Updated 25 May 2020
With more people graduating every year, employers have a huge choice when it comes to selecting the most highly skilled and qualified candidates. Therefore it’s crucial that your application emphasises the skills and knowledge that can give you the edge over others.
Certain sectors require specific skills, of course, but there are some competencies that have value for almost all employers, irrespective of the industry. We’ve listed (in no particular order) what we think are the ten key skills you should be looking to demonstrate first and foremost.
Most graduates will have the opportunity to work in a team at some point during their studies, perhaps as part of an academic group or in a business while on placement. Employers will be looking for evidence that you can work collaboratively toward a shared outcome, and pool resources and knowledge to achieve something.
Strong teamworking ability, which you’ll need to demonstrate, includes the capacity to cooperate, reach conclusions and work within a multidisciplinary team. In the digital age, many teams are now project-led, making teamwork even more important. Effective teamwork involves demonstrating confidence in group work without taking over, sharing responsibility, being firm yet fair, learning from others and giving and receiving constructive feedback.
Solving problems is a feature of everyday life, from the straightforward to the more complex. Example problems that you may have faced as a student include: crafting strong arguments for academic essays; dealing with a problematic customer when volunteering or doing work experience; or managing personal finances from term to term.
Any job will present its own problems at some stage, so employers will therefore use your application to determine how you approach difficulties and the solutions that you devise. Be prepared to give concrete examples.
Think of problems you have faced as a student, and apply those to work situations.
Business acumen, or commercial awareness, is the ability to demonstrate an understanding of your working environment and the wider industry in which a business functions. This will include customers, competitors and suppliers.
Although graduates are not expected to have an in-depth understanding of how a company’s industry operates, you should have a fundamental grasp of the markets in which your business operates, the structure of the business and its vision, values and structure. Candidates need to understand the importance of working efficiently and cost-effectively, while ensuring that excellent standards of customer and service delivery are maintained.
Planning is crucial to many businesses. From developing a strategy and delivering a key project through to creating a plan to implement new working practices, graduates should be able to demonstrate that they can plan and follow through.
There are some distinct steps to create a strong plan of action, which include:
Within any work environment, decision-making skills are crucial in a number of situations. Whether the role is customer-facing or back-office, decisions have to be made (and not only by managers).
When making decisions, it’s important that you follow the right process before you reach a conclusion. For example:
The next step in decision-making is to research and evaluate the evidence in a methodical way. In the workplace this could include reviewing customer feedback, evaluating financial information or analysing performance metrics. You need to carefully review the relevant facts so that you reach the right decision.
Once you have defined the issue and evaluated the data, you will then need to deploy your creativity to identify the most suitable solutions for the problem. The solution that you find might be identified through brainstorming, developing new systems or processes or collaborating with colleagues.
Employers will look for evidence that you can complete each of these steps, either through an assessment activity or interview question.
Communication skills are some of the most basic skills that you can possess. Employers will look favourably on graduate applicants who can communicate well in a number of different situations, both in writing and verbally.
In particular, they will review your application and assess you during the recruitment process on the following:
Another aspect to communication skills that employers may look for is interpersonal skills, which will be used to build relationships and interact with colleagues, customers or stakeholders. During work you will encounter a number of different people, at different levels of seniority and from different departments. As such you need to be able to network, gain the understanding and build rapport with these individuals.
Furthermore, interpersonal skills cover a range of different behaviours and expectations including:
Assertiveness and confidence are key aspects to good communication.
Assertiveness is perhaps one of the hardest skills that you will need to acquire during your career. Essentially, it means that you should be able to convey what you are saying confidently, while standing up for the rights of yourself or others in a calm and positive manner.
Assertive people have a natural aptitude for conveying their points strongly, without appearing to be intimidating or causing upset for themselves or others. Difficult situations in the workplace are inevitable, whether it is a challenging customer or a troublesome project, so it’s important that you can take control without taking over.
Effective influencing involves:
Influencing and negotiation skills are vital in certain industries such as law, marketing or sales among others. Negotiating properly involves understanding the situation in detail, clarifying issues, identifying areas of common ground and remaining calm to reach a solution that is mutually agreeable by all parties.
In the UK there is currently a significant shortage in digital skills. Consequently, you will certainly stand out to employers if you possess digital skills that are in demand.
Digital skills can include: web design, programming, cyber security, affiliate marketing, SEO, SEM, CRM platform management, and online customer service. Such skills are in demand across most industries.
In certain industries such as science, medicine or IT, graduates will be expected to possess a degree of technical knowledge as a prerequisite to securing employment. This may be a skill such as programming or scientific analysis, for example.
Graduates will have more chance of success if they can apply their knowledge within the workplace. Up-to-date technical and product knowledge among its staff will allow a business to be more receptive to change and more likely to deliver innovation. Customers frequently judge a company based on the knowledge that staff demonstrate to them.
One of the other skills that employers look for is a graduate’s ability to source, collate and analyse information from qualitative and quantitative sources. Being methodical and detail-orientated are skills that are in demand. So too is the capacity to collect and analyse data to reach conclusions, make suggestions or issue recommendations to move the business forward.
Candidates will excel if they can demonstrate an ability to identify, evaluate and propose key solutions that solve common business problems, particularly if they achieve cost savings or increase efficiency.
This list of graduate skills is by no means exhaustive; there are many more skills that graduate employers look for other than those outlined above, but these are the main areas that employers often focus on.
As a graduate you may think that you have very little work experience to demonstrate these skills, but there will have been scenarios where you have used them. Think about your university life and extra-curricular activities or voluntary work, record the skills that you have learned each term throughout university and attend any employability skills training provided by your university.
The most important thing to remember is to complete the necessary research before you start applying for jobs. This will help you identify which skills are important for the particular organisation that you would like to join, so you can customise each CV or application form to differentiate yours from those of other candidates.