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 – especially those that will allow candidates to learn and grow within their organisation.

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


Top graduate skills

Some of the top skills employers look for in graduates include:

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

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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 learn 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: interpersonal skills, 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.

And, as a recent graduate, these are likely to be your most prominent skills. Especially if your degree discipline wasn’t veered towards a particular job.

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.

Applying for graduate jobs


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.

However, the skills you’ve gained could be more relevant than you think.

Here are just a few examples of transferable skills:

  • 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 skills on 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:

  • Do: refer back to the job description to ensure you’re only including relevant skills.
  • Don’t: forget to include real-life examples that accurately demonstrate your abilities.
  • Do: follow the STAR technique.
  • Don’t: use clichés or buzzwords.
  • Do: focus on how your skills will make you great at their vacancy.
  • Don’t: be vague (especially when it comes to industry-specific proficiencies).

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