Skip to content

What employers are looking for

Along with good technical and subject knowledge, graduate employers often outline a set of employability skills they want from an employee.

Employability skills, also known as transferable skills, are general competencies and behaviours that will help ensure that you are work ready, and which graduate employers will want to see clear evidence of.

You will have developed some of these during your degree, whether that's through industrial placement, teaching sessions, self-directed or independent learning, course work or exam assessment.

Here are some of the key employability skills that employers are looking for:

Business awareness covers a range of skills and competencies relating to business activities. It relates not only to commercial practices, but also to the wider environment in which they take place.

Skills and capabilities include:

  • project management
  • commercial awareness
  • analytical skills
  • selling skills
  • consultancy skills
  • global awareness
  • ethical sensibility
  • decision making
  • market awareness.

Employers sometimes say that graduates lack skills in this area, which isn't surprising, given that they're unlikely to have spent much time in a workplace environment during their degree.

But it may be that graduates are simply not good at recognising and articulating their business awareness. What relevant experience have you had? Perhaps you have worked in a bar or a shop – what did it tell you about retail and customer service? Have you had any real or simulated business experience as part of your degree? If nothing else, you can almost certainly talk from the consumer’s point of view.

To perform effectively in an interview, for example, you will need to have given some thought to the big issues of the moment and how things might look in a few years’ time.

Have you:

  • done background research on business areas or issues that interest you?
  • kept up to date with newspapers and relevant websites?
  • been involved in a club or society with a budget and responsibility to others?
  • managed your own money and budgeting in a responsible way?
  • found out how a company that you do part time work for operates and how it differs from its competitors.

Download our checklist to help you improve your commercial awareness.

Communication skills, one of the most common skills categories sought by employers, relate to how effectively you communicate with other people and include verbal, written and visual communication.

Although we tend to assume that good communicators are those people who are confident at speaking out, effective communication means listening as well as advocating, and can cover a wide range of roles and responsibilities.

Other skills and capabilities include:

  • presentation skills
  • negotiation skills
  • influencing skills
  • compromise
  • cooperation
  • writing skills
  • report writing
  • word processing
  • selling skills.

Identify and articulate

We communicate almost every day in very many different ways and settings. Identify, articulate and develop your communication skills – have you done any of the following?

  • persuaded other people to accept your point of view
  • advocated a change
  • reconciled two or more points of view
  • written a report or summary
  • welcomed someone new into a team or been responsible for their induction
  • offered support and or/advice, including more formal counselling situations
  • presented a set of ideas (whether your own or someone else’s)
  • taught someone to do something
  • supported or encouraged others
  • taken part in a debate (formal or otherwise)
  • summarised a set of ideas
  • shown disagreement without creating bad feeling.

Employers want digitally literate employees who can use the correct technology to help them learn, analyse and organise their work, for example, when making presentations or interpreting data.

Find out more about using social media and managing your online profile.

More and more employers are communicating their demand for enterprising graduates.

Enterprising skills include:

  • motivation
  • leadership
  • determination
  • problem solving
  • creative thinking
  • spotting opportunities
  • decision-making
  • working with others.

Being enterprising within a business is also known as intrapreneurship. An intrapreneur is someone who develops new ideas within their organisation, from the smallest level (changing the way a department works or its internal operations) to the biggest (bringing a new product to market). They spot problems both within and outside the organisation.

Intrapreneurs have been described as the dreamers who do, or the people who create change. But they do this without striking out on their own. This can mean grappling with bureaucracy and others who don’t share the vision for change. It can also mean creating a new idea yet having the strength of an established business behind it.

Watch a short video about enterprise skills from the Welsh government.

Networking can help you to perform your role more effectively, progress within an organisation and to find out about opportunities and move within the employment market.

You'll build extensive networks with:

  • your colleagues and managers
  • people in other areas of your organisation
  • suppliers and producers
  • customers or clients
  • other people in your line of work.

Knowing people and being known by others are very important at work – it can be valuable to be recognised and remembered.

Networking and the hidden job market

Many people find that they hear about or are offered opportunities to move to another organisation through their network of contacts. The hidden job market relies on people knowing who is who and where.

Recruitment consultants and head hunters use their vast networks to help them identify potential candidates for positions they have been asked to fill. Many jobs will not even get to that stage, but will be offered directly to people who have been recommended or referred by existing employees.

Problem solving and creativity skills are also known simply as thinking skills. Many people associate them with just a small number of extraordinary people, such as inventors, entrepreneurs and so on. In fact, most employers value these skills for their use in more generic situations.

Skills and capabilities include:

  • reflective skills
  • independence
  • flexibility
  • initiative
  • thinking skills
  • research skills
  • empathy.

Identify and articulate

Most students use problem solving and creativity in their academic studies, even if they aren’t given those names.

Constructing an argument for an essay and working out how to design an experiment both call on these skills. In the workplace, it is often the small ideas that have a big impact: helping offices to run more efficiently, improving a product’s performance, creating effective marketing materials or restructuring staff responsibilities.

Identify, articulate and develop your problem solving skills – have you done any of the following?

  • Investigated alternative solutions to a problem.
  • Overcome difficulties with your work.
  • Put forward a suggestion which improved things for other people.
  • Persuaded others to try a new way of doing things.
  • Set up a new system for handling information.
  • Set goals for yourself and achieved them.

To learn more about problem solving through creativity, watch a short video from Accenture.

Self management is also called career readiness, work readiness, or self reliance.

Skills and attributes include:

  • confidence
  • motivation
  • a positive attitude
  • enthusiasm
  • aptitude
  • willingness to learn and adapt
  • interpersonal skills.

Identify and articulate

However you feel about these qualities, they are certainly much sought after by employers. Imagine the difference between two equally qualified candidates: one who is motivated and can demonstrate readiness to start work, and another who displays no enthusiasm or independence.

Identify, articulate and develop your problem solving skills – have you done any of the following?

  • Taken on extra work in a subject because you found it interesting.
  • Pursued a dream and achieved it.
  • Learnt a new skill, hobby or sport.
  • Settled into a new job, role or course.
  • Made an effort to overcome shyness, lack of confidence or uncertainty.

Many employers seek evidence of team or group working skills in their employees. Effective teamworking applies communication and organisational skills in a group context.

Skills and capabilities include:

  • group working
  • teamworking
  • relationship building
  • emotional intelligence
  • ability to cope under pressure
  • negotiating
  • cooperation
  • coordination
  • task allocation
  • influencing
  • compromise
  • decision making.

Many of these are seen as soft skills – so there are no defined, foolproof rules about how to manage your relationships with other people, yet some people seem to manage them better than others.

But there are certainly techniques that help you to work well with others, many of which involve understanding your own motivations and beliefs before making assumptions about other people.

Identify and articulate

Identify, articulate and develop your teamworking skills – have you done any of the following?

  • Contributed to a team project.
  • Reconciled two or more points of view.
  • Persuaded others of your point of view.
  • Planned and coordinated the work of several people.
  • Ensured others completed work on time.
  • Accepted the point of view of the majority, even if you did not share it.
  • Divided up the work of a group.
  • Managed someone else.
  • Created enthusiasm or motivation in others.

You'll want to emphasise your strengths to employers and keep quiet about your weaknesses. But telling employers about your ability to overcome difficulties will reveal much to them about you as a person, your attitude to change and your ability to learn or develop that skill that doesn't come naturally.

Identify and articulate

It's useful to think about times when you have faced and overcome a challenge – for example, perhaps you found it hard to structure essays or to manage your time when you first came to university.

Ask yourself:

  • what was the difficulty you faced or the skill you developed?
  • what did you decide to do about it?
  • did you get help from anyone?
  • how successful were you?
  • what proof is there of your success?
  • is there anything you would do differently next time?
  • what advice would you give to someone else with the same problem?

Underpinning all these skills and attributes must be a positive attitude: a can-do approach, a readiness to take part and contribute, openness to new ideas and a drive to make these happen.

Employability is about ensuring you have the assets to be successful in what you do and make the kind of career moves you want to make, even if you are still figuring out what those might be.

Find out more

To learn more about the employabilty skills employers want, please contact us:

Careers and Employability