Job market

3 skills graduates need to succeed

We all seem to have a pretty good handle on what makes an employable graduate: work experience, a broad skill set, a good degree all brought together in a compelling narrative. It’s certainly a powerful formula, but it’s not the whole story. There are some surprisingly mundane things that could just tip the scales at the application and interview stage and allow for a far smoother transition into the professional workplace.

Here’s my starter for three…

 1. Likability

It sounds horribly trite and rather nebulous, but dismiss the ‘likability factor’ at your peril. Success is not defined by talent alone. Unless you’re a go-getting entrepreneur, who’s made a conscious choice to sidestep a “conventional” career path, then the chances are you’ll find yourself in front of an interview panel. The interviewer will decide in the first five minutes whether you are a capable candidate, who’s well prepared and suited to the role. They will also decide whether they like you. And this could ultimately win or lose the day.

red dice of mood

Have you ever emerged from an interview, thinking you did a great job only to find you’ve not been hired? Fast forward to the inevitable feedback discussion and you’re still left wondering where on earth you went wrong. Well, consider this: maybe you ticked every box, apart from the hidden one marked likable. Likability extends beyond the interview into the professional environment, so think long and hard about the signals you’re sending.

What can you do?

  • Be warm, responsive and motivated. Try to find a happy medium between Tigger and Eyeore!
  • Flex your listening skills. If you want people to listen to you, listen to them.
  • Think “why not?”, rather than “why should I?”
  • A little (appropriate) humour goes a long way. Likewise a smile and kind word.

2. Public speaking

I can almost feel the collective shudder from beyond the screen – for many, public speaking is the number one fear, edging out pretty much everything else. Including death. Or, to quote Jerry Seinfeld:

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy

Funny, but with a sting of truth. And the humour is blunted somewhat when you consider the career limiting effects this fear can have. At the most basic level, it may compromise your performance at interview. Panel interviews require a degree of confident communication, and most graduate selection processes involve a presentation element. A fluent, easy style won’t entirely compensate for a lack of substance, but it will certainly help you stand out.

Consider for a moment what public speaking really means:

  • It’s making an effective contribution during meetings
  • It’s delivering a sales/marketing pitch
  • It’s managing a Skype or video conference call
  • It’s delivering training sessions to staff

The ability to speak in front of 5 people – or 50 – is a skill worth mastering. And don’t for one minute think it’s beyond your reach. Some of the most compelling, persuasive and engaging speakers have honed their craft after a very shaky start. It can be done. Just hear what Warren Buffet has to say…

What can you do?

  • Try to engineer situations where you’ll have to speak. Start in a safe environment to minimise the risk – perhaps a seminar or society meeting.
  • Get some presentation training and uncover the tips and tricks you’ll need to succeed.
  • Join your nearest Toastmasters club to further develop your public speaking skills. It could help on the networking front too.

3. Excel

This is a particular hobby horse of mine, so you may have to accept a partial interest. That said, I am happy to repeat the claim anytime and anywhere, that getting up to speed with Excel is time well spent. It may just give you the edge when it comes to shortlisting, and it will certainly make your transition into the workplace a lot easier. A few years ago a colleague of mine went to a careers advisers’ event at a top consultancy firm, and was surprised to find the one area of weakness for graduate trainees was….

….yes, you’ve guessed it – Excel.

Why not spare yourself the pain and get to grips with it now, whilst you can. Excel is everywhere you look and not just in the ‘business world’. Graduate level work requires graduate level skills, so don’t assume you’re off the hook just because you’ve decided to sidestep the corporate world. At the London Book Fair (#lbf14) this week Creative Access live tweeted from one of the seminars, commenting, “Great insights into the reality of working in publishing at an entry level. It’s all about excel” (@_CreativeAccess)

 What can you do?

  • Check out MrExcel on YouTube. What this man doesn’t know about Excel isn’t worth writing on a postage stamp. And even better the content is organised into short clips and handy playlists, so you can pick and choose the relevant bits. You might not need to know all about formulae, but it’s worth getting your head around pivot tables.
  • Have a look at the IT Services training calendar; they offer free courses to students, covering everything from charts to functions and formulae.
  • Practise! As with any other skill, proficiency comes with practice.

There’s always an element of subjectivity in the application and selection process, but why not narrow your odds and give the recruiters what they want?



2 thoughts on “3 skills graduates need to succeed

  1. Thanks Simon – I hope it strikes a chord with your society students. It’s so difficult to pinpoint what makes the difference during the selection process, but I do think ‘likability’ (contrived though it sounds!) is something we all recognise.

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