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What recruiters want

Recruiters are looking for something in particular when they advertise a job. If you can show that you have the qualities they're looking for you can give yourself a distinct advantage. Knowing how to analyse what an employer wants in a job advert can give you a real edge.

When you start your job search and begin applying for your first graduate job, it helps to know what recruiters are looking for. It's all about your 'employability' and what value you can add to an organisation. It's very likely that employers will define this in terms of ‘competences’: the skills that are needed for working – rather than academic – life.

Employers will always say that they want the best graduates for their organisation, although what that means in practice can vary. We surveyed top graduate recruiters for the gradireland Graduate Salary & Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey 2013 and one of the questions we asked was about their selection criteria. It’s still true that employers expect high academic achievements, with many specifying either a 2.1 or a 2.2 as a minimum. But equally important was the ability to demonstrate key ‘competencies’: the skills that are needed for working – rather than academic – life.

What employers say

Graduates today are entering a highly competitive jobs market; as a result its is more important than ever to truly own your own career. Think about the qualifications, skills and attributes you believe are your greatest asset and consider these when researching your career options. At interview, it is essential that you sell your skills and experiences. Don't hold back on showing the interviewer your enthusiasm for pursuing your chosen career path. Rose Mary Hogan, Resourcing Manager, Deloitte.

What experts say

For some tips from the experts, check out recruitment consultant Rowan Manahan's engaging talk at a recent gradireland event

 

Remember, you can make your application stand out by thinking about how you can demonstrate the skills specific to the job you are after. Work experience can give you lots of examples to draw on – and this is probably the most valuable thing you can do to boost your employability – but voluntary work, extra-curricular activities and aspects of your studies can also feed into your skills inventory.

Employability skills defined

  • Soft skills: personal qualities, eg problem solving, communication skills.
  • Hard skills: skills that can be taught, eg writing, numeracy.
  • Knowledge-based skills: specialist knowledge in areas such as business or science.
  • Transferable skills: a skill you have learnt in one context, eg university, that can be used in another, eg work. Particularly important at graduate level where you may not have experience of the job that you are applying for.

How employers use 'competences' in job specifications

A 'job spec' is a blueprint for a job and outlines the skills, qualifications, attributes and experience that a successful candidate should have. It’s put together by managers and HR people before creative people write the job advertisement.

A typical job spec would use headings such as ‘Qualifications’, ‘Knowledge, skills and personal qualities’ and ‘Work experience’. Under each heading would be a list of ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ attributes. The candidates that tick the most boxes will be the ones who are shortlisted.

This information is not always included in the job ad, but it should still be possible from the advert to work out what the job spec is like. Then assess what you have in the ‘desirable’ and ‘essential’ categories: if you’re a good fit, tell them about it.

How to demonstrate your skills in a job application or interview

'Competence-based interviews' are common in graduate recruitment. These involve questions aimed at finding out whether you have a particular set of skills. Questions in job application forms work in a similar way.

Employers want you to demonstrate that you have the skills they want. This is how to do it:

  • Provide examples of times when you have used a particular skill. Have a variety of examples that you can use in your application form or talk about at interview. Examples may come from work experience, your studies or your extra-curricular activities (clubs, sports etc).
  • Careers advisers recommend the 'STAR' approach to structuring your answers: Situation (set the scene), Task (what you set out to achieve), Action (what YOU did to achieve it), Result (the outcome).
  • When discussing work experience, focus on what you've achieved rather than just the tasks: this could be something you did for the business or something that you learned.
  • Be as specific as possible.

How to interpret a job advertisement

A lot of work has taken place before a recruitment advert hits the job boards. If you can think backwards from the ad, it’s fairly easy to identify what the employer is really looking for.

It starts with the job specification

A job spec is a blueprint for a job and outlines the skills, qualifications, attributes and experience that a successful candidate should have. It’s put together by managers and HR people before creative people write the job advertisement.

A typical job spec would use headings such as ‘Qualifications’, ‘Knowledge, skills and personal qualities’ and ‘Work experience’. Under each heading would be a list of ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ attributes. The candidates that tick the most boxes will be the ones who are shortlisted.

If you are really lucky, this information will be included in the job ad. In most cases, it won’t. That’s partly because ads that look like job spec forms are dull and partly because the advertiser doesn’t want to spoonfeed you: as a graduate, you’ll be expected to have a bit of initiative! The main reason is that job specs are often a bit generic so don’t lend themselves to clever branding ideas that distinguish one employer from another. Adverts for graduate positions in particular are more likely to focus on selling the company to you than on telling you specifics about the job.

A job advert will tell you

  • the nature of the job and a little about its scope.
  • an outline of the tasks involved in doing the job.
  • a hint of how the company sees its own culture.
  • contact details and how to apply.

It’s not a lot to go on, and that’s why you should try to work out the job spec when replying to an ad. What skills are required for each of the areas outlined in the advertisement? What are the crucial success factors for these tasks?

Careers jargon explained: the key competencies recruiters look for

Employers have their own way of describing the skills they look for. Here are some examples of the terms they use and what they mean.

 

Action planning: Able to plan and implement an effective course of action. Organising time effectively and preparing contingency plans. Able to monitor and evaluate progress against specific objectives.

Communication: The ability to convey information so that it is received and understood. The ability to get your point across. Good writing is part of this, but it's also about being able to talk to people persuasively – and effective listening.

Connected: Is a team player (eg has skills in management, meetings, networking, negotiation and presentation).

Coping with uncertainty: Able to adapt goals in the light of changing circumstances and take on a myriad of tiny risks.

Development focus: Committed to lifelong learning. Understands preferred method and style of learning. Reflects on learning from experiences, good and bad. Able to learn from the mistakes of others.

Exploring opportunities: Able to identify, create, investigate and seize opportunities, help and support.

Generalist: Has general business skills and knowledge (eg finance/basic accounting, problem solving).

Initiative: The ability to think for yourself and to work independently.

Interpersonal skills: Relating to people effectively (particularly in a business context) using social communication and interactions. Building effective working relationships, dealing with conflict assertively. Also known as 'people skills' and closely linked to communication skills.

Leadership potential: The ability to influence others to achieve business goals.

Negotiation: Able to negotiate from a position of powerlessness and reach 'win/win' agreements.

Networking: Able to define, develop and maintain a support network for advice and information.

Matching and decision-making: Understands personal priorities and constraints, which includes the need for a sustainable balance of work and home life. Able to match opportunities to core skills, knowledge, values, interests etc. Able to make an informed decision based on the available opportunities.

Political awareness: Can locate and understand the hidden tensions and power struggles within organisations.

Problem-solving: Analysing a problem, identifying various ways to deal with it, assessing and choosing the most appropriate solution. Effective decision-making.

Self awareness: Able to clearly identify skills, values, interests and core strengths. Actively willing to seek feedback from others. Able to identify areas for personal, academic and professional development.

Self confidence: Has an underlying confidence in abilities, based on past successes. Also has a personal sense of self-worth, irrespective of performance.

Self-promotion: Can identify 'customer needs' and can define and promote own strengths in a convincing way.

Self-reliant: Can work alone as well as with others (eg confidence, self-awareness, action planning).

Specialist: Expertise in a particular area (eg tax accounting, family law, aerospace engineering).

Team-working: Working co-operatively in a group of people with different, complementary skills. Thinking about how your work affects others. Working towards a common aim.

Transfer skills: Able to apply skills to new contexts – a higher-level skill in itself.