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How To Be Successful At University: 10 Things Your Future Employer Is Looking For

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

With more students graduating with good degrees and competing with each other for jobs, it is hard to know what exactly what you can do to make yourself and your skill set attractive to a potential employer. This article is exploring ten of the most desirable skills (in order of importance) from the National Association of Colleges and Employers that companies actively look for in student graduates.

Skill 1: The Ability To Work In a Team Structure

Students that can work collaboratively and cooperatively are those whose are of most use to an organisation. Businesses are often organised into teams or departments, meaning that if you got a job with an organisation, there is a good chance that you would be working within some form of team dynamic. This is why the ability to work in a team is essential to most businesses. If you can’t work collaboratively or cooperatively with others, then your value to an employer drops significantly!

What if you HATE team working though? Don’t worry, I used to be the same. Sometimes tasks like group presentations leave a nasty impression of what team work can be like. You might end up doing all the work, your team may go MIA or you might get a lower grade than usual because you had to work with others who didn’t take the assignment as seriously as you... it can get frustrating.

Here are three quick tips to use next time you work in a team to improve your collaborative capacity and team-working capability that transfer effectively over into the workplace.

  1. Keep an open mind – sometimes we go into project work with a fixed mindset e.g. my way is the only way to do it. Whilst you may be right, team work is about encouraging different ideas. Let your team mates share their ideas and solutions, and work together to devise an appropriate solution.

  2. Set boundaries – if you have a talent for somehow getting given all the work, state clearly what you are prepared to do and don’t budge. Team work is about compromise and collaboration. Doing all the work yourself is not working in a team, it is just massively increasing your workload.

  3. Feedback your experience – a way to get people on their toes when it comes to team work is to feedback to superiors (in your case, lecturers). You might get the “why you doing that for? There’s no need”, but ultimately, it’s for your success. This puts you in good practice for when you enter the workplace as well. Wins all around.

Skill 2: The ability to make decisions and solve problems.

Organisations love people who can decide how something can be solved. Assertiveness in your decision making is key at any level in an organisation , especially where both customer experience and business longevity is concerned. If you can provide direction as to how a business can improve what they do and make decisions regarding this where appropriate, chances are, your employer will love you forever.

PRO TIP: It is always good to make a note of anytime you make decisions or solve problems throughout your university career. Employers love real world examples and chances are, if you can back up what you say, you are in with a great chance of winning their respect and interest.

Skill 3: The ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside of an organisation

Communication skills are vitally important to businesses. You might be thinking, but anyone can communicate! We’re grown!! You’re right, but organisations look for key communication skills in potential employees and we have listed some of them below.

  1. Clear communication – can you convey messages clearly with no confusion – do people understand exactly what you want from them?

  2. Awareness of context – you don’t want to be greeting your co-workers or customers as “bruvva”. Save that for the 2 for 1 deals on a Friday night.

  3. Respectful demeanor – how you greet and interact with people leaves a lasting impression of you as a person. From a business perspective, it is absolutely critical that this last impression is good. So, if you greet someone hastily because you’ve had a bad day, they will likely remember you as rude or dismissive, even if that isn’t who you are.

Skill 4: The ability to plan, organise and prioritise work

This is a skill that courseworks prep you directly for. I once spoke to a big marketing company regarding student employability and they said that they make a conscious effort to employ a set amount of students per year because they bring the skills and rigour necessary to produce organised, structured work. As a student, you will have experience regarding planning and organisation. The key is to provide evidence of this knowledge in an interview or networking capacity. An example could look like this:

“I have experience with planning, organising and prioritising work load. The nature of my course means that I am often balancing multiple projects at once, so I have to plan to ensure that I can one, give my all to the projects I’m working on and two, priortise a particular project based on when it needs to be done by. For example...”

Show your employer proof of your skill set, and you are on to a winner.

Skill 5: The ability to obtain and process information

Again, as students, you do this on a daily basis. In an organisational context you might not be engaging with such theory heavy content, but ultimately you will have to engage and learn whilst you’re on the job. Being able to absorb and process information is an essential skill that you can demonstrate quite easily. Here’s a couple of examples of how to do so:

1. Relaying back information given to you - It doesn’t have to be word for word or done straight away, but repeating back some key points of what your potential employee said is a great way of demonstrating that you were listening to and processing what they were saying. An example could be something as simple as: “Going back to what you said earlier, this business is doing great in terms of annual growth, but I think your social media presence could be better. I think this is where I could help because...” Subtle things like this will show that you don't just listen to a person, you process what they say.

2. Sharing something that you learned – an easy way to show your informational processing capacity is to simply share something that you found interesting that could be beneficial to the organisation. This shows a willingness and capacity to absorb and learn information, which is something that a potential employer will love. It could be something as simple as: “ Did you know 19% of people uninstall an app because of poor user interface? If I was developing your app, I would ensure that you wouldn’t lose the capacity to turn that 19% into potential leads to expand the business...”

Skill 6 : The ability to analyse quantitative data

When it comes to businesses and organisations, numbers can matter a lot. If you can provide evidence that you understand how to analyse quantitative data, the more likely you are to be of use to a workplace. You don’t have to be an expert by any means either – basic understanding of quantitative analysis will do just fine.

Skill 7 : Technical knowledge related to the job

In other words, prior experience or understanding to some extent is desired by companies. If you understand some of the technicalities regarding your role, a company will need to spend less on your training and catching you up to speed. A great way to understand what a company is looking for in their employee can usually be find on a job application itself under “required skills” or “competencies”. It will be very rare to possess all of the required skills or competencies, but if you possess a few, you are more likely to be invited into interview. As always, if you feel you possess some competencies, provide examples.

Skill 8 : Proficiency with computer software programs

I have noticed that most jobs now request familiarity with Microsoft office as a baseline for computer literacy. As students, you should be fine! However, just because you may have the basics, doesn’t mean you also can’t show off a little if you can. For example, let’s say the job you are looking for is interested in finding out how many people access and benefit from a particular service offered by the company. Chances are, this requires looking at and analysing numbers. If you possess any knowledge of stats software like SPSS, put this in! This will not only make you stand out, but it also shows that you possess direct ways to help the company achieve their goal.

Skill 9 :The ability to create and edit reports I’m not going to spend much time on this, because as students, you should be able to eat reports for breakfast by the time you graduate! As always, keep a note of any relevant experience and keep it stored for any networking or business opportunities.

Skill 10 :The ability to sell and influence others

People that can lead by example and motivate others are key to any organisation. Not only does this improve the overall company dynamic, it also allows more senior staff to not have so much direct influence over employees work life ( assuming your potential employer doesn't adopt a prehistoric approach to people management!). If you do anything on the side of your studies, like run a side hustle, blog, or partake in public speaking gigs, put them down if they are appropriate. This shows that you are able to motivate and inspire others to do things, and this is key if you are to work within a team dynamic where results and productivity is desired.

Conclusion and Clarification

We covered a lot in this article! I hope you have some valuable take away points to add to your own career development strategy. Each organisation has differing ideas of what skills their employees should possess - this article is a great starting point though! Always check job applications for any specific skills you may need to land yourself a job.

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