Students and graduates often think that they only require entrepreneurial skills if they intend to become an entrepreneur and set up their own business as a graduate. But employers often seek an entrepreneurial mindset in their graduate recruits. These graduates are an asset because they will be able to spot gaps in the market and innovate, and because they are commercially minded. Graduate job seekers can showcase their strengths in this area by demonstrating a capacity for independent work and original thinking, as well as sound business sense and an interest in the market that their potential employer operates in.
What is the meaning of entrepreneurship and enterprise?
Being enterprising and entrepreneurial involves spotting an unexploited opportunity and making the most of it: essentially, identifying a gap in the market and filling it. However, it can also be about trying something new or improving a process to increase efficiency or boost results.
Enterprise and entrepreneurial skills are effectively a combination of other competencies and abilites, including:
- commercial awareness
- creative and innovative thinking (in fact, it could be argued that entrepreneurs take an innovation and make it commercially viable).
- problem solving and analytical skills (an entrepreneurial solution usually starts with identifying a problem and spotting trends)
- adaptability and flexibility
- influencing skills (gaining agreement and support from prospective clients is essential)
- negotiation, persuasiveness and selling skills
- drive and being results-oriented
- resilience in the face of obstacles.
If an employer particularly seeks entrepreneurial skills, you will probably see a combination of the following requirements listed on the job description: ‘entrepreneurial mindset’, ‘entrepreneurial spirit’, ‘drive’, ‘business-minded’, ‘customer-oriented’, ‘innovative thinking’ and ‘the ability to find new ways to exceed our customers’ expectations’. Pay attention, too, to how the recruiters describe their business: if they refer to a ‘fast-paced, dynamic environment’, a ‘results-driven business’ or a ‘creative and entrepreneurial culture’, be prepared to demonstrate your enterprising streak.
How can you develop your enterprise skills and gain examples of your entrepreneurship?
You will gain strong examples of your enterprise and entrepreneurial mindset if you:
- set up a business on the side of your degree to make some extra money. TARGETjobs has interviewed a number of graduate employees who set up side businesses at university, for example providing IT support, repairing devices or hair straighteners, and proofreading essays and dissertations (NB: they had the relevant skills to do so).
- set up a new student society (particularly if it is around entrepreneurship).
- get involved with or set up a ‘social enterprise’, which are organisations that use business methods for social or environmental benefits. Start by asking your careers service if your university runs a social enterprise scheme.
You should also consider entering the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards competition. You can win internships and networking opportunities at large companies, which will help develop your entrepreneurial mindset by giving you the experience and exposure to learn how big businesses really work.
In fact, any large employer is likely to offer interns the opportunity to take part in a business improvement project or corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative. If your internship employer doesn’t, ask HR if you can get involved with one.
While you are undertaking your internship or during a part-time job, put forward new ideas; you might be put in change of implementing them.
However, your examples do not have to be business-related. If you are part of a student society and help to set up a new event or devise a new way of marketing the society to potential members, that’s equally enterprising. If you come up with a novel or innovative way to raise money for charity or to fund a gap year, that’s also enterprising.
Don’t underestimate the influence that researching entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial behaviour can have on your mindset, either: for example, read the biographies and autobiographies of entrepreneurs you admire and watch TED talks about entrepreneurialism and innovation.
How do you demonstrate your entrepreneurial skills in the recruitment process?
You might be given recruitment exercises and interview questions that are specifically designed to assess your entrepreneurial skills, but you should also take the opportunity to show off your entrepreneurial activities and achievements wherever possible.
Showing off your entrepreneurialism on your CV and application
The first places to refer to your entrepreneurial streak are on your CV, in your covering letter and in answer to any application form questions about your greatest achievements, creativity or innovative thinking. Make sure you write about the results or impacts of your actions, quantifying them wherever possible.
Showing off your entrepreneurialism at an interview
You can also talk about your entrepreneurial streak and achievements in any interview questions about your personality. For example:
- What motivates you?
- Why would you be successful in this job?
- What is your most significant achievement?
- Who do you most admire and why?
Interviewers may also seek to gauge your entrepreneurialism by asking competency and hypothetical questions about closely related skills, such as innovation, problem solving and customer service. For example:
- Are you innovative?
- Give me an example of a time when you have introduced an improvement.
- Give me an example of a time when you have made an impact.
- Give me an example of a time when you solved a problem.
- Give me an example of a time when you exceeded a customer’s expectations.
- If I gave you £50,000 to invest in a new product or project over the next year, what would it be?
Graduate recruiters will also seek to establish whether candidates have the commercial awareness that is a fundamental aspect of entrepreneurialism by testing your market knowledge: see our advice feature on commercial awareness interview questions and exercises for tips.
Showing off your entrepreneurialism at an assessment day
Enterprise skills are also likely to be assessed through practical exercises such as a business case study, usually at an assessment centre. This typically involves assessing information about a business in a particular situation and coming up with recommendations to benefit the company. It will be easier to approach this with confidence if your industry knowledge is up to date.
What jobs most require an entrepreneurial spirit?
The graduate employers that are most likely to seek an entrepreneurial mindset in candidates include those working in:
- management consulting
- marketing, advertising and PR
- sales (including recruitment agencies)
It is also likely to be an asset if you are applying to a commercial or business graduate programme run by a large employer in any industry.
However, any sector and any business will benefit from entrepreneurial thinking (because all sectors and businesses can be improved) – so don’t be afraid to show off your flair for entrepreneurism.