained planning and organising skills at the University of Bradford and beyond. There may also be some useful suggestions here if you are looking to develop your skills further:
- through academic work - timetables, work schedules, group work, etc.
- student societies and sports teams - organising events, matches, transport, etc.
- part-time work (either organising yourself or your tasks at work)
- charity work and fundraising
- travel - itineraries, booking tickets and money, etc.
- small business, e.g. selling on ebay or at car boot sales - organising stock, pricing, cash handling, postage, etc.
How do you prove to a recruiter that you have these skills?
It is not good enough to simply say “I am an excellent organiser” or “I have the type of personality which makes me a natural planner”, you have to prove that you are by giving examples of when you have successfully planned and organised a project or an event.
You have to be able to tell a recruiter why the project benefited from careful planning and how the result was enhanced by being organised and planned efficiently.
Think of an example of when you have had to plan a course of action and organise resources to achieve it. You can then use the STAR technique to describe it:, either in your applications or at interview:
- S - Define the Situation
- T - Identify the Task
- A - Describe your Action
- R - Explain the Result
This technique is useful at all stages of the selection process so it is worthwhile getting to grips with it.
Here’s an example:
Define the SITUATION:
Last summer I spent five weeks travelling around Europe with three friends. We started to plan the trip before our examinations so we would have something to look forward to.
Identify the TASK
We wanted to see as many European capitals as we could and I was given the task of planning the itinerary and budget. I worked out how much we would need travelling by rail and staying in cheap hotels and it was agreed that we would leave on 1st August giving us five weeks to work hard and save enough money.
Describe the ACTION you took
As our holiday got nearer, we realised that we wouldn’t have as much money as we thought! We were travelling by Inter-Rail so I worked out an alternative timetable which would allow us to sleep on the train, saving money on accommodation. I also bought a guidebook aimed at backpackers to help me plan more effectively. There was no way we were going to shorten our holiday, so we just had to plan ahead and monitor our spending.
Highlight the RESULT you achieved
Even though the trains weren’t always on time, and we were often sleep deprived, we had a great time. We met up with other backpackers who shared their knowledge of cheap places to eat, drink and sleep and made great use of the Tourist Offices in each City for free things to do. We kept to our itinerary and visited everywhere we planned to. We are already planning to do the rest of the capitals next year.
You could summarise the above on your CV like this:
- Planned and organised a five week trip backpacking around the capital cities of Europe with three friends on a very tight budget.
- Planned a trip around European Capitals with friends. I had to use all means possible to save money as we were on a very tight budget. I worked out an itinerary which made great use of Inter-rail tickets, researched cheap places to eat and sleep, and free things to do.
Adapting Your Examples
The example above, for instance, could easily be altered to prove adaptability and flexibility, initiative and problem solving, and leadership. It is worthwhile spending time writing statements like this about all your experiences and then adapting them to match each recruiters’ specific requirements.
The Academic Skills Advice service can also help with skills related to planning and organising, such as time management and research.
- What is project management?
- What is a Gantt Chart? and How to create one in Excel
- Top tips for planning a successful community event
Other relevant websites with general information on skills are: