Having a degree or specialised technical expertise is no longer enough on its own to secure a job. Employers are looking for an all-round skillset that will enable an individual to be an effective member of the workforce from day one.
More than 80 per cent of UK employers say that employability skills are the single most important consideration when recruiting graduates, according to the CBI/EDI Education and Skills survey for 2011. It also revealed that 70 per cent of employers claim that students need to do more to prepare themselves to be effective in the workplace.
“The fact that you’ve got a 2:1 degree isn’t what makes you stand out,” says Adrian Thomas, head of resourcing at Network Rail. “We’re looking for qualities like leadership, team-working and making a difference.”
In a survey of European business leaders carried out by global accounting and consulting network RSM International, in conjunction with the European Business Awards, 81 per cent said that confidence, enthusiasm and an entrepreneurial spirit were the most important characteristics.
“Academic qualifications are obviously important but people skills and entrepreneurialism are assets increasingly sought after by employers throughout Europe,” says RSM ceo Jean Stephens. “In tough economic times, these skills help employees and businesses stand out in crowded and competitive marketplaces.”
With all of this in mind, here are ten skills that we believe will make you more employable.
Leadership and management
Today’s graduates and young professionals are the potential leaders of tomorrow but it can be hard to demonstrate leadership and management capability with little or no work experience. Displaying maturity, confidence, and a positive attitude will certainly set the right tone and having lead a project team at college or even a sporting team, will also bolster your potential leadership credentials.
Vast reams have been written about good leadership and management practices so find time to read up on some of the thinking behind them. Also think about which leaders you admire as this often pops up as an interview question.
Communication and interpersonal skills
Today’s engineers are expected be able to express themselves well and liaise with others across different departments both internally and externally so good communication skills are paramount. An articulate individual is also far more likely to be marked out for progression up the ranks than one who struggles to communicate.
Interpersonal skills aren’t just important for work purposes though: communicative and sociable people tend to be more welcomed by the rest of the workforce as well as be more fun to have around.
Ability to work in a team
This is recognised almost universally as an essential core skill for an engineer. Alongside being a good communicator (see above), the key qualities needed for good team-working include an ability to listen to others and understand their point of view. It is also vital to make sure your personal goals are aligned with the team’s objectives. People who are emotionally intelligent make good team players because they are self-aware and can empathise with others. If you want to find out your EIQ (emotional intelligence quota), there are free online tests you can take. The results of these might highlight areas you need to work on.
Engineers were among the first to apply formal project management tools to their work and they remain core to the industry today. Project management is all about meeting objectives, delivering benefits and doing so within a specified timeframe and budget. With engineering projects likely to become ever more complex and multi-disciplined, project management qualifications and skills will continue to be in high demand. Graduates will already have mastered some of the established methodologies and principles and should take any opportunity to build on these early in their careers.
Clearly your degree is already a mark of this but support any job application with tangible evidence of work that helps to show off your technical abilities and potential such as project work or participation in student competitions. Remember too that the learning never stops and knowledge and specialist skills must be kept up-to-date whether you are in a job or not.
Employers are looking for self-starters who can think on their feet and react to different situations. The pressure on organisations today means they want people who will bring solutions, not problems. Problem-solving is recognised as a core management skill across all sectors so will be a prerequisite if you want to move up the ranks.
Entrepreneurial spirit and creativity
Historically, it hasn’t always been easy for entrepreneurialism to penetrate and flourish at big companies but bosses of firms of all sizes are recognising its importance and trying to find ways of promoting it internally. Entrepreneurial employees can bring real competitive edge through their creativity and ideas. And with new ideas the lifeblood of any organisation, it’s not difficult to see why these people will be courted.
Adaptability and flexibility
Irrespective of the role you find yourself in, the degree to which you can adapt to challenges, situations, environments and conditions will be seen as a true mark of your value. With the UK economy still in recovery, and a fragile one at that, organisations want people who are prepared to take on tasks or projects outside of their remit and be prepared to go the extra mile.
Organising your time can be one of the biggest challenges of moving from an academic environment to a more commercial one. Neither you, nor your employer, can afford for you to be wasteful with your time or non-productive from day one.
Even if your first role is likely to be a junior one, you are still ultimately involved in either providing a product or service that others pay for so it is important to be aware of the customer and the commercial drivers of the organisation.