What are employers REALLY looking for?

I didn’t want to write another reflective piece on my time at University and the struggles and hardships of the last four years, because well frankly there’s hundreds of those floating around the blogosphere. So instead of that I want to know what the employers out there are looking for out of a graduate.

Now that degrees are 10 to the dozen and everybody applying most positions has one, what makes me any different?  While studying we are constantly told that you need a USP, something to differentiate yourself from the rest, so what exactly does my future employer want from me? Do they even know what it is they want? And if they aren’t entirely sure, then what chance do I have of knowing? So many questions and the only way to really find the answers is to apply jobs and hope for the best (Is it really ok to ask an employer why you missed out on the job?)

So with all of these questions swimming around in my head I decided to turn to the power of the Google search to see what it is that employers want. This research is in no way scientific, I literally just picked the penultimate answer from the first page (trying to avoid specific University pages) and to be honest it wasn’t much help. The general gist of the article was to demonstrate your ‘key skills’ which were common buzz words including teamwork, interpersonal and communication. Now I’m not saying that these aren’t important, but they are hardly going to set me apart from the other 70 people applying for the same job (The Guardian reported in 2010 that on average 70 graduates will apply for every position). So do I need to rely on my degree grade to set me apart? Most graduate jobs that I have seen expect a 2:1, but surely I’m worth more than a grade? And what if I don’t get a 2:1, I could still be a worthy applicant but how do I get that across to the employer?

First impressions are everything to employers and where these impressions were traditionally based on CVs they can now also be done using social media. It is becoming a well known fact that employers will look at potential employees Facebook profiles ahead of interviews. So now not only do you need an impeccable CV but you also need to smarten up your social media before you can even get a foot in the door of an organisation. Jobs are competitive, that’s a given but you wouldn’t run a marathon without any training so why should looking for a job be any different?

With all of these questions still haunting me I think its clear that University hasn’t prepared me for the job search ahead, something which I am sure is in part fueling the high unemployment rates of young people today. When I started my course, I was determined not to become one of those people who gets a degree and ends up never using it. I still hold that view, but I have to be realistic and now when I finish in the next month, I will just be grateful to get a job. What I hope for future graduates is that Universities will invest in some real career advice including compulsory modules involving talks with employers, CV writing and other useful career focused topics. If students are entrusting these institutions with their further education and shaping their career paths, I think they have a duty to ensure that their graduates are as prepared as possible to enter the work place.

If you are an employer and have any useful tips for a graduate embarking on their professional career I would love to hear from you!