Archive for February, 2018

Graduate Attributes – What are Employers Really Looking For?

Monday, February 19th, 2018

It can be incredibly challenging for graduates to determine the characteristics that employers are actually looking for when hiring early career talent.

With approximately 1.3 million students participating in a university education, graduate recruitment is the most competitive selection process that any individual will participate in. Further to this, whilst there is an enormous volume of graduate applicants competing for roles (large employers report as many as 1100 applicants for a single position) employers also complain that most graduates are not ‘career ready’. This suggests that well prepared individuals easily gain an edge in the selection process by investing in ‘career readiness’ throughout their studies.

What does career readiness mean?

Career readiness can be defined as having a blend of personal attributes, skills and experiences valued by employers for the immediate job, but also having the potential that underpins the ability to progress within an organisation. So, how do you develop the magical blend of characteristics that employers are looking for? What is it that makes one graduate candidate better than another from an employer’s perspective?

How to make yourself ‘career ready’

To be successful in securing a meaningful post-study role, graduates will need to understand their target employer’s talent selection requirements. To grasp the notion of career readiness from an employer’s perspective, thorough research is required to determine the drivers of selection for your ideal employment option.

Employers always have a set of key selection criteria, specific to an individual role, that are commonly a blend of technical skills and employability skills. Technical (sometimes referred to as ‘hard’) skills are teachable qualities that are usually learnt within a degree, combined with skills developed through work experience or other forms or training. In a recent survey on graduate attributes, employers indicated that they most valued the following technical skills:

  • presentation
  • relationship management
  • IT knowledge
  • sales and marketing capability
  • role specific technical skills
  • innovation
  • management
  • leadership potential

Due to graduates’ lack of vocational experience, employers generally have lower expectations on technical skill sets within the selection process and tend to focus on a candidate’s employability (sometimes referred to as ‘soft’) skills. A soft skill can be defined as personal attributes that determine how effectively an individual will perform within a job or organisation. In the same survey on graduate attributes, employers identified the following highly valued soft skills:

  • communication
  • critical thinking
  • Planning and organisation
  • teamwork
  • adaptability and resilience
  • drive
  • interpersonal capability

Based on these employer preferences, the task for students is to determine the blend of soft skills and technical skills that are required for their ideal graduate role and to diligently utilise their time at university to develop these skills through a combination of study, work integrated learning, co-curricular activity and work experience. However, it is important not to undertake these career development activities in an ad hoc manner; students should carefully select activities that develop either the soft or technical skill relevant to their employment aspiration.

Prepare for the interview process

The other challenge to be navigated in graduate selection is the ability to demonstrate the existence of job relevant skills through the interview process. Employers universally hold the view that the majority of graduate candidates perform poorly in the selection process due to their inability to articulate relevant experience, aligned to selection criteria. Strong candidates typically have a clear narrative on their career readiness, with the ability to share evidence of the soft and technical skills developed during both their secondary and tertiary studies. This is a combination of great interview technique and comprehensive interview preparation, which all graduates must strive to achieve.

The good news is that students can take a systematic approach to getting the graduate job they want. It can be broken down into a linear process:

  1. Through comprehensive research, determine the selection criteria for target roles
  2. Identify the attributes (employability skills), technical skills and experiences that need to be developed to meet the selection criteria
  3. Undertake targeted development activities to build relevant attributes, technical skills and experience
  4. Develop your evidence based narrative
  5. Practice, practice, practice your interview technique

Ultimately employers are looking for graduates that will add value to their organisation in both their initial role, but importantly in the long term via career progression. Through focused career readiness development, leveraging the multitude of opportunities provided by universities, students can build a genuine employability edge.