Graduate Attributes – What do employers want?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Graduate attributes represent a package of knowledge, skills and understanding you’ll need to impress potential employers. As a new employee you’ll need to have the knowledge, skills and key attributes to be a success in the role, (and possibly the potential to grow).

This leads to three areas of focus:

  1. Job related knowledge and skills
  2. Transferable employability skills
  3. Cultural fit and attributes that align with the organisation

Job related Skills

Technical and subject knowledge: this one is rather obvious, in that if an employer needs a specific degree, then you’ll need to have it! However, this can extend to having industry specific qualifications, expertise in using specific equipment or software, etc.

Relevant work experience: Nearly two-thirds of graduate employers warn that graduates with no previous work experience have little or no chance of receiving a job offer on a graduate programme (The Graduate Market High Fliers: 150 of UK’s largest graduate recruiters).

Employers themselves are helping to address the experience gap, with many offering work experience and placement opportunities.

Transferable Employability Skills

Transferable employability skills are general competencies and behaviours that will help ensure that you are work ready. They can be applied across a range of different jobs in different industries. They are usually picked up over time and with experience, and can be gained from previous positions, but also from charity and voluntary work, hobbies or just from life itself.

Some of the top skills employers look for in graduates include (in no particular order):

  • Commercial awareness
    • Business acumen
    • Customer awareness
  • Communication skills
    • Articulacy and literacy
    • Listening skills
    • Calmness under pressure
    • Networking skills
    • Digital literacy
    • Numeracy
    • Persuasion and influencing skills
  • Emotional intelligence (refers to the ability to identify and manage one's own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.)
    • Self-awareness: reflective, confident…
    • Self-management: adaptable, conscientious, controlled…
    • Self-direction: motivation, positive attitude, willingness to learn…
  • Leadership (or Leadership potential)
    • Challenging and enquiring
    • Decision making skills
    • Initiative / Pro-activity
    • Creative problem solving, innovative
  • Team working
    • Interpersonal skills
    • Understanding others
    • Collaborative and Cooperative
    • Empathetic
    • Conflict Management skills
  • Time management
    • Organisational skills
    • Prioritisation
    • Ability to work under pressure
    • Delegation
    • Resilience

Cultural fit

Employers want candidates who will fit into their organisation and work well with the rest of the team. Your personality matters. Your working style, your mindset and your work ethic need to match that of the organisation.

To be successful, you also need to work somewhere that fits with your own beliefs, values and needs.

Employees tend to stay longer, be happier and be more productive in organisations where they feel they ‘fit’.

Understand what you value at work, and you can make sure the roles and organisations you apply to work at will suit you.

Words of Wisdom

In May 2018 Gradsouthwest asked, based on your experience, what makes an application stand out for shortlisting and what makes it head straight to the shredder. Here are a few of our employer’s gems:

  • “Skills and knowledge are a given; so are drive and enthusiasm.”
  • “Take note of what the employer asks for. Send a CV, a covering letter, a portfolio, an application form - if that's what you are asked to do.”
  • “Typos and poor grammar are a real no-no.”
  • “And if you make it to interview, be weary of appearing to ‘know more’ than the interviewer - avoid arrogance like the plague! It illuminates the exit sign far faster than a little inexperience or even ignorance of detail.”
  • “The magic ingredients? The qualities that make most impact are ‘humility’ and ‘empathy’.”

How can you develop your skills?

Firstly, be aware of the skills you need and the skills you already have. Understand your personal ‘gaps’ and then look to fill them.

If many of the employers recruiting for your #1 dream job require a certain skill, make sure you gain it, and make sure you can evidence it too. This can include a range of things, for example an industry specific qualification, knowledge of a particular piece of software, or a practical skill.

Job / industry specific skills and transferable skills can be acquired through:

  • Choosing the right options during your current University course
  • Further study: short courses through to postgraduate study
  • Extra-curricular options at University
  • Volunteering
  • Work experience / Internships
  • Hobbies and Interests

Next steps?

Now it's time to assess your own skills, your values and what matters to you. Then you can look to put in place a Careers Action Plan to get yourself truly career ready.