Graduates – What are Employers Looking For?

August 10, 2012  |   Career Coaching Blog   |     |   0 Comment

You may think that employers are looking for a good degree and a set of specific hard skills. Unfortunately you would be wrong. In this article we tell you what employers look for and how you can demonstrate you have the skills required in your CV and at interview.




What Employers Want in Graduate Recruits


Employers do want a good degree because that more than anything is a sign of your intellectual capacity. Most employers expect to train graduates on many of the technical skills required in a job such as; running focus groups, analysing the company accounts, recruiting staff etc. Your intellectual capacity shows you have the ability to learn these skills quickly. But in order to succeed in any job you are also going to need a set of competencies (behavioural skills) and employers expect those to be developed prior to recruitment. In fact much of many graduate selection processes are designed to check out these skills.


In a worldwide survey TMP found that the top 5 skills required by employers from graduates were:

  • Oral communication
  • Team working
  • Listening
  • Problem solving
  • Relationship building


These are all critical to a successful career in any organisation. In a past life I was a graduate recruiter for several large companies. We looked for a good degree in any mainstream subject and it didn’t really matter if it wasn’t directly related to the job. So for example we hired graduates with degrees in Oriental Studies, Zoology and Economics into HR. The rest of the selection process was aimed at finding out whether graduates had strenghts in the competencies that we looked for.


Where do you Have These Skills?


Most of these skills can be developed during a degree. This might be as a part of the degree programme, or through voluntary and leisure activities. You can then use these experiences in your CV and at interviews. So for example team working can be developed through graduate projects or even as a member of a society. Written and oral communication skills should be developed as part of your studies through assignments and group presentations. For your CV and for graduate interviews you need to take the time to think of examples beforehand.


Graduate CV


For your CV you need to write out your skills using an impactful format so the recruiter can immediately see what you have to offer. The way to do this is to start with the skill, then put down what you did, to or with what and with what result. An example for team working would look like this:


‘Team working; led a group project on the growth of the IT sector in Cambridge and successfully presented our findings achieving an 83% top 5 assessment’


You should write out statements in this format for the key skills required which are listed by the employer in the job description. Your Key Skills should form the first section of your CV after your contact details at the top. In this way you will stand out from the crowd and quickly show a recruiter how you match the requirements of the job.



Graduate Interviews


When answering interview questions you should always use the structure – context, action and result (CAR). This provides you with an easy framework to include all the key things required in your answer. Plus it means you can prepare outline answers before the interview using this approach. An example answer using CAR for a question about your Drive for Results might look like this:



Context; for my degree I had to complete a project with 4 other students. There were a number of things that needed to be done so we split the tasks between us. When we sat to review our progress one of our group had not completed the necessary research with other students to allow the project to progress. This meant that we risked not getting the project in on time.


Action; I expressed my concern that this piece of work had not been completed and asked what had been the cause of the problem. The person concerned had just not bothered to do it and there was no acceptable reason for this. I asked the other members of the group if they would be prepared to give up a half day the next day to get the research that we needed. I explained to them that we could still achieve our project deadlines if we were prepared to do this.


Result; We completed the research the next day. I also spoke to the course tutor about the person that had not done the work and asked for him to be removed from our group. This was not an easy thing to do but was the right thing to do for the group. The project was completed on time and received a 75% pass. The key lesson from this experience was to make sure people are asked to flag when they are not going to be able to do what’s expected and to have more regular reviews of progress on projects.





We work with many graduates to help them get the job that they want. In many cases graduates do not recognise the skills they have acquired that will be valuable to employers. These might have been developed and shown in many spheres of life. You may have developed these skills at University through study, or during your leisure time e.g. captain of a team. So step 1 is look to where you have the skills required by the employer.


Don’t be modest about your skills – you need to stand out from perhaps several hundred applications for a graduate job. Put a key skills section at the start of your CV to show how you meet the requirements for the job. At interview use the CAR structure to make it clear to recruiters your strength in any particular skill area.


If you follow this advice you will be several steps ahead of your competition! If you need further help feel free to contact us using the details on the side bar – we would be happy to speak to you.



Tony Goddard


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