Key Employability Skills for Graduates

What did you learn at school and university?  

When you leave education and apply for a job will you be able to demonstrate that you have the skills and abilities employers are looking for?

Having the right degree, in a relevant subject, with good grades, might help to get you shortlisted for a job – but getting the job will usually mean that you have demonstrated your abilities in other areas too.

Employers want graduates with a variety of well-honed life skills, just getting the job done is not enough.  You’ll need to be able to work unsupervised as well as be a team-player, demonstrate creativity and develop innovative ideas.  You’ll need to have a good attitude, be well motivated, manage your time well – work hard but not get burnt out - and stay positive and enthusiastic.  You’ll need to be assertive and be able to solve problems, make decisions and negotiate effectively. 

You will need to be able to communicate effectively in face-to-face situations, over the phone, online, via email, in reports, using statistics and other numerical data, with a wide variety of different people and in different settings.  You will need to be aware of your personal strengths and weaknesses and continually seek ways to improve and develop yourself – you’ll be confident but not afraid to ask for help when you need it.

It doesn’t matter if you studied ancient history or computer science. The skills employers are looking for are generic – above and beyond academic achievement – they are the skills you need to get and maintain a job.

The Skills Gap

There has been a lot of discussion over recent years about a perceived ‘Skills Gap’, a difference (or gap) between the skills employers want and the skills that young people develop whilst in education.  The skills listed on this page are the type of skills that are usually identified as part of the ‘Skills Gap’.

See our page: The Skills Gap for more discussion.

The lists of skills below may seem daunting - especially at first glance.  You will, however, have already developed a lot of these skills from aspects of your life, at school and university, through work experience - either paid or voluntary - and through your social and family life.  Remember, employers want ‘well-rounded’ people with a good mix of academic achievement, experience, common sense and life skills. The purpose of this page is to get you to think about the kinds of skills, above and beyond the qualifications that employers are looking for.

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Develop the skills you need to get that job.

This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.

Communication Skills

Employers will want you to be able to demonstrate that you can communicate well in a variety of situations – depending on the job role these will include:

  • The ability to listen, process and interpret information and follow instructions.  See: Listening and Active Listening.

  • The ability to assess the most appropriate method and style of communication in any given situation. See: What is Communication?.

  • Conflict handling and the ability to communicate effectively in difficult situations. See: Communication in Difficult Situations and Dealing with Aggression.

  • Understanding of business terms, especially terms specific to the role you are applying for.  See: Increasing Business Vocabulary.

  • Oral presentation - most job roles will include some element of presentation skills and speaking to or as part of a group. – See: Presentation Skills and Effective Speaking.

  • Clear and well-structured preparation and presentation of written communication, for emails, letters, business reports etc.  Writing skills will include strong word-processing skills. – See: Writing Skills.

  • Ability to develop and sustain a logical argument - and defend that argument in a reasonable manner.  See Assertiveness.

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are the skills we use to interact and build relationships with other people.  In the workplace it is likely that you will need to work well with a variety of different people, in different roles, at different levels of seniority and from different cultures.

  • The ability to network, build rapport and gain the understanding of different people, colleagues, managers and bosses, clients, customers and the general public.  See: Building Rapport and What is Charisma?

  • Group and team working skills – including the ability to participate and work with others in a positive, organised and collaborative way.  See: What are Groups and Teams?

  • The ability to work alone and proactively, demonstrating good personal motivation and time management.  See: Time Management and Self Motivation.

  • To possess a strong awareness of yourself and the impact that you make on others.  See Emotional Intelligence.

  • The ability to negotiate effectively in a variety of situations, to be able to persuade and influence. See: Negotiation Skills.

  • Problem solving and analysis skills, including systematic and logical reasoning, critical evaluation, appropriate interpretation and innovation and creativity. See: Problem Solving.

  • Being able to make informed and logical decisions and to be able to apply decisions effectively at a group and personal level.  See: Decision Making.

  • To understand your weaknesses and be able to deal with criticism constructively.  See: Dealing with Criticism.

Personal Skills

Personal skills are concerned with looking after your own well-being, both body and mind. These skills are the foundations for success in other areas and should not be overlooked, they include such things as:

  • Coping with and managing your stress levels and those of others.  See What is Stress?Avoiding Stress and Stress in the Workplace.

  • Maintaining an appropriate personal appearance and attitude. See Personal Appearance.

  • Balancing your work and personal life effectively and finding time to relax: See Relaxation Techniques.

  • Developing and maintaining self-esteem and confidence. See: Self-Esteem and Building Confidence.

  • Ability to define personal priorities and manage your time effectively.  See Time Management.

  • Ability to take responsibility for evaluating and structuring your own learning.  See Personal Development.

  • Understanding the need to be open-minded and flexible in the pursuit of new skills and knowledge to actively engage in continuing professional development.

  • To be able to research effectively, using all means available including print and online materials.  See our section on Study Skills for more information.

  • The ability to continuously assess the gaps in your personal knowledge and skills and find ways to strengthen and develop them.

  • Ability to compare and contrast theoretical models and relate them to practical and contemporary issues.  See: What is Theory?

Numeracy Skills

Employers will undoubtedly want you to be able to interpret, analyse and present numerical data effectively.  You should be comfortable using a calculator and spreadsheet as well as understanding the most appropriate ways to manipulate and present numbers.

Employers are likely to want you to be able to:

  • Show an understanding of basic numeracy and its application to practical situations.
  • Present numerical data effectively and the ability to explain numerical information clearly.
  • Show an understanding of basic statistical operations and appropriate application of such.
  • Model problems mathematically and solve problems quantitatively.
  • Demonstrate an awareness of commercial financial issues affecting organisations.

See our section: Numeracy Skills for more information.

General Awareness

Finally, it is also beneficial to stay up-to-date with current affairs and issues. You should have a basic understanding of the following areas.

  • Local and global politics and their effect on the organisation, industry or sector.
  • Ethical issues – knowing what’s right and what’s wrong and aiming always to act in an ethical and responsible way.
  • Environmental issues and how these affect you and your job role.
  • Health and safety issues, be aware of some basic health and safety guidelines and learn some basic first aid.
  • The impact of the organisation on society and in the community.

See our pages: Commercial Awareness and Critical Thinking for more information.