Until the dawning of the noughties the battle of the job markets could only be won by those brandishing the sharpest qualifications. But in the last decade or so an ever-evolving employment environment has seen a big change in the rules of engagement.
Qualifications are still the biggest cannon, but adding transferable skills to your job-seeking arsenal will now massively increase your odds of winning.
There is now a huge demand for job seekers to gravitate away from the conventional market into a more diverse range of employment opportunities. These new opportunities increasingly call for transferable skills aka ‘core skills’ or ‘soft skills’ – meaning employers are not only looking for bright young sparks, but for people who can also function efficiently in the workplace.
“We’re obviously seeking individuals with technical capability and academic achievements, but there are also many other areas we look at during our recruitment process,” explains Sarah Hargreaves, recruitment manager for Atkins engineering and project management consultancy.
“We’re looking for ‘people skills’ and an ability to communicate well which are incredibly important when it comes to liaising with clients and becoming effective team leaders,” says Hargreaves. “Customer skills are also good – it’s a fairly stock area that most employers will ask applicants to demonstrate. There’s also a degree of how an applicant could contribute to corporate and social responsibility – Atkins is very much looking for grads who are part of that wider vision.
Transferable skills help employers notice you
Possessing both qualifications and soft skills is not only key when applying for a specific job but also in terms of speculatively getting employers to notice you. When advertising your wares via an employment agency, for example.
“Most job specs we get are fairly specific in terms of qualifications required but we always ask the client what extra-curricular skills they would like to see from applicants,” says Greg Lettington, director of Hays Engineering Recruitment.
“When an applicant contacts us we determine what they’re looking to do, location, salary etc. and always what core skills they have. Then we can inform clients of a particular applicant’s qualities and why we think he/she is a good fit for their firm. With good transferable skills on the table we’re more able to give the client what they want and get the applicant the exact job they’re looking for.”
How do you acquire the necessary soft skills?
But how exactly does one go about acquiring this new weapon? Well, the chances are you already have it.
“Before entering the recruitment process I would encourage applicants to look very broadly at all the experience they’ve acquired and prepare some examples,” says Hargreaves.
“For example, graduates can demonstrate that they operate well with others by showing how they have worked in teams as part of a university project, or in sports teams, or while volunteering on charity events. Also any actual work experience they might have – whether or not it’s related to the role – can also be beneficial. Even if they are a very academic, shy person – if they can think of an example of taking on a leading role and going out of their comfort zone, that too would count.”
Highlighting social responsibility traits
In terms of social responsibility – any kind of mentoring is increasingly important. Trained mentors are paid to advise and guide their peers, or school students – the idea being to devise methods of support and practical activities for their mentees. Ideally a student mentor should be kitted with qualities such as having developed effective learning strategies themselves, having good organisational abilities and being strong communicators. So if you have been a student mentor – consider that box ticked.
Another extremely effective way of demonstrating initiative is by joining social networking sites like LinkedIn.
“More and more employers will refer to sites like LinkedIn to establish how an applicant portrays themselves, ” Hargreaves says. “Also if applicants have already established their own network it demonstrates a strong level of commitment to a career.”
While benchmarks are set fairly high in terms of academic standards, increasingly if a candidate with slightly lower qualifications possesses excellent communication skills and all-round outside experience it could tip the balance.
“In terms of outside academic skills while I don’t think there is a catch-all, as every employer is different – I would say that if you have extra attributes it could sway the scales between two candidates,” confirms Lettington.
Polishing these core skills
That said in the current elastic economic climate most companies cannot afford to be too prescriptive of people’s requirements or they would never survive. Many organisations, like Atkins that this year has job offers out to over 300 people, have devised graduate development programmes to polish fledging core skills.
“You can’t expect somebody to be the best presenter in the world at the age of 21 – so we work with them to develop their attributes,” says Hargreaves.
“We also try to encourage shyer people to be more outgoing. Some of our most brilliant engineers are not the most gregarious – so we encourage them to be the best they can be – and to make the best of the opportunity.”
So when planning your next job seeking strategy try doing a recce of the recruitment adverts to determine what proportion of each job description refers to qualifications and how much is devoted to core skills. Knowledge is power, so knowing that you’re already armed with a cache of transferable skills could give you considerable tactical advantage.