Guest Blog: The 7 most important soft skills for graduates


Guest blog from Inspiring Interns

When you first embark on the hunt for graduate jobs, it can be a familiar story that everyone wants more experience than is physically possible. Do they really think a fresh university graduate with 5 years’ experience in advanced aerospace engineering exists?

However, don’t fear, not all employers are so unrealistic, and many will focus on attracting candidates with certain key soft skills instead. What are soft skills? Well, simply, they’re skills that don’t require any technical knowledge, but instead chart certain behavioural or personality traits that are advantageous to employers.

A 2014 study found that employers valued soft skills such as strong communication and the ability to work in a team as even more important than technical knowledge. Similarly, in 2015 Hay Group research discovered that 93% of employers consider soft skills in the workplace as vital to success.

They allow employers to hire on the instinct that you have the ability to grow into a good worker, despite not having specific technical experience in the field. By ensuring you know how to cultivate and provide evidence of certain key soft skills, you’ll become incredibly attractive to a broad range of employers, even if you haven’t worked specifically in the industry before.

Lateral Thinking

An important trait that many hiring managers will be looking for from graduate is the ability to bring fresh thinking into the workplace environment. Having potentially grown up in a different generation to many of your new colleagues, the chances are you’ll have a different perspective on certain problems and may be able to come up with a creative solution that they wouldn’t have considered. This kind of thinking can be invaluable to a growing business.

How do you show it? Try and come up with a time that you’ve found a creative solution to a problem either during your studies, as part of a society or club, or even during your part time job. If you the job specification specifically asks for this kind of creative thinking then don’t be afraid to outline the example in your cover letter, or at the very least be prepared to work the case into your interview.


Do you keep coming across jobs asking for a ‘real self-starter’? What they’re asking for is someone who is able to quickly work independently and work to targets without an extended period of hand-holding.

This is particularly relevant to SMEs who may not have the resources to provide you with an extended training period and expect you to pick up things much more independently. On top of this, self-management is also about the more traditional skills of effectively managing your time and tasks as well as simply making sure you rock up at the office on time.

A good way of providing evidence of your ability to self-manage is to show times when you’ve started something off your own back. This could be an initiative you began as part of a society, a campaign you run for student media or even starting a blog about something that interests you. And of course make sure that you turn up to the interview on time!


Strong communication is regularly valued as the most important soft skill for employers, and it’s easy to see why. You might not think that your career path revolves around talking to people or writing, but in the connected world we now live in it’s incredibly important to be able to effectively communicate with people over email, the phone, or in meetings. Being able to talk clearly and concisely is essential to any workplace.

Of course, the best way to make this clear is to ensure that your early communications with the employer are as strong as possible. Ensure that your cover letter and CV are all killer no filler. In an interview situation do your best to come across as confident and polite. If you need time to think of an answer, pause, breath and think; this will come across as far more impressive than filling the time with ‘umms’ and ‘likes’ while you work out what you want to say.

Working in a team

One of the buzzwords of recruitment nowadays is ‘cultural fit’ and in essence it’s all about how well you can fit in with your new team. Your ability to slot into your new work environment, effectively communicate and get on with everyone is essential to the success of any company. Hiring managers aren’t interested in people who can’t knuckle down and consider the success of the team, and therefore the success of the company, over and above their own goals.

Again, forming a relationship with whoever is interviewing you here is key as a marker of how well you’ll work with your future colleagues, but don’t forget to come prepared with an example of your teamwork in action. Perhaps you worked on a project as part of a team or worked together with a group of your friends to establish an event.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is all about your ability to understand and control both your own emotions, and the emotions of others. It can greatly affect your ability to communicate internally, as well as indicate how you might get on working with clients to understand their needs and what makes them tick. It’s these kind of factors that are key to negotiation and selling and will gain the trust of your employers to let you get more involved in top level parts of the business.

Highlighting collaborative work you’ve done in the past is key here too, but it’s also important to display your passion. Employers generally want to hire someone who cares about what they’re doing (perhaps if they don’t then they’re not worth working for) and by showing them you have a genuine interest in the sector you’re displaying that you understand what’s important to them too.


In a junior role at a company, you may be expected to be reactive in your working day, and so displaying how easily you can adapt to new tasks is important to many employers looking to hire a graduate. They want to hire candidates who are willing to go the extra mile, and this can be as much about showing you’ve got something new or different to bring to the role as much as it is about taking on ad-hoc duties.

Consider if you have something different to bring to the role that can benefit the company without being explicitly asked for. Do you speak a second language? Can you code? Are you skilled in the adobe suite? These will separate you from the crowd and show you’ve got something new to bring to the company.


While it is unlikely that you’ll be put in charge of a team straight out of university, it will still be important to employers that you at least have the potential to take charge. The chances of employers being willing to employ someone who they see as unable to progress within the company are small.

Simply think of times you’ve led. Perhaps you took charge during a group project or decided to take a committee role at your society or sports team. As always it’s about providing proof of your skills, rather than simply stating them.


Matt Arnerich is a content writer for the Inspiring Interns, the UK’s leading provider of graduate roles and internships. He writes graduate careers advice across everything from application and interview tips, to information on the state of the graduate market. Inspiring Interns works with companies all across the capital, but if you’re looking for opportunities further north, check out their graduate jobs in Manchester.


Two New CityCareers Work shops: Career Choice and Management Consultancy

Just wanted to promote these 2 new workshops. Details of content and booking via the links.

Title: Career Choice and Career Planning Workshop : Wed 30 March. 1 – 2 pm. C102.

Unsure what to do after uni? Then this could be for you. The workshop is particularly suitable for undergraduates in any year.


 Title: Introduction to the management consultancy sector.  Thursday  31 of March.  12:00 – 13:00

 This session would suit all students. However, it may prove particularly interesting if you have little or no knowledge of Management Consultancy. If you have an advanced knowledge of management consultancy then this session may not be for you.Some areas may be covered a little more in-depth than others. Where areas are not covered in-depth you will be directed to resources which will allow further beneficial research.  Please book via  https://careershub.city.ac.uk/students/events/search?query=+management+consultancy&eventType= before places go!




The Discover Risk website – a mine of great jobs – and not just in finance!


Ant portraitHello again

In my job as a careers consultant at City, I sometimes take time to promote job vacancies. And today, I want to highlight some vacancies at XL Catlin, a global insurance and re-insurance firm. The insurance sector is a big recruiter of graduates, though not many students are aware of this. It is a also growing sector that offers steady employment and a good work-life balance. So insurance is clearly a good option for students interested in a career in finance – but who else might it suit? Well, XL Catlin are currently looking for a Compliance Trainee. So this might particularly suit a Law student who has decided against becoming a solicitor or barrister, although it could suit students who are studying other subjects too. The company are also looking for a Marketing Trainee. Marketing is a notoriously competitive career to get into as a graduate and often people who are interested in marketing only think of firms like Unilever and Nestle. But many good openings can be found in financial marketing and with experience you can then choose to move into a different sector if you like. Another interesting vacancy they have is for a Trainee Underwriter which is a client-facing role that requires good communication skills as well a strong analytical skills.  As well as these roles, the firm is also looking for a Business Management Trainee and a Finance and Accountancy Trainee at the moment plus other positions. Interestingly, XL Catlin accepts 2:2 degrees alongside 280 UCAS points (BBC).

Here is some more info about XL Catlin’s current vacancies and here’s a you can link to Discover Risk website which tells you about the insurance sector and includes lots of job vacancies.







How best to prepare for an assessment centre?

The answer to this is short and sweet. The best preparation is undoubtably to attend a mock assessment centre here at City, where you will be able to work on a task with a  deadline alongside others, among other things. We get great feedback from students who come along .  It is a real confidence-builder for the real thing. Your own performance at an assessment centre will definitely be better after having had this experience as you will have a clearer idea of what it is like to participate and be observed, how you yourself tend to react under pressure and you will also gain an understanding of any areas you need to improve on to do well.

The next Mock Assessment Centre is on Wednesday 9 March 2016 from 1pm – 4pm. You can read more about it here, but will need to come to CityCareers in E125 (Drysdale Building, near the Santander cashpoint) to book a place, which requires a £10.00 returnable deposit. There are a few places left, but these are likely to fill up quickly, so come along to see us as soon as you can.


Women in the Workplace – How to shine? International Women’s Day at City. 8 March 2016. 1-3 pm. Northampton Suite.

2016 Women's DayTomorrow that will be a rare and inspirational opportunity to listen and meet with some female high achievers in various sectors of employment  and to find out what has made them successful. They will be talking about their early influencers and career planning. They will also be giving their top tips about how to stand out at work and overcome barriers to development, whether imposed by yourself, others or your workplace. We have some great names coming along and you can either come for the full event, which involves an hour of structured questions led by the hosts followed by questions from the floor and an hour’s networking, or just come for the first hour to listen. Here is the line up for the day:

Confirmed Panellists:

  1. Susannah Marsden, Director of Student and Academic Services, City University London
  2. Charlotte Proudman, Barrister, Mansfield Chambers (in the news recently!)
  3. Kate White, CEO, National Centre for Circus Arts
  4. Sharon Northey, Securities Associate Manager, Accenture
  5. Emma Thomas, Head of Employment, Essex County Council
  6. Leanne Tritton, Managing Director, ING Media
  7. Selina Emeny, International Group Council for Live Nation Entertainment
  8. Gillian Smith, Head of Civil Service Fast Stream and Civil Service Fast Track, The Civil Service

Make sure you book your place here: women’s day





Guest Blog: 8 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Graduate Cover Letter

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Guest Blog by Matt Arnerich, Inspiring Interns

8 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Graduate Cover Letter

When it’s time to start looking at graduate jobs fresh out of university, there might not be much to differentiate your CV from the people you’re competing with. One great way to stand out from the crowd is to pen a top cover letter.

However, it can be quite easy to make basic mistakes on these cover letters. If you don’t have any professional work experience, your ability to communicate effectively can be one the main things that potential employers are looking out for, so it’s important that these cover letters are written effectively.

Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be snapped up in no time.


  1. Too Many Pages

The standard answer to how long you should keep your cover letter is to keep it to no more than a page. But it turns out even this may be too long; a survey from 2011 discovered that over 70% of employers would much rather a half page letter.

The point here is that you shouldn’t be afraid to go shorter than a full page. If you find yourself adding unnecessary filler just to get it up to a page in length, then you’ll be doing more harm than good.

The perfect cover letter is full to the brim with relevant, engaging, concise information. Include everything that you need to help you land the job, and no more.

  1. All filler no killer

‘I’m an enthusiastic, passionate, hard-working graduate’ or ‘I work brilliantly individually, as well as part of a team’ are huge repellents. If you find yourself simply writing a list of certain desirable attributes with no relation to experience or proof, it won’t come across as very impressive.

Ensure you provide proof for every claim you make. Give them an example of a time you succeeded as part of a team, or really worked hard and pulled a long shift at work. If you are engaging and honest in your letter, your passion should come across naturally.

  1. Not doing your research

The first thing to do is to avoid ‘templating’ at all costs. Never include ‘I really want to work for _____’; if anything it demonstrates that you’d be willing to work for anyone.

As much as possible, try to keep the content of your letters original, even if you are applying to lots of different companies. Doing some quick research will allow you to discuss something you love about the way they work, or something they’ve produced that you think is great.

The fact that you’ve taken the time to look into their company will always come off better than random declarations of love.

  1. It’s all about you

Of course your cover letter is an opportunity to get yourself across, but the focus should always be on how you’ll be an asset to the business.

If the employer can’t attach your experience, skills or education detailed on your cover letter to real benefits for the company, then don’t write them down. The entire point of a cover letter is to take what you have and show why it’s the right fit for what they want.

Really consider what the business needs in their new recruit, and ensure that everything your write is with this in mind. If your cover letter is just a repeat of everything on your CV, then what was the point of writing one?

  1. Oversharing

Increasingly, employers looking to hire a graduate are placing a focus on ensuring that their new recruits fit into the ‘company culture’. This isn’t all about your active social life, or ability on the office table-football table though.

Again, research here is key, use their social media and online presence to find their values, and demonstrate how you share them. It’ll show you’ve done your research on the company, and that you care about the same things they do.

  1. Using too many negatives

When you’re fresh out of university and you are yet to get any relevant work experience, it’s very easy to feel like you’re lacking something, or like you aren’t going to succeed. Especially when we all have that mate Dave who has somehow managed to squeeze 74 internships into his three year university course.

Just remember that you’ve always got something to offer, and it’s never a good idea begin a sentence with ‘While I may lack….’ or ‘Even though I’m not the best…’. Think back on your time at university and find a way to make the experience you had or the skills you learnt applicable to how you’re going to benefit the company.

  1. It’s Too formal

Now that you’re out in the big wide world acting like a grown-up it’s attractive to use overly formal language. Honestly, referring to yourself as a ‘scholastic, fustian alumnus’ is unlikely to go down well. Regardless of the area you’re working in, most graduate jobs involve customer contact of some kind and it’s important that you have clear communication skills.

Being succinct is incredibly important when writing your cover letter, and unnecessary formal language is likely to confuse what you’re trying to get across. Of course you want to avoid slang and colloquialisms, make sure you read your cover letter out loud and strike off the parts that don’t sound natural. Think, polite, conversational language.

Consider using a tool like the Hemingway App, where you plug in a section of text, and it’ll give you the best way to simplify it.

  1. Using the same old format

Consider using bullet points, so long as it’s just once. Employ subheadings to make it simpler for someone who is scan reading it to spot what they’re looking for.

If you’ve got any adobe suite experience, don’t be afraid to use it. If you’re applying for a creative role, the design of your cover letter could often be just as important as the content.

If you’re interested in starting your career, take a look at Inspiring Interns’ job listings for graduate jobs in London, or graduate jobs in Manchester.

And don’t forget, get your cover letters reviewed by the Career Consultants at City!  Book your appointment on CareersHub.