The top skills wanted in trainee managers

For graduate management jobs, having the right skills is more highly valued than your degree subject. We look at what skills you need and how to get them.

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The ultimate job of a manager, you see, is to ensure that ‘things get done’.

Many students think an undergraduate degree in a business-related field is essential for management training schemes. Usually, it’s not. Kate Hurles, who is head of landlord investments at estate agency group Spicerhaart Residential Lettings and was head of its graduate development team for nine years, tells us that having the right skills and attitude is often more attractive to employers than qualifications.

What management-related skills you need and why you need them

Your interpersonal skills are a key consideration for employers when they're sizing up your management potential. According to Kate, ‘Many graduates are surprised by exactly how important the ability to get on with people and enjoy social interaction is.’

Good communication is key to this, but what does that mean? One aspect is the ability to be diplomatic when necessary, as you need to be able to deal with people tactfully in difficult situations. Strong listening skills will help with this.

Good interpersonal skills also require the emotional intelligence to understand people’s feelings, motivations and behaviours. Being able to empathise with other people's perspectives helps to build strong working relationships; it also enables a graduate manager to motivate others and to adjust their approach to a situation as required.

The ultimate job of a manager, you see, is to ensure that ‘things get done’. They need to inspire confidence in others (a key part of influencing skills ) and have confidence in their own decision-making . Often, they also need to be able to manage ambiguity or ‘working in the grey’, as some employers call it; essentially, the ability to make the best decision based on the information you’ve been given, even if it’s not the whole picture. It shows that you can adapt to change and cope with uncertainty. This is important because, in order to get things done, a manager needs to take a flexible approach to plans in the face of changing circumstances.

Alongside the ability to take a flexible approach is actually having a good grip on prioritisation, organisation and time management : both for yourself, and to a certain extent, for others. Knowing when and how to delegate is an often overlooked part of a manager’s organisational skillset.

The best managers command the respect of their team through leading by example : not only in how they treat others, but also in their willingness to take on work as required – not just to delegate but to do. Kate explains that ‘Good managers also have an instinctive understanding that everything worthwhile takes enormous hard work to achieve.’

Kate goes on to say a great manager is also ‘someone who really thrives on being busy; someone who has a positive attitude and always sees challenges rather than problems.’ There is no doubt that problem solving and analytical skills are essential, and, as the work can be stressful, resilience and a calm attitude under pressure are essential. It’s worth noting that managers often have to meet set targets so being target-oriented is a huge advantage.

Finally, managers should have a good commercial sense to inform their decision-making. Managers who are commercially aware and have an entrepreneurial streak can help ensure that resources are used efficiently, spot opportunities for the company’s growth and help lead the organisation in the right direction. For these reasons, managers should make sure they know the ins and outs of the business, industry, competitors and customers.

How to get the skills you need to be a good manager

It's unlikely that you'll pick up the skills you need to get a management job purely from your university studies, so you’ll have to look to the rest of your life for opportunities. Part-time jobs, internships, student societies, acting as a course rep, volunteering, sports or planning gap year travels can all build the skills required for management. In fact, just juggling any of these activities alongside your degree will be evidence of your organisation and time management abilities.

The trick is to become particularly involved with one or two activities outside of your studies – and to accept or volunteer for extra responsibilities . For example, you could offer to train up some new colleagues in your part-time job or you could offer to organise a social for your university student society – or stand for election to the committee.

Bear in mind that you don’t always need to have held a role with the title of ‘president’ or ‘superviser’ to show that you are management material. Even if you were the publicity officer of a society, people still came to you with questions and you were still responsible for making decisions. Getting things done and practising your skills is more important than a title.

If you’ve already graduated or if student societies aren’t your thing, consider volunteering with a local charity . This will stretch your interpersonal skills by bringing you into contact with people from a range of different backgrounds.

Any experience of supervising children can provide impressive examples of management skills – whether this is through a part-time job, such as being an assistant at a leisure centre supervising children’s parties or working as a tutor, or through involvement with a community group such as Scouts or Girl Guides.

Another approach to gaining insights into management is to find a mentor . You can learn specific techniques by analysing the way they do it and asking for tips. Many universities run mentor-matching schemes for current students and recent graduates. You could also approach someone at the company or in the career sector that interests you via LinkedIn and ask them for any advice – this communication could grow into a mentoring relationship ( find out more about using LinkedIn ). Don’t forget, too, that you can ask for advice from your manager at an internship or part-time job.

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