Part one: how employable are you?

This is part one of a two part blog post by Janet Davies, editor of mygraduatecareer.com and myexecutivecareer.com.

According to a recent survey conducted by the CBI and National Union of Students, more than half of students want their university to provide more help for them to understand employability skills. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone; fees are high and the job market is tough. But what does employability really mean, how can you improve yours and demonstrate it in your CV and at interview?

What is employability?
Employability is essentially the combination of skills, qualifications, knowledge, experience, contacts and personal characteristics that make you attractive enough to organisations for them to want to hire you! It’s the ‘career catnip’ that everyone strives to achieve, not just as a graduate but throughout their lifetime. Simply having a good degree isn’t enough. What constitutes employability at any given time, or in any given circumstance, is constantly changing. Before the advent of computing technology, being able to write code, build a website or use Microsoft Word wouldn’t have appeared on anyone’s list of desirable skills. Today, computer literacy is a given for almost all jobs – particularly if you’re a graduate. Who knows what tomorrow’s hot skill will be? That’s what can make staying on top of your employability so tricky and why you need to take every opportunity for personal development you can get your hands on! That said, there are some key areas that will come up time and time again during the selection process. Make sure that you have a plan to demonstrate that you meet or exceed these requirements if you want a shot at the best opportunities. Being under-employed, i.e. doing a boring, dead-end job as a grad is almost worse than being unemployed (except there is at least some cash involved!), so here’s your starter for ten.

Team-working:
Almost all jobs require the ability to work constructively with others and most graduates aspire to management or leadership positions sooner or later in their career. Having the aptitude to get things done with and through others comes high on the ’employability checklist’ for most graduate recruiters. Hiring managers usually want people they can rely on to create a positive team ethos, not high maintenance, lazy, maverick divas. You will definitely be asked to provide examples of how you’ve already demonstrated that you can work in, or lead, a team – assessment centres usually have a group exercise element to put that to the test. Have you taken part in team sports? Have you been involved in a team challenge for a charity or volunteering project? Have you worked well with a lab partner or a project partner throughout your degree? Would your friends and colleagues say that you’re good at contributing to discussions, able to handle responsibility, respectful and considerate of others, able to negotiate with or influence others? Make sure that you can reference as many examples of team working as possible because using the same one several times on one application form will not impress selectors.

Communication skills: Good team work usually means being effective at communication too. Being able to produce clear, structured written work such as reports and presentations (the meat and drink of organisational life) should be something that has been tested and achieved during your undergraduate years. However, many employers complain that candidates cannot spell, have a poor command of grammar and are unable to express themselves in writing or orally. Part of the ‘weapons of mass rejection’ strategy of many big employers is to introduce verbal reasoning and literacy tests early in the selection process – if you can’t communicate your suitability for the job in question, they won’t be confident that you can communicate to a high enough standard with clients and colleagues. Not everyone can speak completely confidently and calmly at interviews. Recruiters expect a little nervousness at interviews, however, they will need to decide if you are temporarily tongue tied or simply unable to express yourself in any situation.

Problem solving: Organisations are constantly faced with challenges: Where is the best place to source or spend their money? Which customers, products or services will be most profitable? How will new legislation, supplies of resources, climate change, competitors or Governments affect their ability to survive and prosper? Recruiters need to identify those candidates who can help their organisations solve their problems, not create or ignore them. How will you show them that you have experience of problem solving and have demonstrated an ability to think creatively? Are you motivated to find effective solutions? Can you think logically and strategically? Do you see the big picture and ask the right questions? Your degree subject may give you an edge here if you have studied science, maths (or perhaps you’ve won a prestigious prize), but everyone must be prepared to provide examples that will set them apart from the crowd.

Numeracy: Some roles require much greater levels of numeracy than others, however, a certain level of competence is essential for pretty much all true graduate-level roles today. Careers in accounting, market and scientific research, asset and investment management, engineering and so forth all require above average qualifications because the ability to manipulate and interpret numbers is the essence of such roles. However, most managerial or professional roles will also require the ability to manage or set a budget, interpret sales figures or the key performance indicator reports that affect a particular functional role – customer traffic on a website, employee turnover statistics, conversions of sales calls to orders and so on. Numeracy tests are used early in the application processes for most big company roles today and can cause less confident candidates a great deal of anxiety. Many of the tests are far more complex and challenging than is strictly necessary and even experienced hires will sometimes be asked to take quite tough tests. Be that as it may, you need to be prepared – take as many practice tests as possible beforehand.

Make sure you check back again later this week for the second part of ‘How employable are you?’ for further advice on how to improve your employability skills and demonstrate them on your CV to help you get that graduate internship or job. In part two find advice on IT literacy, self-management, commercial awareness and work experience.

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