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The basics
Study abroad : Career Prospects

The skills employers want in graduates

Getting a handle on what employers expect of graduates is important in order to prepare for the world of work. We take a look at some of the core skills employers want graduates to possess.

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It’s likely that you would have given some thought to what your ideal job may be and what kind of career you’d like to pursue once you’ve completed your studies. It goes without saying that your choice of degree and qualification may have a significant bearing on this. In fact, the employment prospects for graduates may be a motivating factor for choosing a degree path. However, there is the additional element of the expectation employers have of the skills they want graduates to possess, in addition to the competencies developed during the course of a degree. You’re probably wondering what these skills are, so we’ve taken a peek behind the workplace curtain to find out for you.


What are hard and soft skills?


When you enter the workplace, an employer will be expecting you to possess a combination of hard and soft skills. Soft skills refer to competencies and abilities that you have developed through experience, are transferable and can be developed independently. Some examples of soft skills include:


  • Communication
  • Resilience
  • Leadership
  • Creativity
  • Teamwork


Hard skills relate to specific technical abilities that would be appropriate and essential for the undertaking of a position. Much depends on the level of the job and the field in which it is based. Some examples of hard skills include:



Remember that many skills that you may have would be transferable in different contexts so it’s worth working on refining and developing both your soft and hard skills set.


Communication is paramount


One of the skills most prized by employers is that of effective communication.  You need to be able to express yourself clearly, professionally and concisely. This applies to both verbal and written communication, as well as listening. Employers are looking for graduates who are articulate and can liaise with colleagues, stakeholders and clients. You’ll also have to interpret and understand complex ideas and information, tailoring this for a particular audience, individual or platform.


Having the ability to listen and process information, as well as undertake tasks as they have been communicated to you, is important. A great way to do this is to practice what is known as active listening, which means paying focused and detailed attention to what a person is saying. To refine this skill, you can give insightful feedback to the person speaking and ask relevant questions.


Another area where effective communication is essential is in difficult situations or conflict resolution. Dealing with challenges in the workplace is something you’ll certainly face. This may involve disagreements or possible clashes.


Possessing the proficiency to deescalate a situation by controlling your emotions, speaking calmly and assertively, and facilitating the discussion is greatly valued. Sometimes it will also depend on your profession as to whether confidentiality and discretion are necessary, which must figure into the equation as well.


While no one is expecting you to be a seasoned orator or public speaker, you will generally be required to have a level of competency in the area. Giving presentations and speaking in the context of groups are part and parcel of the workplace.


Sometimes you’ll even have to speak to a room full of strangers. It’s all about having the ability to choose your words carefully, understanding your audience and subject matter, projecting your voice with confidence and keeping things simple.


Teamwork and collaboration


In any job you’re going to be working alongside and with your colleagues. You may work on a particular project or piece of work together and thus your ability to collaborate is central. It’s all about working towards a common goal with shared objectives.


Employers are looking for individuals who can positively contribute, understand instructions and provide valuable input in a team setting. Some of the skills and traits you’ll need to have in order to successfully work in a team are:


  • Flexibility
  • Commitment
  • Accountability
  • Creativity
  • Productivity
  • Excellent communication


Sometimes you may be asked to lead a project or team. This can be challenging when dealing with different personalities and opinions.  What your employer will be looking for however are traits like:


  • Respect
  • Adaptability
  • Fairness
  • Facilitation
  • Confidence
  • Organizational ability


Interpersonal skills


In a work environment, it’s essential that you develop and maintain good relationships. Developing such relationships is all about how you work and communicate with others. This can be both within or outside of the company or organisation you work for.


Employers are looking for graduates who work well in multicultural environments and with diverse stakeholders. Having good interpersonal skills makes this possible and increases the chances of being able to network and develop. What kinds of core attributes and skills are necessary you ask? Well, they may include:


  • Empathy
  • Sensitivity
  • Diplomacy
  • Negotiation
  • Humour
  • Trustworthiness
  • Mediation


Interpersonal skills are often top of the priority list for an employer. Employers like graduates who can integrate successfully into a work environment and make a positive contribution.


One of the ways that you can highlight your interpersonal skills is by speaking to a potential employer about your accomplishments and achievements during an interview. You can also make sure to include examples of the successful application of such skills on your CV, for example, a team project that went well.



Analytical and problem-solving skills


You’re more than likely familiar with the expression “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”. Employers want graduates who propose and find solutions through the application of analytical skills. They want to see you approach an issue from different angles with flexible and creative thinking, with a view to a resolution. It has much to do with taking initiative and demonstrating a willingness to work on a difficult task. You’ll need to be:


  • Resilient
  • Adaptable
  • Collaborative
  • Innovative
  • Calm
  • Patient


While working on existing challenges or problems is important, employers also like to see graduates who can spot potential pitfalls and future difficulties. This type of forward-thinking means that solutions can be designed to address the issues before they are allowed to develop.


Make sure that you have some examples in mind of how you’ve dealt with and solved problems in the past. This will give you a good framework from which to draw on in approaching future issues and of course fielding potential interview questions on the topic.


Initiative and self-management


It cannot be underestimated or understated how much employers value graduates who show enthusiasm, energy and initiative. Couple this with professionalism and you’ll have a winning mix.


A lot of the impression that you will make has to do with your demeanour and attitude, much of which is self-regulated. Taking on a variety of work and tasks, even those that may not have been assigned to you shows a willingness to work hard and contribute. Employers value graduates who demonstrate:


  • Punctuality
  • Effective time management
  • Acceptance of constructive criticism and are open to learning
  • Flexibility
  • Accountability
  • Commitment
  • Enterprise


While employers are interested in your academic qualifications they are also interested in who you are and how you’ll suit a particular job or organisation. It’s important to be confident in your abilities and communication, but never to over embellish or misrepresent yourself.


We know that all of this information is quite a lot to digest, but it’s never too early to start thinking about your future career, potential job interviews, where you’ll work and of course most importantly what you want to study in order to get there.



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