Applications / Assessment centres / Interviews / Job market / Self awareness

Mind the gap! The skills employers require and what graduates assume they want.

What are the skills that graduates think are important to recruiters? And are there any differences in what recruiters consider to be relevant? Recent research reveals some interesting findings…

You will develop many valuable skills while at university, through your academic studies, extra-curricular activities, work experience and volunteering. However, are you focusing on developing the skills that will enhance your employability? A report by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) undertook a ‘development survey’ this year of their members. 175 organisations responded, representing the views of a range of different sectors. Between them, these recruiters between them hire 19,630 graduates per year.

Skills they look for and which they found the majority of applicants had were:

  • Teamwork 87%
  • Interpersonal skills 82%
  • Problem solving 73%

The following skills which they also value scored less well however: 

  • Self-awareness 39%
  • Business appropriate communication 34%
  • Resilience 31%
  • Commercial awareness 23%
  • Negotiating/influencing 17%
  • Dealing with conflict 12%
  • Managing up 5%

Of these skills, 80% of recruiters did not expect students to be able to manage or to be able to deal with conflict on entry. They anticipated that they would need to provide training and development in these areas. 66% also anticipated training in commercial awareness. Resilience and self-awareness were both skills which many recruiters had expected students to have acquired during their degree but which were lacking from a significant number of applicants. Knowing this, however provides you with an opportunity to actively work on these attributes in order to present and evidence a broader range of skills than most other applicants.

The report stated that ‘managing graduate expectations is the top challenge for development professionals in 2018 and this may be compounded by the fact that many graduates lack self-awareness, can’t manage up and may not understand how they can progress through the organisation.’ (N.B. The last of these points would form a good question to pose to graduate recruiters on campus).


Discrepancies in what graduates and recruiters think are important are also highlighted in a report by the Hay group, which surveyed 450 graduates and 450 HR/Business Leaders. They found that 69% of graduates felt people, or ‘soft’ skills got in the way of doing their jobs well and 70% felt technical skills were more valuable than people skills. This was in direct contrast to the HR/business leaders, 90% of whom stressed the importance of strong people skills, with those who possess high-level people skills likely to advance faster in their careers.

Recruiters also valued technical skills as a basic necessity (85%), but it is soft skills that set successful graduates apart. This applies across sectors and is just as important in science and technology roles. See my earlier research  this year at the Engineering and Technology Fair where I asked graduate recruiters what they were looking for from Warwick applicants. The key messages are therefore to focus on the underdeveloped skills of self-awareness and resilience.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)

Once you have a better understanding of who you are and what’s important you will find it easier to explain why you are applying for roles. Enhanced self-awareness will develop your people skills, in particular your ability to relate to and connect with others, listen well and become better able to read others’ emotions and the atmosphere in a room. At Warwick there are a number of skills workshops you can attend, all bookable through MyAdvantage which focus on:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Understanding your personality
  • ‘Sprint’ the female personal and professional development programme
  • Intercultural Awareness
  • Practice assessment centre activity with feedback on where you need to develop
  • Free online questionnaires can you to identify your values and preferences
  • A Jobmi Strengths questionnaire will provide a report of your strengths. Use this to build evidence for applications and interviews. Create and account to access the questionnaire


Requires you to be open to the notion of failure as a learning opportunity – so the more hard knocks and/or learning and development opportunities you have that will take you out of your comfort zone the greater your resilience is likely to be. So openness to personal challenges and willingness to take on feedback as constructive and helpful will both help with this.

  • There is also a workshop on resilience, what it is and how it is assessed in the recruitment and selection process. Bookings through MyAdvantage
  • You can also complete a free resilience questionnaire which will identify where you are already resilient and where you need to develop it

In conclusion

Remember don’t make assumptions that the skills you put a premium on are the same as those graduate recruiters emphasise. Knowledge is power – use the information to your advantage!




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