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The importance of employability skills


Qualifications are fine, but most employers are now looking for a more human touch…

You might have a degree, perhaps a technical qualification and a bit of work experience on your CV but have you promoted your soft skills? Do you even know what they are?

Soft skills – sometimes known as “employability skills” – are becoming increasingly important to graduate recruiters sifting through the CVs of a growing pool of similar looking applicants, according to experts.

While hard skills refer to things such as academic qualifications, soft skills include communication ability, teamwork, time management, problem solving and attitude to work.

A recent reports show that the long-term shift from production to a service-driven economy has made soft skills increasingly important for people seeking their first job. Findings from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) back this up. Of more than 1,000 HR professionals surveyed, the vast majority said that, aside from an increased need for more workers, better employability skills would be more likely to encourage them to hire young people than financial incentives, such as those from the government.

The good news is that, while many soft skills are inherent, others can be learned. “You can train yourself just as you can in hard skills,” “If you are shy, for example, there are courses on communication skills that can not only teach you some soft skills but help you demonstrate to employers self-awareness and initiative simply by the fact you have signed up.”
My personal belief is that the best way of demonstrating such skills is to get some work experience. “It is in every young person’s interest to try and gain experience that exposes them to the workplace”.

“Our research suggests that the main benefit is that it helps them to develop soft skills.”

Recruitment experts agree that graduates applying for jobs can start to highlight their soft skills as early as the CV stage.

Soft skills don’t need to be listed under a separate heading on a CV – but need to be demonstrated through examples. It’s not good enough to say you are a good communicator, you need to say why.

During university recruitment fairs I speak to a lot of graduates who struggle to think of what to put on their CV.

“Soft skills are what make your personal brand but you need to think about them. Instead of thinking, for example, ‘I have only worked at McDonald’s’, think ‘What did working at McDonald’s teach me?’”

Graduate careers fairs:
Recruiters are looking for the students who stand out

Graduates must take employment fairs seriously and work to project a good first impression.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, or so the saying goes, and when it comes to meeting employers these words certainly ring true. At a careers fair, you will meet many employers over a short period of time and it’s therefore vital to ensure that the image you project is the one you want them to see.

“Attending careers fairs works well for us because we can see straightaway the shining star in the group,” says many recruiters. “From the beginning, we are walking through the crowds looking for those people who stand out, so graduates should work hard to impress us as soon as they walk in.

“We are hoping to find people to fill management-in-training roles, so we are looking for very friendly, outgoing, and intelligent graduates, who are interested in adventure, working hard and playing hard. We find that meeting them in the flesh is better than looking at a CV.”

Of course, each industry sector will be coveting different qualities in prospective candidates. Whereas one might be concentrating on presentation and leadership skills through observing graduates’ behaviour away from the stands, another might be prioritising organisational skills and be considering how much background information you have acquired about their company.

One thing most employers agree on is that it’s important to take the fair seriously if you want to progress.
“Treat the recruitment fair as if you had your own business and imagine what kind of people you would look for,” says Mr Mamashela, director of Mamashela Consulting and Projects.

“For us, if a graduate comes across as someone who is dressed in a suit, who is there at the beginning of the day and arrives prepared with their CV, then it’s very positive.

“If they are wearing jeans and rushing around different stands at 4pm with a hastily prepared CV,” he warns, “you can tell they would treat your business in a similar way if you gave them an opportunity.”

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