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Applying for jobs: What skills do employers want?

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Brushing up your knowledge of desirable skills and being able to demonstrate them at interview can increase your chances of success when applying for jobs

Sought-after skills

There has been a lot of research about what employers are looking for in potential employees and typically it results in lists of skills, abilities and work behaviours like this:

  • teamwork;
  • problem solving;
  • communication;
  • time management;
  • IT skills;
  • numeracy;
  • customer awareness.

These skills and abilities are 'generic', which means they are likely to be necessary in most types of employment.

The way in which generic skills are demonstrated depends on the requirements of the particular job - so for example, while lots of jobs need communication skills, jobs involving selling, teaching, explaining or advocating are likely to need communication skills at a higher level than most. 

Essential requirements

Where skills and abilities are essential in order to fulfil the requirements of the job, they are called 'specific' skills or abilities. Specific skills might include, using equipment, having theoretical knowledge/degree subject experience or know-how.

What employers want is likely to be determined by business/organisational needs. Taking the example of communication skills further, a firm of lawyers will be seeking good general communication skills in all staff, sophisticated oracy and advocacy skills among those training to be barristers, and strong interviewing skills among solicitors. 

Therefore, even generic skills (abilities, behaviours and knowledge) are all context-specific, so it's important to think carefully about the specific workplace that these skills will be needed.

Matching skills to the job

How you demonstrate your abilities is again dependent on the workplace setting and the type of job. For example, the term 'creativity' means something very different in an advertising agency than it does in a transport business.

One employer's understanding of 'using initiative' might be considered 'risk taking' by another. For example, in organisations where following procedures systematically is important (such as in healthcare) opportunities to use initiative will be more limited than in organisations that depend upon new ideas and taking a chance that something might work, such as the entertainment industry. 

Entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial skills

Finally, many employers require graduate employees to be enterprising. The term enterprising is often associated with being an entrepreneur, that is being self-employed and initiating your own business ideas.

You might be surprised that 'intrapreneurialism' (the ability to be enterprising within an employed role) is fast becoming a sought-after attribute.

In order to demonstrate entrepreneurialism and intrapreneurialism you must show that you:

  • can take responsibility for your own ideas;
  • think creatively about problems;
  • lead yourself and others in new practices;
  • cope with uncertainty;
  • initiate change;
  • thrive on challenge.
 

Further information

 
 
Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
Date: 
April 2013
 

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