What are employers looking for?

What skills are employers looking for and why are they important?
Relevant to

Whether you're looking for a graduate position, or planning on going straight into work, employer surveys continue to emphasise the need to have good key skills, transferable skills, the ability to network, and above all, the right attitude. Identifying your skills can really help you focus on which jobs might be good for you.


What skills are employers looking for?

  • When it comes to recruiting graduates, attitudes and aptitudes are often seen as more important than formal qualifications.
  • Although technical and basic skills are required to get past the initial application stage, other aspects such as personal qualities, attitudes, and general aptitudes are then seen as far more critical.
  • Resilience is frequently cited by employers as an essential quality for young people to possess – the ability to cope with setbacks and criticism, be motivated to overcome obstacles, and stay calm under pressure.
  • A positive attitude to work, punctuality, flexibility, verbal communication skills, and the ability to make a professional introduction are all crucial when deciding whether to recruit a young person.
  • Nearly half of employers stated that they had not hired a young person because they felt they did not have the right attitude.

What skills are missing?

A significant number of employers say graduates lack basic skills in numeracy and literacy. A weakness in basic skills can affect performance in everyday tasks, for example, the ability to draw out information from written texts and instructions, produce written reports, or work through calculations and make sense of numerical data.

Employers are also concerned that applicants lack appropriate skills in problem solving, communication, teamwork, analytical thinking, self-management, and resilience (able to cope with change and pressure in the workplace).


How can I develop these skills?

You will already have a significant array of skills and knowledge. It may be that you are just not aware of the skills and knowledge you have!

Many skills are transferable, which means you can develop them in a learning, work, or social context and use or enhance them in other contexts. They help people to be adaptable and flexible, and to cope with change.

Transferable skills help you:

  • do things independently
  • know how to find things out
  • think creatively
  • sort out problems
  • organise and manage your own work
  • get on with other people and make a good contribution in a team
  • show leadership

Specific skills are those needed to do a particular job or work in a particular industry. Employers may set out the actual skills needed to do a job and cannot employ those who don’t have them. They are most commonly developed through vocational education and training, such as an apprenticeship or a foundation degree. They are recognised by trade and professional bodies and may provide a licence to practise, or exempt people from having to take a professional exam after they’ve started a job.

You can maintain existing skills and develop others in a variety of ways, not just through your education and training. These are very relevant for you to reference in job applications and your UCAS personal statement, because universities, colleges, and employers will be looking for the wider contexts in which you have developed your skills and experience.

  • Part-time work can help develop your confidence and skills in teamwork, communication, and customer service. Turning up for work on time and being able to handle things when it gets busy all demonstrate you are committed and reliable. Part-time work can also help maintain basic numeracy skills if you have to handle money or work out quantities of goods.
  • Sport develops teamwork and organisation if you have to help arrange events. Improving your sporting skills through training requires commitment, motivation, and perseverance – all great attitudes that you can talk about.
  • Performing arts are helpful for developing confidence in communication and presentation. Planning and organisation skills are developed by helping to run a performance, or key skills by getting involved in writing programmes, or helping to work out costs for performances.
  • Clubs, societies, and voluntary work – organising a student debating club, acting as a treasurer for a chess club, writing for community newspapers, or acting as a mentor to disadvantaged children are a few examples of the huge variety of activities you could undertake. These offer many ways to develop different skills and demonstrate that you have a positive attitude at the same time.

How are careers changing?

Jobs are increasingly done on the move, any time of the day, in almost any location. Career paths are no longer linear – people are more likely than ever to switch careers, work for employers of different sizes, and set up their own businesses.

Careers of the future will require particular skills, qualities, and aptitudes, so you will need to be adaptable, flexible, willing to up-skill, and motivated to adjust to different work environments.

Does it matter what and where I study?

  • Employers say it’s difficult to recruit people with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills at all levels.
  • 40% of employers surveyed said that they preferred to recruit graduates with a STEM subject.
  • 19% of employers preferred a business-related subject.
  • 34% stated they did not have any preference for a degree subject.
  • Only 17% of employers said the university an applicant attended was one of their top three considerations.
  • Important: Some careers and professions do require specific degrees, subjects, or other qualifications, so always check if you have a particular career in mind before choosing your degree.