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If a graduate job involves project management, teamwork or working with clients, recruiters are likely to seek influencing skills. But what are influencing skills?
In a business setting, having influence is about getting true ‘buy in’ from colleagues, clients and bosses.

Influencing skills are more than communication; they are more than negotiation; they are arguably more than persuasion. In a business setting, having influence is about getting true ‘buy in’ from colleagues, clients and bosses for a business decision or on the best way forward. It will involve good communication, it will involve persuasion, it may involve negotiation – but ultimately getting buy in involves selling your vision for the future. Your own professional credibility (or, as career coaches like to call it, your 'personal brand') will be key to this, as you need to inspire confidence.

You see, getting true buy in isn’t about dominating a group or steamrollering your way through objections; it is about gaining wholehearted support and agreement for your ideas or decisions.

The graduate jobs that most require influencing skills

Influencing skills are often a requirement of effective leadership; they are also often called upon when managing valuable and complex client relationships. Graduate recruiters are therefore likely to make influencing skills an essential job requirement if the role involves:

You may need to use your influencing skills when leading a team and encouraging others to embrace a change, when working as part of a project team and deciding on the best way forward, when pitching a strategy to a client, or when convincing a client to agree to something or do something they hadn’t previously considered.

What influencing techniques might graduates use in the workplace?

Essentially, effective influencing is all about putting together a good case, in person or in writing. A good case clearly communicates the benefits of ideas and engages the audience rationally and logically as well as emotionally. The strongest influencers are flexible enough to switch between appealing to the head and to the heart as the situation requires.

Effective influencers have the emotional intelligence to gauge how people might react to their ideas and to alter their communication techniques accordingly. They can also actively listen to people’s responses and deal with any objections, compromising and taking on board others’ points when required. They are able to motivate and inspire others and to build good working relationships.

Those who are most influential are those that inspire confidence in others – essentially, convincing others that they are professionally credible, ‘know their stuff’ and are trustworthy. They are assertive in making their points (demonstrating quiet conviction in their arguments, but never pursuing the points aggressively).

Interview questions that assess your influencing skills and persuasiveness

Graduate recruiters can assess your influencing potential through a range of different skills-based interview questions (‘Give me an example of when…’) and scenario-based interview questions (‘How would you…?’ or ‘What would you do if…?’). As influencing skills require a range of abilities and behaviours, influencing skills interview questions often touch on other skills such as leadership, teamwork, relationship-building and customer service.

Potential interview questions include:

  • Tell me about a time when you have persuaded someone else to do something they didn’t want to do.
  • Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a team member. How did you overcome it?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult person.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to bring others around to your way of thinking.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to communicate effectively.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to change your communication style for different audiences.
  • What would you do if a client disagreed with you on the best action to take?
  • What would you do if a customer complained?
  • How would you manage conflict in the workplace?
  • If you were managing a team, how would you persuade them to accept an unpopular decision?
  • If you were managing a team, how would you work with and command respect from team members who are more experienced than you?
  • How would you coach a less experienced colleague who wasn’t sure what to do next on a project?

If you are invited to an assessment centre, recruiters will gauge your influencing skills by seeing how you interact in group exercises. Your potential influencing skills could also be tested by an online situational judgement test (SJT) either at the assessment centre or even earlier: as you make your initial application.

Examples of your influencing skills

Many of the questions above explicitly ask for an example and you can draw on examples of your past experiences even with the scenario-based questions. Worried that you don’t have convincing examples to give? You probably have more influence than you think. For example:

  • If you have ever worked in a team and had strong input into what the team did next, you will have an example of influencing. Times when you worked in a team include working on a group project during your degree course or deciding strategy in a football game you’ve played in.
  • Many degree courses (particularly in the arts and humanities) assess you on your ability to make well-reasoned, well-supported arguments, either in writing or via a presentation. This will have given you an opportunity to make a compelling case.
  • If you have taken on a supervisory role – for example, if supervising children as part of your part-time job or as a TEFL teacher – you will have examples that could be drawn upon to show your leadership and, by extension, your influencing skills.
  • If you have ever worked on behalf of your university, phoning alumni to ask them to donate to the university, you have practised your influencing skills.

How to improve your influencing skills as a student

If you are still worried about not having sufficient evidence or knowledge of your influencing skills to draw on, use your time at university to gain more. You could:

  • Join and get actively involved in a group activity or university society. You don’t need to have an official title or position of responsibility, such as president or secretary. Volunteer to take on an aspect of organising a project, event or initiative.
  • Volunteer for extra responsibility on your course, such as acting as a course rep.
  • Get involved in public speaking – for example, through joining your university debating society. Doing so will get you used to making compelling arguments and make you aware of how you come across to audiences.
  • Get a part-time job that involves customer service or sales – working with customers will develop your emotional intelligence and give you an insight into how others’ think.
  • Get a mentor, perhaps through an official university/careers service scheme or independently through your own network, and talk to them about how they deal with people and observe how they influence others.

Influencing skills and marketing and social media jobs

Up until now, we have discussed influencing skills in relation to making business decisions or progressing a project. However, when recruiters for marketing and social media graduate roles refer to influencing skills, they mean something slightly different.

Work in marketing or as a social media executive and you will probably still need to use the influencing skills in the contexts listed above, but your influencing skills will also be required to encourage consumers to engage and take action, whether that is to click on a post, to buy a product or to commit to a cause – depending on what your brief is. This type of influencing requires savvy communication, the analysis of trends and user/market data and an understanding of behavioural psychology.

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