What Are Employers Looking For? Skills and Qualifications

by Ben Davies

With many graduates struggling to find work, it's wise to ask the question, ‘What are employers are looking for in a candidate?' Unfortunately, a university degree may well be insufficient. It is skills and experiences that can make you a desired applicant and supplement your qualifications. What skills, then, are needed? How can you develop them? How can you demonstrate that you have those skills to your employer?

In this article, few key skills are highlighted:
Communication
Teamwork
Initiative
Project Management
Flexibility
Interpersonal
Orgnisation

Increasing your prospects

Buzzwords get bandied around a lot in the world of recruitment, and ‘transferable skills' is just one of those. What do we actually mean by skills? They are qualities built up through experience and study. Some of them may come naturally to you as a person, but others may require considerable effort on your part to develop.

Communication

How is a good communicator defined? Generally, employers are looking for someone who can speak and write clearly and accurately (which is based on clear and accurate thinking). This is demonstrated by the strength and clarity of your ideas and words more than linguistic correctness.

How can I develop this skill?

Public speaking, presentations, and contributing to debates and meetings can help you to get used to discussing your own ideas.

 How can I demonstrate this skill?

Preparation is key. You can demonstrate your communication skills in the interview, in the application, and through experiences. Have your ideas and any necessary information ready in your mind. Show how you have had to communicate clearly in a variety of settings.

Teamwork

The majority of jobs rely on close interaction between employees. You may have to work in a team day-in, day-out, or you may be in a largely independent role that only requires occasional meetings with colleagues and management. Either way, a willingness to co-operate with others and work to the greater good is essential.

How can I develop this skill?

If you're coming off the back of a PhD, you may be used to carrying out research and projects on your own. Collaborating with other academics and students is a good way to build your teamwork skills. Temporary jobs (such as office jobs and retail jobs that rely heavily on teamwork) can help you to get used to the sharing of information and co-operation necessary when working in a team.

 How can I demonstrate this skill?

Obviously the interview doesn't provide opportunity for a practical demonstration, but references to occasions when you have had to work in a team (either as a student or as an employee) as well as the benefits of that experience should be sufficient.

Initiative

Can you work on your own? Can you take a step back and see the big picture? Can you act on what you see, using common sense and detailed knowledge as guides? Initiative is largely about making and taking opportunities to benefit your employer and to keep your business at the forefront of the latest developments.

How can I develop this skill?

Initiative requires lateral thinking, confidence and know-how. It's not about stubborn determination. Initiative comes naturally if you are interested in something and you trust your knowledge of that subject. Try to take the initiative in your personal or academic life by looking for new chances.

 How can I demonstrate this skill?

Work experience is a useful way to demonstrate and develop initiative. You can also demonstrate initiative in the interview by asking well-thought out and revealing questions.

Project management

It seems that most employers demand project management skills, whether the job involves handling projects or not. Therefore, it really is an essential skill. It involves taking responsibility for and planning a project from beginning to end. This could be something as simple as a small research project, or as grand as a multi-million pound business venture.

How can I develop this skill?

Life provides plenty of opportunities to develop project management skills. In your studies, you have no doubt carried out projects involving research, writing, activities, and collaboration. Look for opportunities to take on new projects and think about how to best go about them.

How can I demonstrate this skill?

Employers generally ask for palpable demonstrations of project management skills, so have a specific experience in mind of a project that you have handled particularly well. Define the project, how you went about it, what it involved and how you solved any problems.

Flexibility

This basically means that you are willing to be adaptable, to try something new and to accept change. It could be in terms of your time, workload or colleagues. Flexibility is about being reliable but not rigid.

How can I develop this skill?

Challenge yourself to take on something new. Don't resist the change, but make the best of it.

How can I demonstrate this skill?

Provide examples from situations and experiences in which you have had to adapt to a changing situation and still made the best of it. Work experience and academic studies provide many opportunities to demonstrate flexibility so highlight the salient examples only.

Interpersonal

Interpersonal skills are about being able to speak to and deal with a variety of people. Equality and sensitivity are highly valued by most employers, so interpersonal skills are essential.

How can I develop this skill?

Think about the needs of your interlocutors. You will come across situations where interpersonal skills are required in daily life. Try to be conscious of how you affect the other person and how you can help them.

How can I demonstrate this skill?

The interview will provide you with an opportunity to demonstrate this. Your interviewers are just people; treat them as such. Show respect and think clearly about what they need from you and what you want from them. You can also show how you have had a role in which you had to communicate with people from different backgrounds.

Organisation

Being organised is a requisite for any job that involves other people or working to time frames. Employers will want to know that you can be relied on to deliver projects and information on schedule. It's largely about being logical and controlled.

How can I develop this skill?

Take a look at your personal, academic and work life. Get things in order. This includes paperwork, scheduling, workloads, and cleanliness.

How can I demonstrate this skill?

Organisation can be shown in many ways, but employers will be most impressed through first-hand demonstrations. Make sure your application is well structured and arrives on time. Any communications with the organization should be handled efficiently. You can also point to outside experiences to show how you are well organised when handling workloads.

The benefits to you

These are some of the most important skills to employers. If you can clearly demonstrate these things in conjunction with your knowledge and qualifications then you will be in with a fighting chance for any job that you are qualified for.

Work experience, university life and volunteer positions are valid ways of building your skills base. Don't hesitate to take on new opportunities that can contribute to your desirability as a candidate.

 

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