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Guest Blog: The 7 most important soft skills for graduates

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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.

Self-Management

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!

Communication

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.

Adaptability

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.

Leadership

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.

Brenda Welch

I'm Brenda, and I'm one of the first people you'll see when you come into the Careers office. I moved to the UK to study Library Science, and now I'm in charge of making sure we have the best information on jobs and careers for you! After working in universities in the US and purchasing for the manufacturing sector, I can help you think about moving abroad or jobs in sectors you might not have thought of. I'll be writing about new resources online and in the Careers Centre, and lesser known job fields.

One Comment

  1. The best way to prove you do not need any hand-holding, and can start booking results as soon as possible, is to show you have developed your soft skills. Not only will employers see that you are serious about your career and open to new things, but they are in themselves valuable as well.

    Imagine if your resume could somehow prove that you are good at coming up with the best solutions. I think that would get you far. Young people should not just lean on their degree (for which they deserve praise) but also have a good look at the skills they bring.

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