Graduate skills – what are employers looking for?

Figuring out what companies want in graduates isn’t always easy…

However, although the specific skills and experience you’ll need will depend on the role you’re applying for, the same core set of abilities will always be in demand.

We’ve already covered what graduate employers really want, but here are the top skills graduate employers are looking for:


Top graduate skills all employers look for


Interpersonal skills

A big part of making a good impression comes down to your personality. Employers want to see that you’ll be a great fit for the team, and add to the culture of the company. Having good interpersonal skills, also known as ‘people skills’, will demonstrate that you’ll be able to communicate effectively with others around the business – even if you don’t have an abundance of experience in your chosen field.


Anglian Water are just one company who value the need for interpersonal skills in their graduates, saying: 

Our graduate programme offers the chance to take on placements around Anglian Water’s core business units, so interpersonal skills are essential. We want all of our graduates to be excellent communicators, and able to talk to people right around the business. When assessing this competency, we’re looking for somebody that can influence others and deliver difficult messages whilst remaining calm, professional and empathetic.


Leadership skills

Even if you’re applying for entry level roles, leadership skills should never be underestimated. Being able to take the lead on a project (and motivate others around you) will help show your potential.  And with many graduate schemes aimed at preparing individuals for management positions, this should never be underestimated. 


Samantha Meredith, recruiter for Enterprise Rent-A-Car explains:

‘When hiring for graduate roles, we’re always looking for people who possess the qualities that will enable them to become a successful leader. Our Management Training Programme offers our employees the chance to run their own branch in as little as two years and, because we promote from within, our graduates will be our leaders of tomorrow. When assessing this competency, we’re not looking for someone who commands the room but rather someone that can influence others whilst listening and working in a team.’



For graduate schemes in particular, adaptability will be key. Employers want to know you’re able to take on any task that’s thrown at you, and also that you’ll be able to grow into the role they’re hiring for. This often means taking on tasks slightly outside of your remit or comfort zone, so versatility and flexibility will always be looked on favourably. 



Chances are you’ll have very little experience when it comes to finding your first role as a graduate. As a result, employers won’t expect you to know everything from day one. However, instead of waiting to be told what to do, asking questions and demonstrating a willingness to learn will help to show your initiative. Which is just one reason why being proactive is another great skill graduate employers look for in prospective candidates. 



Starting out in your career can be nerve wracking. But that doesn’t mean you should underestimate your abilities. Chances are you’ve spent the last few years studying (see also: preparing) to help get a job in your chosen industry, so you’re probably much more prepared than you think. Even if the job isn’t entirely related to your degree, the skills you’ve picked up at uni will have helped make you a great asset to a wide range of businesses. So don’t lose that belief in yourself before you start applying. Remember: confidence is always a good look. 


Some other skills employers look for in graduates include:

  • Self-awareness
  • Decision making skills
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Leadership
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Time management
  • Creative problem solving
  • Commercial awareness

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What is the difference between hard skills and soft skills?  

Hard skills are technical abilities which are specific to a particular role. They can be taught, are easily measured or demonstrated, and are often learned through dedicated training.

Examples of hard skills: coding ability, foreign language skills, bookkeeping.

Soft skills are self-developed attributes, which are picked up through your life and work experience. Whilst they’re not specific to a particular job, they’re vital to have in almost every industry.

Examples of soft skills: communication, leadership, adaptability.

Most employers will look for candidates with some hard skills (depending on the level of the role), which are complemented and enhanced by a variety of soft skills.

Hard skills vs. soft skills

What are soft skills?


Which types of skills are graduate employers looking for?

For some roles, it’s likely that you’ll need hard skills. However, every graduate job will require you to have certain soft skills.

This is because graduate employers are usually looking for entry-level candidates with a solid foundation that can easily be built on. In other words, you don’t need to have everything – but you do need to show them that you have the ability to learn it.

To find out exactly what an employer is looking for, read the job description carefully and see if the key skills needed for the role are primarily soft, or are made up of harder industry-specific skills. Then tailor your application accordingly.

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How to use job descriptions to land your dream role


Do I need transferable skills?

Transferable skills are a vital set of abilities that can be applied to almost every industry – making them valuable attributes for employers.

They can be picked up in a wide variety of contexts, whether it’s through education, hobbies, work, or just at home. So not only is it practically guaranteed that you’ll have them, you can also use them to prove to employers that you’re a good fit; even if you haven’t had any direct experience yet.

Transferable skills are particularly important for recent graduates, as their studies and/or previous work experience may not directly relate to the jobs they’re applying for.

Here are just a few examples of great transferable skills for graduates:

  • Time management
  • Prioritisation
  • Delegation
  • Listening
  • Communication

What are transferable skills?


How can I develop my skills?  

Although you’re likely to have a range of skills to help you land your dream graduate job, some roles might require candidates to have specific prerequisites – whether it’s an industry specific qualification, knowledge of a type of software, or practical work experience.

Often, having these additional abilities are exactly what you need to stand out from the crowd.

But don’t worry; there are many ways to expand on your skills and learn something new. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be a time-consuming process.

Here are a few ways to develop your skills:


How can I demonstrate graduate skills in my CV?  

OK, so you know what skills you have, how to develop them, and what employers want, but how can you demonstrate them effectively?

Here are a few dos and don’ts you should always follow when talking about your skills in a job application:


  • Refer back to the job description to ensure you’re only including relevant skills
  • Follow the STAR technique.
  • Focus on how your skills will make you great at their vacancy


  • Forget to include real-life examples that accurately demonstrate your abilities
  • Use clichés or buzzwords
  • Be vague (especially when it comes to industry-specific proficiencies)

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