5 skills employers look for in graduates

Posted on: 16 Aug 2016



Claire Kilroy from Inspiring Interns provides some top tips for graduates. 

When you’re a graduate, getting a job can feel like an impossible task. After all, you generally won’t have much practical experience in the industry you’re trying to break into, and might have none at all.

The good news, though, is that while one or two employers will seem to want you to have fitted 25 years of work into your 21 years on earth, most won’t be particularly concerned with your experience. It varies a bit in terms of sector, but for the most part employers will place greater emphasis on your soft skills.

The term soft skills – referring to personal traits and non-industry specific skills – can be quite misleading. Although for some people they come naturally, for others they can be the hardest skills to learn. Having them, and being able to prove that you do, can really make employers sit up and take notice.  

Here are 5 key soft skills that can help boost your employability, and some suggestions for how to sell them on your CV or in an interview.

Emotional intelligence

Your ‘EQ’ refers to how in touch you are with your own emotions and those of others. Being able to understand and manage your own emotional state is a key skill in the workplace, as it will help you maintain your composure and cope well in stressful situations.

People with high emotional intelligence also tend to work well with other people, both when working within a team and when leading one. This is because they’re able to judge what their co-workers are feeling, empathise with them, and respond appropriately.

There’s no one thing you can do that will make a hiring manager recognise that you have a high EQ; it’s something you bring to and learn in any role and in everyday life. But there are clear signs of it, like the ability to take feedback on-board, and to manage conflict well. If you say one of your strengths is your EQ, point to abilities like this as proof of it, and provide examples.

The ability to learn and grow

After graduating you might feel like you need a break from learning, but if so then diving straight into a job isn’t the right next step. When you start a new job, you need to be able to absorb all sorts of new information quickly, and if you’re a graduate just starting out the learning curve can be particularly steep.

Not only is it important in your first job, but being keen to learn will serve you well throughout your career – it’s the friendly face of ambition. To advance, you have to be willing to gain new skills and take on new responsibilities. Employers want to know that you’ll both be happy to take the training they provide, and to yourself look for opportunities to grow.

Looking for and listening to feedback on your performance is also key. Some managers worry about hiring graduates who think they know it all already, or buy into the misconception that millennials can’t cope with constructive criticism. Be ready to set their fears at bay.

Business Suit

Communication skills

In almost any job you’ll spend a huge amount of your time communicating, whether face-to-face, by phone, or online, with clients, customers, and co-workers. Being a good communicator is central to getting along with the people around you, but it also has a real impact on the business. The Mitchell Communications Group has calculated that miscommunication costs businesses an extraordinary $37 billion each year in the UK and US.

So there’s little surprise that communications skills are so highly valued by employers; according to one survey, 98% of employers look for these skills in their new hires, while 91% regard them as the skills that are most important but most difficult to find.

As with any soft skill, it’s not enough just to say you’re a good communicator; point to examples in your experience that show off your skills. If you’ve ever worked within a team, communication will have been central; consider how you communicated with people, why it was important, and whether there were any difficulties that arose because of miscommunication.

And don’t neglect to mention your written communication skills; if you’ve got a (relevant) blog, have written reports in a previous position, or done anything else that proves that you’re a clear and effective writer, put it on your CV.

Ability to work in a team

When it comes to CVs, there is probably no line more common than ‘I am able to work both independently and in a team’. Being a team player really is important to employers; the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2015 Job Outlook survey revealed that 78.9% of American employers look for this ability in their graduate hires, and it’s much the same in the UK.

Instead of using this wishy-washy line in your CV, however, highlight the fact that you worked effectively as part of a team under a piece of relevant work experience, as this is more likely to convince a hiring manager.


Social and cultural dexterity

In today’s world, businesses operate globally, and they need graduates who are able to do the same. A survey of several major graduate employers – based in the UK but with a global outlook – revealed that the quality they value highest in graduates is the ability to work collaboratively with people from a variety of backgrounds and countries.

Although this instinctively true for many graduates, being able to prove it can be more difficult. Think about times when you’ve worked with a diverse group of people – whether a university project, a part-time job, an internship, or volunteering.

Travel is another way to boost your awareness of other cultures. On the whole, listing ‘keen traveller’ as one of your interests on your CV won’t bag you a job, but it might prompt your interviewer to ask about your experiences abroad. And if you’ve had an opportunity to work or study overseas, it can certainly help you to stand out from the crowd.


Claire Kilroy is a content writer for the UK’s leading graduate recruitment agency, Inspiring Interns. Check out their website if you’re on the hunt for internships or for graduate jobs London.