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What do graduate employers expect?

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Each graduate employer will be looking for slightly different qualities in their graduate applicants, but there are some skills that will be widely applicable to any job you apply for.

By no means is your degree the only thing on your CV that recruiters look at, so you should familiarise yourself with your skill set in preparation for applications and interviews.

Recruiters are trained to recognise potential when they see it, so don't think that your current skill set is all that is important in what you can achieve. Some companies aren’t willing to take a chance on applicants, but many are, so don't despair if you haven't done much yet.

Either way, use our guide to establish which skills will be the most useful in your job search, and which skills will be the ones the recruiters will be keeping their eyes peeled for. If you don’t have the crucial ones, make efforts to learn them.

Key transferable skills

  • Communication: being able to write and speak clearly is a must. A good way to practice articulating your thoughts in a clear manner is to practice taking part in debates. Or pause Sky+ and spent 30 seconds ranting at the TV whilst watching Newsnight.

  • Initiative: being able to make decisions without being asked. Having initiative is a brilliant skill to possess. The more experience and confidence you gain, the better your initiative will be. There's a big difference between taking a risk and showing initiative. Showing initiative often entails doing something you might be asked to do anyway but doing it before you've been asked. It also involves a bit of lateral thinking. Having a sound knowledge of your sector will increase your initiative, and it really only comes if you enjoy your job. Work experience is a great way to develop this skill.

  • Teamwork: being able to work efficiently with other people, without conflict, to produce results that are greater than the sum of their parts. Most jobs involve working with other people, whether that’s every day or once a week. A willingness to listen to other people's suggestions and to act on them is essential to facilitating a good working environment, and if you are a constant source of friction, you will quickly find yourself being let go. If you have just completed a long-term research project such as a PhD, you will probably be used to long solitary nights in the lab, so you may need to brush up on your interpersonal skills. A good way to develop teamwork skills is to do short bursts of work experience at different places – you'll be forced to meet new people on a regular basis, which will quickly develop your ability to operate efficiently within a team.

  • Flexibility: being adaptable to change. Working in a team also requires the ability to be flexible. You should be open to suggestions and other people’s wants and wishes. You need to be open to new ways of doing things, whether that involves different working hours or methods of carrying out tasks. You can develop this skill by putting more trust in other people and forcing yourself to try something new on a regular basis. A flexible manager will be the best manager you ever have, and a flexible employee will be extremely useful to a company.

  • Organisation:
  • taking a logical, controlled, thought-out approach to tasks. Being organised essentially means knowing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. In practice, it means making sure you get your working life in order. Properly filed paperwork, appropriate levels of tidiness and cleanliness, not forgetting scheduled appointments all contribute towards projecting a professional, organised employee. The best way to develop this skill is actually by getting organised! If you spend a weekend getting things in order, you’ll refresh your motivation for keeping things that way.

Other skills

Other skills that will be important to gain and develop include:

Leadership - can you motivate others to work? Do they mind doing what you tell them to do?
Planning - foresight will go a long way in improving your initiative and organisational skills
Enthusiasm - having a passion for the job can positively influence other people you work with
Customer service - if you can conduct yourself in a polite, controlled, and professional manner then you will be making sure you represent your company to the best of your ability
Networking - being able to build solid relationships with other business partners will ensure you are greatly valued
Problem solving - can you logically think through problems and reach a solution? This applies to people, too
Computer literacy - essential in today’s modern working environment
Insight - are you aware of your own weaknesses, or are you one of those people that says "my main weakness is that I simply work too hard?"
Numeracy - as with computer literacy, fairly essential. A calculator doesn’t always cut it.

If you can develop a solid set of skills that covers most, or all, of the above, then you will be well on your way to maximising your employability and chances of job success. If you feel you need to develop a particular skill then make efforts to do so.

For instance, join a computer class to help develop your computer literacy skills, or join a group that encourages community participation to practice working in a team. Work experience is a great help here and will often develop many of these skills at once, and simply gaining confidence will do a great deal for you as well.

The main skills to mention on your CV, application form, and in an interview, are those key transferable skills.

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