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What Employers Really Want

Posted on: 16 Sep 09


In the eyes of many graduates, the economic recession has brought a new-found negativity to the job market. Thankfully, the climate is probably less dire than the situation sometimes imagined.
In the eyes of many graduates, the economic recession has brought a new-found negativity to the job market. Indeed, over the past 12 months, articles talking down the prospects of new graduates have become ubiquitous in the media. Where these kinds of stories haven’t dominated the front pages, they have been replaced by the news of failed businesses and banks, rising unemployment figures and an array of reactive monetary policy adjustments that some thought would never come. If you’d listened to the heads of central banks in the years before the crisis - notably Alan Greenspan and then Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve - you’d be forgiven for thinking that many of these changes would never occur. Under such conditions, it’s hardly surprising that many graduates are feeling the heat of a competitive and over-saturated job market.
Thankfully, however, the actual reality of the climate is probably less dire than the one just described. For one, several key economic powerhouses – such as France, Germany and Japan - are well on their way out of recession and while there are continued concerns about a second wave of the crisis, particularly in relation to the housing market, the overall consensus is that things are on the way up. The second difference is that that while employers are certainly being more picky about who they recruit, there are few indications that they’re not recruiting at all. Under such conditions, coming to terms with what employers truly desire in a candidate will be critical to jumping the queue. Below are some of our top tips on what employers are looking for in their ideal candidate: • Skills in Addition to Qualifications: There is a considerable tendency amongst young graduates to consider themselves indispensible as a result of their degree classification or place of study. This is naivety at best. Of course, obtaining a good degree from a good busy is almost certainly preferable. And true, many of the country’s top recruiters still demand a 2.1 and some pay closer attention to university league tables than others. Beyond this, transferable skills, personal attributes and work experience will all stand out just as much as a piece of paper. Those candidates who have managed to achieve both will be particularly sought after. If you’re short on genuine experience, consider an internship or a work placement as a way of building some real substance into your CV. • Work Experience: The acquisition of real, applied industry experience is one of the primary ways that a candidate can make themselves stand out from a plethora of graduates. A second class degree (or higher) is now mandatory in many cases, so employers need to look to other measures in order to differentiate one candidate from another. Sandwich courses are now particularly well-regarded for this reason, as highlighted by a recent report from the Department for Education and Skills on 'Employer and University Engagement in the Use and Development of Graduate Level Skill'. Outside your particular area of focus, any work experience that demonstrates both commitment and diversity will stand you in good stead in any recruitment scenario. Sara Bettsworth, Managing Director at Bettsworth Human Resources Consulting and formerly Head of HR at Lundbeck and Abbott Diabetes Care in the UK suggests that while new graduates cannot always be expected to have applied industry experience at such an early stage of their careers, employers will look to other aspects of the record in determining competency and degree of talent. “When faced with a CV, employers are looking for what skills, experiences and personal characteristics the graduate has noted, in addition to his or her key achievements to date”, she said. Bettsworth added that “…in the absence of any applied industry experience, recruiters will also look to any other activities that demonstrate teamwork, leadership, innovation - perhaps through university clubs and societies or charities”. • Communications and Interpersonal Skills: Perhaps two of the most intensely valued skills by an employer, good communication and interpersonal skills are essential in any area of the corporate world and can make the difference between a good idea in theory and a positive business outcome. A candidate’s ability to effectively articulate information is all-important; the ability to get on with colleagues and co-workers, indispensible. Lee Iacocca, an American businessman most famous for his revival of the Chrysler Corporation in the 1980s, said it best: “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere”. • IT Competency: In the 21st century, almost all jobs require a modicum of technological understanding. Beyond a basic understanding of both hardware and software, most employers specifically ask for a working knowledge of the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) and other every day office applications. Some roles may also demand an understanding of more task-specific applications such as Adobe Photoshop et al. • The Ability to Work in a Team: While leadership qualities are doubtless valued by employers, the ability to work in a team of individuals is also essential to the success of any given corporation. According to research carried out by the Careers Research Advisory Committee back in 2003, while employers rate teamwork as their number one priority, “...only 25 per cent of respondents thought it important to develop such skills”. Today, that situation is unlikely to have changed, in the same way that employers are not likely to have devalued the importance they place on any other core skill or asset. It is therefore not a coincidence that most modern-day assessment centres test for a candidate’s proficiency in this area by running a series of group tasks and presentations. • Professionalism: As obvious as it may seem, there are many characteristics that can contribute to the creation of a professional image in the workplace. For instance, how you dress can say a lot about your professional outlook. Under present-day dress codes, jeans and a casual shirt may work well for the office, but such attire may not be suitable for a field visit – or indeed your first interview! Equally, common courtesies such as putting your hand over your mouth when you yawn and not chewing gum during a meeting or an interview will go a long way to defining you as a serious, considerate and professional employee.

Max Golby

Last updated on: 27/08/2010 11:40:18

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