You’ve done the hard work. You’ve got the degree, now you just need the job. It should be simple, but with so many graduates competing for the same roles, often with very similar experience, it can be hard to set yourself apart from the crowd. Couple that with all the entry-level roles requiring work experience, and it can understandably feel disheartening.
But don’t give up hope, or listen to the doomsayers. Give yourself the edge by demonstrating you have the skills employers are looking for, the ones transferable to the position you’re applying for. And don’t worry, you don’t need a ton of work experience to get these skills — you most likely have them already.
Here are the five essential skills we think every new graduate needs to have, in 2022 and beyond.
What skills are employers looking for?
Regardless of your role, whether you want to be a designer, a copywriter or an analyst, organisation is key. If you have strong organisational skills you can prioritise your workload and manage your time effectively. You can focus on a single project, and multitask when needed. And you can be trusted to meet deadlines. Your new employer needs to know they can rely on you to get things done.
But how can you demonstrate your organisation skills as a new graduate applying for a job?
The good news is that you’ve been flexing your organisational prowess right the way through your academic career — you’ve had to organise your time, planning your day around seminars, lectures and extracurricular commitments. And you’ve always handed in your coursework on time, right?
So when you come to apply (and hopefully interview) for a role talk about how you’ve prioritised your workload in the past. Perhaps you’re a massive to-do list fan, or you use a project management tool to help you break tasks down into more manageable chunks. Maybe you’ve juggled a part-time job alongside your studies. Keep your application ordered and clean, focusing on what really matters, and make sure you submit it on time. The same goes for any presentations or tasks you’re asked to complete during the recruitment process. And always arrive early to an interview.
It goes without saying that communication, in all its forms, is a key skill you’ll need to have in the workplace. You need to be able to effectively communicate with your manager, team mates and clients, to speak clearly and listen carefully. Written communication is important too, but don’t worry, you don’t have to be the next Shakespeare. If you aspire to lead a team in the future, the skill to communicate becomes even more important, and your prospective employer will be looking for it right from the outset.
Here’s some of the ways you can demonstrate your communication skills as a new graduate:
- Keep your application clear, concise and focused, and make sure it’s tailored to the role you’re actually applying for
- Come back to your application the next day with fresh eyes, or ask a friend to check it over — you’ll want to catch any errors before hitting send
- In your interview, talk slowly (take a breath!) and listen actively — that means smiling, nodding and making eye contact. Take your time to formulate your answers, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, or to ask an interviewer to repeat or rephrase their question if you didn’t understand it
- Think about your personal brand online — you never know where your potential employer might look
- Consider the experience you already have that demonstrates your communication skills — have you volunteered or had a public-facing job in the past? While it might not be directly related to the role you’re applying for, the bar work, waiting job or Christmas temping you’ve done shows you’re confident and comfortable talking to the public. And as someone who’s done all three, I know how challenging that can be!
- Have you volunteered to show people around on open days? Or run social media for a society? Perhaps you regularly gave presentations as part of your coursework, or were part of a comedy, debating or acting society — remember the experience you’ve gained at school or during university can demonstrate your communication skills too.
Next on the list, adaptability. Something that we’re all pretty familiar with after a good few years of uncertainty, lockdowns and remote learning and working. The adaptability skill shows you’re flexible, resilient and willing to compromise. It suggests you’re comfortable working independently and with little supervision, but also collaboratively with others. Employers need to know you’re a team player but self-motivated too, and that you’re comfortable with shifting priorities and wearing multiple hats.
You’ve most likely studied through the pandemic, having to adapt quickly to remote learning. You’ve had to adopt a variety of online tools, and swap the busy lecture hall and seminar room for your solitary bedroom desk. It’s been a hard slog, but your resilience, independence and adaptability has seen you through.
There’s other ways you can demonstrate your adaptability to potential employers. Highlight your group work and projects, the sports clubs, societies and committees you’ve been a part of. These can all show you’re comfortable working as part of a team.
Think about how you might answer these questions, in your application or an interview:
- Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team to solve a problem.
- Tell me about a time when your contribution made a significant difference to a team’s success.
- How do you work best: in a team or by yourself?
Perhaps the most important skill in this list, empathy helps us to understand the feelings of others and respond appropriately. Empathetic people are respectful, supportive and kind, and they’re the people organisations want to attract. With empathetic people comes a happy and healthy work environment, and good working relationships.
Think about the following questions — your answers can help demonstrate your emotional intelligence and empathy to a potential employer:
- Tell me about a time you’ve supported someone that was struggling?
- How do you handle conflict?
- How have you handled a stressful situation in the past?
Problem-solving and creative thinking
OK, I’ve cheated a bit here. Problem-solving and creative thinking are really two separate skills, but they often work together to create the best outcomes. If you’re a good problem-solver, you can recognise patterns, observe behaviours and interpret data effectively to identify issues. And then you can use your creative thinking to come up with innovative and impactful solutions that keep your organisation driving forward (in the right direction).
As a new graduate, you’ll have a fresh perspective and an inquisitive mind. You’re not constrained by long held opinions, processes or habits like those who’ve been in the world of work for a while may be. Regardless of your university specialism, you’ll have encountered problems that you’ve had to solve — as an engineering student for example, your assignments likely revolved around working through issues and finding solutions, or as an English literature student, you had to track down the best sources and work out the most effective way to present your thoughts. Think about the times you’ve identified issues and acted on them, then use these examples to demonstrate your problem-solving and creative thinking skills.
Alongside these five skills there are plenty of others you’ll have to impress your prospective employer. While you might want to focus on the technical skills, the ones related specifically to your degree and the role you’re applying for, don’t forget to lean on these more human skills in your application too. They may well give you that all important edge. Happy job hunting!