Five Skills Employers Want to See
As a graduate fresh out of university and still on the high of graduation, there is a tendency to focus on sector-specific and academic skills – hey, you’ve earned your bragging rights, after all.
However, remember that graduate recruiters are looking beyond that. As ironic as it sounds, it’s the non-academic soft skills – or, “transferable skills” – that’ll make you stand out from the rest of the applicants.
Transferable skills are portable skills that can be adopted from one sector to the other with little difficulty, such as communication, teamwork, and problem solving.
Sure, it may sound pretty straightforward. And yet, many new applicants are stumped when it comes to showcasing these skills in their résumés and during interviews.
Here are five transferable competencies that most recruiters are on the lookout for, along with tips on how you can demonstrate each of them effectively in your applications!
#1: Teamwork and team management skills
Aside from a few notable exceptions, modern employment largely involves team-based work. Which is why almost every employer out there will specify, at some point or another, that they want graduates who can work well in teams.
Effective teamwork means knowing how to operate smoothly and efficiently with others as a collective group. This will call upon your capacity to communicate well, to negotiate and compromise, as well as to encourage and inspire your team members.
Equally important is the ability to avoid dominating the whole show and to concede that you need to divide the responsibilities.
Still, all this talk about teamwork doesn’t mean that you should forgo your individualism in your applications!
Good teamwork isn’t about having similar-minded people working together, but about motivating people with different strengths and personalities to work towards a common goal.
For instance, colleague X may be good at motivating the team and managing projects, but less so in terms of coming up with fresh and new ideas. This is where they can find help from the more imaginative colleague Y.
As such, do your best to strike a balance between your individuality and the emphasis on teamwork during your applications.
It’s OK to talk about your personal contributions during a project, but make it a point as well to talk about how the team managed to work together to achieve results as a group.
If you have anecdotes about how your team pulled through a particularly difficult undertaking (e.g. tight deadlines, under budget) or how you outperformed your rivals, then all the better!
Stories from your sports clubs, student societies, work placements, part-time jobs, and any other extracurricular activities will make for good accounts.
Use words like these to demonstrate co-operation:
- “I helped...”
- “I assisted...”
- “I supported...”
- “I contributed to...”
Use words like these to showcase team management skills:
- "I was responsible for...”
- “I delegated...”
- “I directed...”
- “I managed...”
#2: Commercial awareness
In essence, commercial awareness is the intersection between two areas of understanding: familiarity with a company or organisation (i.e. its goals, objectives, products and services), and a grasp of broader industry trends out there in the market.
Recruiters want graduates who are able to put both of these factors together and figure out how external market forces may influence the organisation, as well as how the organisation can best thrive in the current market situation.
The more commercially-aware a graduate is, the more likely he/she will be able to discern new ways to assist the organisation in meeting its goals for growth!
That being said, commercial awareness takes time (and plenty of research!) to build. Here are some tips on how you can build up your knowledge on the employers you want to work for, as well as the industries they operate in!
- What the company does (products made/services provided)
- It’s history and defining moments
- Who its clients/customers are and where it operates
- Who its main competitors are
- How, why, and where it is growing
- Big news over the past 2 years – new launches, regulatory changes, mergers and acquisitions, etc.
- Its core values and aims
- How the company likes to see itself
- Figure out how the major players in this market are performing
You can tell a lot about the state of an industry by the directions its major players are moving towards. In some sectors, such as engineering, strong applicants may even need to be aware of who is dealing with who, and which companies have won important contracts.
- Learn to speculate intelligently about the future
You’ll need to keep up with the news to be able to do this. For instance, if there is a major catastrophe somewhere in the world, a good candidate will have some idea of how that could affect developments in the business. They might even have some inkling about how they would plan for completely unexpected events.
- Understand the past to predict future trends
Be aware of any typical cyclical patterns, such as how wider economic conditions tend to affect a particular industry. On a smaller scale, it could be helpful to be aware of the cycle of the financial year and the effect it can have.
When speaking with interviewers, use words like “I noticed some discussions about X trend, and did some research on it.”
If at all possible, include details on how you’ve acted on your observations – did you apply it in a previous internship, or have you reached out to certain people to look for opportunities in regards to the trend?
Your initiative will definitely set you apart from other applicants.
There is no quick fix for commercial awareness – it can take months or years to build yours, so you need to get started ASAP.
Most graduates build theirs through work experience extracurricular activities, but you should also make it a habit of following journals, industry magazines, and relevant Twitter feeds. If you’re adventurous, you can even hone your skills by starting a small business, whether individually or with a friend!
#3: Problem-solving skills
Problem-solving ability may not be a criteria that employers will explicitly state as a job requirement, but it is something that they will expect out of all their applicants.
Someone with problem-solving skills will also generally have superior analytical and logical thought processes, along with the capacity to think out of the box to find solutions to problems they encounter.
Most problem-solvers tend to exhibit level-headedness and resilience, as they’ll have to stay calm to assess a problem or a situation, and to keep at it continuously if they don’t succeed the first time.
Even better, these qualities are not only applicable when unexpected issues pop up, but also in day-to-day circumstances, such as when you’re facing a particularly difficult client.
Recruiters will usually test for problem-solving skills during various stages of the application process, such as through psychometric tests, assessment centres, group activities, and interviews.
If you are asked to recount past problem-solving experiences, provide concrete examples to show recruiters how you resolved a situation, step by step. Your interviewers will be looking for an insight on your thought process, so they won’t be able to properly evaluate your ability if you are vague or unclear!
Also, problems are never welcome in any situation, but don’t express it negatively in your interviews. Telling your interviewer that “I was forced to tackle problem X and Y, and it was pretty troublesome, but eh, I did it,” is immediate suicide.
Instead, try something along the more objective lines of “Problem X cropped up during situation Y, and I managed to solve it by doing A, B, and C.”
The STAR Method is an great way to help you keep your responses free of fluff when you need to showcase your problem-solving skills during your applications:
S – Describe the Situation
T – Describe the Tasks involved
A – What Actions did you take?
R – What Results did you achieve?
#4: Emotional intelligence
No matter how gifted or bright you may be, you’ll never get anything done if you don’t know how to get along with your colleagues! That’s why recruiters keep an eye out for emotional intelligence (also known as EQ) in graduate applicants.
Emotional intelligence is all about your ability to perceive and evaluate other people’s emotions and to assess and control your own under a variety of circumstances.
It helps you to build good rapport among people, and keeps you aware of underlying connotations to your words and actions. Good emotional intelligence also implies a certain degree of maturity, which is necessary for good leadership and teamwork ability.
If the job you are applying for is a customer-facing role, then good emotional intelligence becomes even more important.
And even if your job keeps you behind a desk and away from customers, recruiters also need to be reassured that they are not hiring someone who does not know how to deal with others, or – even worse – be abrasive and disruptive in the workplace.
For this particular competency, employers will be observing the way you conduct yourself – from the way you introduce yourself to others, to how you cope in social situations. Be prepared to be tested through psychometric tests, role plays, and group activities.
The important thing is to keep your cool, and to remain courteous and professional no matter how much stress you may be under.
If you get the chance, though, try bringing up examples of emotional intelligence during your interviews.
Recounting anecdotes such as “When I had to choose between two team members for a particular role, I did my best to make sure that both felt valued no matter what the decision was,” help to indicate your sense of professionalism – you got things done, but also made sure that the team was not affected by unnecessary conflicts.
#5: Managing ambiguity
A major part of your responsibilities at work will be making decisions even if you only have uncertain or incomplete information to go by.
That’s where the ability to manage ambiguity comes in – recruiters want to see that you are bold enough to take action in uncertain situations, instead of sitting around paralysed waiting for help.
This quality is crucial in fast-changing environments such as the FMCG, supply chain, and investment sectors, where decisions have to be made in a snap even when you don’t have all the details yet.
It’s also incredibly important if you want to fill a management role in your future. In a senior role, you will be heavily dependent on information supplied by other people, which can be partial or incomplete.
It’s essential that you know how to cope with the vagueness if you hope to be a successful manager.
If you can make relatively accurate decisions even without the whole picture, and are able to adapt to the changing environment as you go along with your plan, then that is a good example of managing ambiguity.
Draw examples from your studies, extracurricular activities, and previous work experiences. Was there an emergency where you had to make a snap judgement?
Or did you have to face customer queries that you didn’t know the answer to during one of your part-time jobs? Also mention what you learned from the situation, and what you would have done better if given a second chance.
Likewise, be flexible during assessment exercises or case studies. Sure, have a plan, but always be prepared to modify it to accommodate any new information or ideas as they come in.
Dealing with ambiguity also means dealing with a bit of risk – you’re taking a chance by making decisions without having the complete picture – so always take potential mistakes into account as much as possible.
Come up with contingency plan Bs, Cs, and Ds too if you can!
One thing to remember about managing ambiguity is that it isn’t just about going along with uncertainties, but also about making efforts to reduce ambiguity.
Ask your interviewers questions to clarify ambiguous situations – show them that while you’re ready to accommodate the lack of details under certain circumstances, you’ll also do your best to arm yourself with as much information as possible.