What Employers are looking for in graduate candidates

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What skills does my child have to showcase to impress a potential employer? Have these skills changed since the outbreak of the pandemic? Does university prepare graduates sufficiently in this respect?

The graduates of 2020 are about to enter an incredibly turbulent job market in which they will encounter unprecedented challenges – COVID-19 and the subsequent economic downturn have made this year the toughest in history to find a job, never mind one that will set them up on the path to guaranteed career success.  The ‘war for talent’ to discover good graduates has turned into a veritable ‘war for jobs’ between graduates fighting to get ahead. It might sound dramatic but it really is a case of survival of the fittest right now – or rather, the savviest.  In order to stand out from the crowd, it is therefore vital for job candidates to be aware of, and apply, what employers are looking for. 

Ten Lifestyle Group is committed to taking the guesswork out of the equation for our members and their children – which is why we, together with the UK’s top Employability Coaching Consulting, Resurgo, have asked a variety of top employers as well as UCAS and the NUS (National Union of Students) for the key traits and skills a graduate candidate should be able to demonstrate.  And while every job comes with its own specific, specialist requirements, the results of our research show that there is a certain set of so-called ‘employability skills’ that virtually every employer is looking for, regardless of where graduates apply.  But here’s the crux – it has very little in common with the skills most graduates have acquired at university.

Our research, carried out by our partners, Resurgo, shows that there are 5 top skills young job seekers need to show in order to impress target employers:

  • Commercial awareness
  • Resilience and motivation
  • Confidence (personal and in communication)
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork


The NUS also highlights ‘self-management’ and ‘problem-solving’ as key skills, adding that basic knowledge of and an interest in ‘information technology’ and the ‘application of numeracy’ within a practical context are also considered to be important assets; while UCAS adds ‘proactivity’ and ‘attention to detail’ as further selling points that prove that graduates are able to go the extra mile.

By contrast, most of the top universities, both in the UK and abroad, tend to have two main objectives: to follow academic research and to teach academic subjects.  While university breeds highbrow thinking and inquisitive minds, it also opens up a huge disparity between intellectual gains and real-life skillsets – which often leaves graduates badly unprepared for today’s cut-throat job arena.  

Now I, for one, hugely enjoyed university, and do believe that a university course and degree do still play an important role in catching an employer’s attention, at least initially.  I think we all agree that not everything in life is about preparing for the workforce, so let’s not point the finger squarely at unis.  Universities are a place for growth and development for young adults after all – they don’t exist to produce fully-fledged future managers for employers.  

Which is where we come in.  We set up the Employability Accelerator programme to help graduates successfully bridge the gap between university and their first job – teaching them essential employability skills they can use in ‘real life’ work experience projects and then reference in their CV, cover letter and interview with employers.  The programme is designed to build, reinforce and evidence the skills that we know good employers are looking for – to give our students the best chance of early success in their careers.    

How current students, or those just leaving university, use their time during this lockdown summer of 2020 is likely to be key to how they succeed in the years ahead.  Working urgently to build, practice and evidence the skills that employers most value has never been more important.  The graduate job market is likely to be the hardest in history, perhaps for several years, and working to build employability will be time very well spent.

Alex Cheatle is Founder and CEO of Ten Lifestyle Group

He is on the founding team of employability accelerator, a programme that supports young people to get the best mix of work experience, personal career coaching and skills training.

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