The Top 10 Graduate Skills That Employers Look For

10 minutes

Discover the Top 10 Graduate Skills Employers Seek. Learn how to stand out with evidence-based tips for interviews and boost your career appeal.

Regardless of industry, there are certain common skills that every business leader will seek out when they’re interviewing and hiring graduate talent. When searching for a new role, possessing these graduate skills is crucial—as is discussing them with the hiring manager or interviewer, which can help set you apart from the competition.

In this guide, we’ll explore some of the top graduate skills employers look for and highlight some methods of providing evidence for them within the interview environment. Following these tips will help to boost your appeal with potential employers.

Key Graduate Skills for Business Success

With over 800,000 students receiving undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications each year in the United Kingdom, it can be difficult for recent graduates to stand out. This is why it’s crucial to build the graduate skills that lead to professional success—and possess the ability to evidence these skills in the interview environment.

1. Time Management Skills

Maintaining a high quality of work when faced with the pressure of high-volume tasks is vital, particularly as business leaders look to increase the number and complexity of tasks you will be responsible for following any onboarding and training activities.

Developing your time management skills will help you figure out what is—and isn’t—important to prioritise, ensuring that you avoid spending valuable time on low-level tasks that can be done later.

Getting to grips with deadlines will require meticulous planning, assessing the time you spend on tasks and reviewing this information against vital KPIs. A to-do list or diary is an excellent tool, enabling professionals to prioritise their time wisely. Still, software tools also exist that can automate parts of the time-management process, such as Toggl and Todoist. 

Showing business leaders that you possess excellent time management skills will require you to highlight examples of where you’ve been able to maximise your productivity in the past. For example, this could involve describing how you organised your schedule to meet the deadlines for critical coursework or how you overcame time management challenges and got back on track in a prior role.

2. Research Skills

In order to keep up-to-date with industry standards and best practices—as well as to become a valuable asset to the company—you’ll need to be able to exhibit solid research skills. 

Luckily, higher education will provide you with a head-start in evidencing your research ability since you’ll have had to carry out literary reviews and statistical analyses in order to complete assignments and pass exams. 

However, if you’d like to continue to enhance your research skills, there are ways to do so once you’ve left the academic environment. You could sign up for the newsletters of thought leaders or businesses in the sectors you’re interested in or find a professional discussion group—whether this is through a platform such as LinkedIn or via industry conferences and events. 

Demonstrating in-depth knowledge in your chosen field is only one crucial aspect of research skills. Business leaders also want to see that you’re passionate about the industry and committed to lifelong learning—which is vital to succeeding in the modern business environment.

3. Collaboration and Communication Skills

Employees are the driving force of any business. Everyone values a team player that’s eager to contribute to discussions, pitch in when deadlines are looming, and collaborate with colleagues—in and across departments—on various projects. 

Graduates should understand their communication style and how they can tailor it to different audiences since they’ll need to tailor their message in distinct ways to gain buy-in from their peers and senior members of staff, supervisors and executives. 

In the interview environment, you can discuss your teamwork and people skills by demonstrating examples of when you’ve worked collaboratively on a project—whether for a project, team-based hobby or extracurricular activity. 

Whilst it’s important to focus on yourself in this example, highlighting how tasks were delegated and how communication was handled to reach a shared goal are crucial to excelling when answering interview questions about graduate skills in collaboration and communication. Graduate jobs will see you working with multidisciplinary teams, so knowing how to liaise with your colleagues will set you in good stead.

4. Digital Literacy Skills

Technical aptitude is vital in the modern business environment, even if your day-to-day role won’t see you working with technology. Digital literacy skills will be required in almost every role, even if it’s only for scheduling and internal communications—so make certain you take every opportunity possible to build this ability. 

Graduates can set themselves apart from the competition by highlighting their software proficiencies. Advanced use of Microsoft Excel, for instance, is becoming vital across several industries and in roles from sales to marketing, where data-driven strategy is helping to enhance business profitability. Similarly, understanding the Adobe Creative Cloud or Google Suite can be valuable in the business environment, where opportunities for additional responsibilities abound.

Demonstrating your digital literacy skills will often require you to share examples of the projects you’ve worked on. This could be focused on the field that the role you’re interviewing is in—for instance, an automated budgeting spreadsheet for positions within the financial industry or assisting on an open-source software project for software development jobs—but it’s important that you can discuss any duties you had, the tools or technologies used, and what how successful you were.

5. Negotiation Skills

Negotiation is vital within the business environment, and it’s extremely likely that business leaders will want to see that you possess strong negotiating skills. These can come in handy in numerous professional situations, from partnering with new businesses to the consultative sales process. 

Alongside this, negotiation skills can also help when discussing your duties, salary, and any future pay rises—admittedly not vital for many day-to-day responsibilities but crucial for your continuous professional development.  

Negotiation skills often tie in with research. Knowledge is power, and knowing competitive pay rates in your field can give you a solid basis for negotiating a salary uplift. In addition, supporting your claims with evidence is vital in the professional environment, where building a business case for software, a new hire or additional training is commonplace. 

Demonstrating negotiation skills involves highlighting several other traits, from active listening to the aforementioned ability to conduct research. Still, business leaders are also often looking to hear how you’ve been able to address challenges in your examples—they want to know that you can think on your feet and adapt your approach when negotiations aren’t going your way.

6. Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

If you’re able to debate a subject in the lecture hall, then you can convince a client to sign a new deal with you. Both require excellent public speaking and presentation skills, which business leaders highly regard. 

Opportunities for public speaking abound within the modern business environment. For example, with many companies looking to improve their learning and development programmes to retain and upskill the talented staff they’ve fought hard to hire, graduates may be encouraged to lead training sessions on their field of expertise for other departments. 

As a result, being able to communicate clearly and effectively can help you not only to highlight your graduate skills but to discover opportunities for advancement and career mobility.

If your communication skills are rusty after graduation, you can build them back up through practice—whether with friends and family members or with colleagues in a current role—or through participation in events like conferences which will encourage you to address a crowd. Having confidence and strong communication skills will open up a range of opportunities in the business environment, so it’s vital that graduates practice presenting and public speaking often.

7. Leadership Skills

Leadership traits are essential for graduates to possess. Whilst they might not be entering a management or team leader position at this early stage in their career, developing these abilities can help them to integrate into their teams and professionally delegate tasks since a large part of leadership is knowing how to communicate with colleagues. Alongside this, leadership skills highlight adaptability and flexibility, crucial within the Agile business environment.

Business leaders will often look for evidence of leadership traits when an employee comes to them to negotiate a promotion—meaning that it can be valuable to build proficiency for leadership, even if it’s unlikely you’ll get to flex that skill in the day-to-day duties of an early-career role. 

Demonstrating your leadership skills can be difficult if you’ve never found yourself in such a position—although it’s important to think of any examples you can, from coaching sports teams to group coursework or volunteering. Try to think of times that you’ve motivated and inspired others to produce high-quality work or prioritised and delegated tasks and resolved conflicts.

8. Problem-Solving Skills

With the digitalisation and automation of many tasks in the modern workplace, roles are becoming increasingly complex—requiring candidates to find innovative solutions to problems that might not have been faced before. Graduates will develop solid problem-solving skills throughout their studies, but it’s important to know how to evidence these when asked in the interview environment. 

This can be done by referencing times you’ve had to exhibit effective decision-making. Highlighting examples of your ability to formulate solutions based on well-informed critical analysis—whether that’s in coursework or in a part-time job you held whilst at university, for instance—can highlight your value for a business leader that’s looking for strong, independent thinkers that can help them to achieve their goals.

Alongside this, it’s important that graduates know how to communicate their solutions effectively—particularly in the business environment, where they might not possess the technical expertise to implement a fix but will be expected to collaborate with a colleague from another department to ensure issues are rectified quickly.

9. Analytical Skills

With the volume of data now available, businesses that cannot leverage data-driven strategies—whether due to a shortage of suitable talent or a lack of access to data sources—are finding that they’re falling behind competitors. As a result, business leaders are focused on discovering graduates that can bring these skills to their day-to-day duties. 

Candidates with the skill to analyse large data sets and either extract insights themselves—or can automate this process so that software can highlight trends—will find that they stand out amongst job-seekers since they’ll be able to empower their organisations to make robust, informed decisions which help them reach their long-term goals. 

You don’t have to be a data or computer science graduate to build these skills. Think of areas of your life that could be made easier or more successful with access to data—such as personal finances or weight-lifting—or a hobby that you can track the metrics of, like a sports team. With a host of publicly-available data sets and access to software like Excel, you can produce powerful reports which give you—and your interviewer—valuable insights which can dictate your next move.

10. Creative Thinking Skills

Business leaders want to introduce graduate talent into their organisations to take advantage of the innovative and creative approaches they can bring to their roles. Graduates have an important role in helping organisations stay competitive, reach new audiences and adapt to changing market conditions. 

At the same time, candidates that bring creative thinking skills to their day-to-day responsibilities will often discover that they can contribute their unique ideas to meetings, helping them to build a reputation for themselves as original thinkers within the business. 

Demonstrating your creative thinking skills in the interview environment can be done in several ways—from providing a portfolio of work which evidences your ability to develop innovative solutions or think laterally to discussing coursework projects with hiring managers where challenges were overcome through creative thinking.

Workplace Readiness Skills are Vital

Possessing a range of graduate skills will help to set you apart in today’s competitive job market. Business leaders are increasingly seeking candidates who can bring diverse abilities to their teams, from collaboration and communication to the ability to innovate independently and develop creative solutions to operational issues.  

Graduates bring value to the businesses that hire them, but to secure that next role, you must be certain that you know how to communicate what makes you different to interviewers and hiring managers. 

Some skills we’ve discussed are easily obtainable, whilst others require commitment and practice. However, once mastered, they can open up a range of opportunities, providing you with a long and successful career.

If you believe you need to develop your skills further, you could also consider gaining practical experiences—such as internships, volunteering, or extracurricular activities—which can help build your attractiveness to employers and position you as prepared for professional success in your chosen sector.

Helping Graduates Realise Their Potential for Over 25 Years

At Pareto, our consultants are passionate about connecting business leaders with candidates that possess the graduate skills to guarantee professional success. We assess, place, and train candidates for a range of roles, from product ownership to sales and team leadership to change management. Contact us today and learn more about our services.

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