From as early as the application form stage, employers are on the lookout for a number of key skills, which can be organised into two categories: ‘hard skills’ and ‘soft skills’. You will have probably heard of these two definitions before, but what do they actually mean?
Hard skills are those that you need to be able to perform a particular job. These often vary depending on the type of role you will be performing or the industry in which you will be working in. They can usually be developed through studying and training. Examples of hard skills include an accountancy diploma, fluency in a foreign language, knowledge of a particular software or experience in a particular industry sector.
Soft skills on the other hand are usually self-taught and self-developed. Unlike hard skills they are not specific to an industry or job. As such they are becoming increasingly valuable to all employers, regardless of the type of industry they operate in, as it helps them to understand how you will fit in with their working environment and how you will perform as one of their employees.
One of the most important skills that employers will look for are communication skills. They will want to know about your ability to interact with your colleagues, how clearly you express yourself, as well as how you listen to and respond to instructions from your managers.
All companies have objectives to meet and targets to achieve. Without a committed workforce, working hard to constantly improve their company’s performance, the company would fail. Employers therefore look for clear evidence of someone who is deeply committed not only to their own development and success, but also to their role and their company’s success.
Another soft skill that employers will be on the lookout for is how well you can lead. During your interview, be sure to highlight any positions of responsibility which you have assumed during your time at university. This could include being the president of a society, being captain of a sports team or putting yourself forward to lead a group project. All of these show an employer that you are self-confident and have the ability to lead a group of people with mixed personalities towards a common goal.
Being able to manage your time in busy working environments is fundamental. With a number of tasks to complete, you will need to show that you can handle the pressure whilst also prioritising and being able to allocate your time effectively to the tasks at hand. Punctuality will also be key as deadlines and meetings will require you to be on time. You will also need to prove how well you can adapt and how flexible you are when things don’t go as planned.
Whilst both sets of skills are very different both are equally important, so you’ll need to make sure that you highlight both on your application form and throughout the interview process. While there will be plenty of opportunities to learn new hard skills, it is important to continually focus on developing the soft skills that employers look from potential employees when they recruit for their graduate programmes.