The top 10 skills that'll get you a job when you graduate
Graduate employers place a lot of emphasis on finding candidates with the right skills and competencies for their organisations. Depending on the career sector and profession you choose to work in, there could be very specific skills, abilities and knowledge needed to do the job. However, complementing these are general competencies and behaviours that are essential for successful working. These are the key employability skills – the core skills that will make you effective at work, whatever job you do. They are sometimes known as transferable skills because you develop them over time and take them with you as your career develops; think of them as your passport to career success. You'll need to draw on your work experience to give evidence of these skills.
The top ten skills graduate recruiters want
1. Commercial awareness (or business acumen): This is about knowing how a business or industry works and what makes a company tick. Showing that you have an understanding of what the organisation wants to achieve through its products and services, and how it competes in its marketplace.
2. Communication: This covers verbal and written communication, and listening. It's about being clear, concise and focused; being able to tailor your message for the audience and listening to the views of others.
3. Teamwork: You'll need to prove that you're a team player but also have the ability to manage and delegate to others and take on responsibility. It's about building positive working relationships that help everyone to achieve goals and business objectives.
4. Negotiation and persuasion: This is about being able to set out what you want to achieve and how, but also being able to understand where the other person is coming from so that you can both get what you want or need and feel positive about it.
5. Problem solving: You need to display an ability to take a logical and analytical approach to solving problems and resolving issues. It's also good to show that you can approach problems from different angles.
6. Leadership: You may not be a manager straight away, but graduates need to show potential to motivate teams and other colleagues that may work for them. It's about assigning and delegating tasks well, setting deadlines and leading by good example.
7. Organisation: This is about showing that you can prioritise, work efficiently and productively, and manage your time well. It's also good to be able to show employers how you decide what is important to focus on and get done, and how you go about meeting deadlines.
8. Perseverance and motivation: Employers want people to have a bit of get-up-and-go. Working life presents many challenges and you need to show employers that you're the kind of person who will find a way through, even when the going gets tough... and stay cheerful-ish.
9. Ability to work under pressure: This is about keeping calm in a crisis and not becoming too overwhelmed or stressed.
10. Confidence: In the workplace you need to strike the balance of being confident in yourself but not arrogant, but also have confidence in your colleagues and the company you work for.
Other key skills that graduate recruiters look for
The 2017 annual report from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), formerly known as the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), identified a new key skill that is in short supply among graduate hires: managing up, which means building a positive relationship with your manager and providing support so that you can work effectively together to meet the goals of the organisation. ISE members who took part in its annual survey, including many big graduate recruiters, reported that only 4% of their graduate hires could offer this skill at the point of hiring. Another skill which is important to recruiters is dealing with conflict, something the ISE survey found that only one in ten graduate hires is already able to do.
On the positive front, graduate employers expect to provide training to their graduate hires to make up any shortfall in soft skills. According to ISE, most employers believe that most key soft skills can be learnt within a year.
Employer buzzwords and words of action
There are certain words which are key to catching an employer's interest. Mention them in your CV and at interviews and see how impressed they are with your business-speak (but don't go overboard or you'll sound daft).
- team player
You can also talk in terms of actions that you achieve through your skills by using good, strong verbs in applications and interviews:
Top tips for developing the skills employers want
- Make the most of university life and extracurricular activities to develop your general skills.
- Plan early to get relevant work experience and voluntary work which will give you transferable skills that will make you work ready. You could get involved in volunteering through the #iwill campaign, which promotes social action among young people aged between 10 and 20. Have something lined up for each vacation, and get ready for formal placement and internship applications at the beginning of your second year.
- Religiously record the skills you gain and work experience activities you do so that you can pull out good examples on applications and in interviews.
- Network! Use family, friends and contacts to get work experience and to find out more about career areas that interest you.
- Visit your university's careers service: find out whether it runs any employability skills sessions; sign up for relevant courses and workshops; get help from a careers adviser to write a CV that really showcases your competencies and abilities.
- Take advantage of careers fairs and employer presentations. Talk direct to recruiters to find out what they look for.
- Always do your homework before applying for jobs. Employer research will help you identify the skills and competencies a particular organisation places most emphasis on. In turn, you can tailor your application so that it stands out. As a starting point, use the employer hubs on targetjobs.co.uk!