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What Employers Want from Graduates

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What You Need to Know

  1. Employers want more than just a degree from graduates. To get a job as a graduate, you now need a mix of academic qualifications, specialist skills, attributes and relevant work experience
  2. As a rule, to get onto a graduate scheme you will need a 2:1 or above from a good university. For all other positions, however, employers can be flexible, so long as you show potential and have the skills they are after
  3. Some of the core skills employers look for include numeracy and literacy, oral and written communication and good time management, all of which you should be able to demonstrate on your CV
  4. Employers may also look out for evidence of attractive personal attributes such as being driven and focused, being passionate and being able to work well with others
  5. Since 2013, students and graduates have had access to Key Information Sets, in which employers the chance to share what they are looking for from prospective new recruits
  6. Almost all employers will also want to see evidence of relevant work experience. Even an internship or a voluntary placement can help you stand out from the crowd
  7. Remember, while it may be tempting to exaggerate on your CV, never lie in order to impress an employer. If you get caught, you could not only lose your job, you could even be prosecuted 


Why a Degree is not Enough

The days of being able to leave university and walk straight into a job are long gone. These days, the number of people holding degrees is higher than ever, with growing numbers also entering the jobs market with postgraduate qualifications and even PhDs.

Competition for jobs has never been stronger, then, and so graduates have been forced to up their game and focus on what prospective employers want from them. And, notably, it’s not just graduate positions that are becoming harder to get. Even entry-level roles can be extremely competitive, particularly in industries such as fashion and the media. Again, understanding what an employer wants, and demonstrating how you are able to offer this, is key to standing out from the crown and landing that dream job.


Academic Concerns

Of course, not all degrees are viewed equally by employers. Some are simply worth more than others.

Generally speaking, to get onto a graduate scheme, you will need at least a 2:1 degree to even be eligible to apply, and in some cases, you may need a first-class degree. Plus, it goes without saying that degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and the Russell Group of universities (that is, the top 20 research institutions in the UK) are looked more favourably upon than degrees from other places.

As well as having a good degree, an employer will also usually look for a relevant qualification, and this can often trump the ranking of the university you want to. For instance, if you want a job in video game design, a specialist degree in the subject from the University of Teeside is likely to prove much more useful than an English degree from the University of Bristol.

In many cases, however, an employer will look beyond the title of your degree. Large employers such as KPMG will routinely accept candidates with music or English degrees onto their accountancy training schemes, so don’t be too concerned about your subject of choice holding you back in your choice of career.


Key Skills Employers Look For

Again, an academic qualification is just one of many things that employers are looking for in graduate recruits. Indeed, an excellent academic record will not be able to compensate for a weak skill set, especially since that today’s graduates are expected to hit the ground running rather than needing several months or even years to develop the necessary skills.

The good news is that, since 2013, students and graduates have had access to Key Information Sets, a government-led initiative giving employers the chance to share what they are looking for from prospective new recruits. So, check out the latest Key Information Sets and use this information to put together a winning application.

As a rule, the following are the key skills an employer will look for in a graduate. The trick is to highlight how your education and work experience have helped you develop these core skills:

  • Literacy and numeracy
  • Good communication skills
  • Time management and organisation
  • Negotiation and teamwork
  • Problem solving and initiative

Again, these are just some of the core skills an employer will look for in a graduate. Alongside these, they may also look for more specific skills, especially if you are applying for a specialist job. Again, whether it’s graphic design skills or language skills, the important thing is for you to clearly demonstrate how you can offer these.


Additional Attributes

Both recruitment experts and university careers advisers also agree that, in addition to key skills and competencies, today’s graduates also need to demonstrate a number of core attributes. Again, these so-called ‘graduate attributes’ vary from employer to employer, but are always aimed an ensuring a new recruit hits the ground running and has what it takes to make a successful employee. For instance, an employer may want to see evidence of:

  • Maturity, resilience and self-confidence
  • A business mind and a sense of professionalism
  • Drive, ambition and focus
  • A genuine passion, whether for a profession or a hobby
  • A willingness to learn and develop as a professional
  • Emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills, including the ability to work alongside people of other backgrounds and cultures


Relevant Work Experience

Alongside having all of the above skills, qualifications and personal attributes on your CV, you will almost certainly also need to have some relevant work experience. Employers are no longer interested in taking on graduates who have no experience of the world outside of the classroom or lecture hall, so bulking up a CV with on-the-job experience is also now more important than ever. Indeed, recent research has found that the vast majority of employers would not even consider a candidate who could offer nothing more than just academic qualifications.

There are a number of ways graduates can demonstrate relevant experience to an employer, and so help themselves to stand out from the crowd. These include:

  • Internships and work experience: Most universities will help you find a relevant placement, either during term-time or during the summer holidays. Alternatively, consider doing an internship immediately after graduating and before you start applying for proper jobs
  • Volunteering: Most employers simply want to see evidence of experience outside of the academic environment, so a stint volunteering can also give you this. Additionally, this will help you come across as being sociable, generous with your time and a team-player, all attractive attributes.
  • Work placements: Many universities offer students the chance to take a ‘year in industry’ where they substitute their studies for work for a year. Unlike most internships, such placements are usually paid.

 If in any doubt about what kind of work experience an employer looks for in candidates, don’t be afraid to ask! Check out the Key Information Sets published by employers or make use of your university careers service (usually open to graduates as well as current students). Better still, if you have a specific employer in mind, get in touch with them directly. Not only will this help give you a clear answer and plan of action, it will also make you appear proactive and enthusiastic.


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