What employers look for in graduates including key skills and how to develop these
Will employers value my degree?
How important is my academic record?
What about employability skills?
Why are these skills so important?
How do I develop these skills?
Vacation work opportunities - making the most of vacations
Graduates with specialist degrees or knowledge may be sought to fill specific jobs particularly in e.g. technical and professional fields.
Estimates indicate however that approximately 60% of graduate jobs are open to any degree holder. You can become an accountant or banker, for example, without holding a business degree; the Civil Service has several hundred vacancies annually, open to all graduates. Conversion courses sometimes can facilitate entry into specialised fields for those with unrelated degrees.
Whether a recruiter seeks a ‘specialist’ or ‘any degree holder’ for the job, many similarly qualified candidates will apply. The distinguished candidate will be the one who demonstrates the requisite personal skills and competencies, and motivation/aptitude for the job.
Major global organisations seek a consistent track record, and your earlier grades can be as important as your final year. Valid explanations for under achievement in a particular exam - e.g. through illness, competitive sports participation – are usually taken into account. Other employers may place less emphasis on your grades and are interested in you as a person, and your potential for the job.
Along with your motivation/organisational fit, graduate recruiters focus particularly on your ‘employability skills’ – commonly known as ‘transferable skills’ as they can be adapted to different contexts. Often they rate your skills match to the job on a sliding scale chart during job selection interview, with the highest scoring candidate offered the job.
Major recruiters use rigorous methods in assessing skills e.g. some identify and compile the skills profile needed for each job within the organisation and to what competency level. They devise then a list of up to ten questions related to each skill identified, which interviewers can pose to candidates for jobs to elicit their capability in the skill/demonstrate how they developed it. It is vital therefore that you reflect on and become aware of your skills and competencies, how you developed these, and how they relate to the employer’s requirements. Skills sought will vary from post to post. Of particular importance are;
- Teamwork – being a constructive team member; contributing to its success
- Leadership – able to motivate and encourage others, while taking the lead
- Confidence – able to relate to people at all levels; friendly open and honest in communication
- Initiative – able to see opportunities and to set and achieve goals
- Problem-solving – able to analyse issue logically so as to identify/resolve key issues; often involves creative thinking
- Planning and organising Commitment/motivation in pursuing projects; willingness to ask questions
- Commercial awareness – knowing what makes and what saves money can be especially important for business jobs Relevant work experience
Specific skills also sought include:
Graduates are recruited often to a training programme leading to senior positions within the organisation, and many employers recruit with this in mind, as much as the immediate contribution of the new entrant.
For example, today’s trainee solicitor/accountant may be a prospective partner, the social work assistant a social service director; the graduate entrant into a large national or global organisation a future divisional head
Graduate recruiters therefore seek to identify evidence of skills that indicate ability to perform effectively in the job and the potential to rise to these senior positions.
Other jobs entered by graduates may be less structured and your ability to be aware of your ‘employability’ skills and to negotiate contracts successfully equally important.
Employers will expect you to give practical examples of when you displayed these skills and competencies / how developed. You can draw these from various sources especially from academic study, leisure pursuits and interests, work experience.
Along with deep learning and subject specialism, your course work helps develop skills in e.g. research and analysis, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, presentation.
It may include group projects offering opportunity to develop team working skills. Becoming involved in project planning and organising, encouraging and motivating colleagues, and identifying the optimum way to achieve aims, may develop organsiing and leadership skills.
Balancing your time between course work, essay/report writing, exam preparation – while in some cases holding a part time job – involves planning and time management.
Leisure Pursuits and Interests
University life abounds with opportunities for campus life involvement, enabling you to enrich your life, extend your social network, and develop ‘transferable skills’ e.g.
- through sports participation you might develop teamwork, commitment/focus
- student newspapers/media provide a great training ground for media industry skills
- the Student Legal Service (SLC) can help law students develop client advice and referral skills many societies e.g. run events/promotions; fund raise; arrange talks/speakers enabling you to develop planning, organising, promotional skills.
If you already enjoy involvement in a society/sports club, could you consider becoming a committee member, treasurer, president? For details of what is on offer click on UCD Sports and Clubs and Student Societies
- Student representation offers a chance to put forward views on academic life/ negotiate on student issues. Representatives are elected at the start of each year for all academic departments. Check with your programme office
- Personal service opportunity including mentoring, tutoring, campus orientation guides, voluntary work abroad is plentiful – helping you develop e.g interpersonal, empathy, leadership skills Night line is staffed by student volunteers. click here to find out what is on offer.
All work experience counts – whether routine or demanding, paid or unpaid – Common student jobs such as customer service environments like bars, restaurants, retail stores can develop skills such as interpersonal, communication, to work under pressure ability
Work experience, if relevant to the job sought, is valued especially by employers, in e.g.enhancing job understanding, developing skills, affirming interest. Internships programmes in larger companies are usually used as an early graduate selection process, and job offers made to those who successfully complete them.
click here to find more information regarding skills you may develop through academic work, leisure activities, and work experience.
Why work during vacations?
- Many employers expect students to have gained relevant work experience during summer holidays
- Internship programmes in larger companies are used as part of the graduate recruitment selection process
- You can develop and learn new skills, as well as applying existing ones
- You get to prepare your CV, practice completing application forms and attending interviews
- It can enhance your confidence – demonstrating that you can undertake tasks valued by others as well as by you
- It is an opportunity to learn how organisations work
- You get to learn more about the jobs and industries that interest you
- You can make useful contacts
- If you find work abroad, employers are likely to be especially impressed by your initiative in sourcing/gaining the placement offer, your motivation to follow through, and the self-reliance you develop in a foreign country.
- These are structured work placements with a training elelment, typically run by large compannies and multinational organisations
- Internships act as a screening process for graduate recruitment. Recently, for example, 60% of trainee solicitors recruited into a large Dublin law firm, and 70% of the graduate trainees into a global bank, were former interns.
- Internships occur usually over the summer months, with a closing application date several months earlier, and are aimed at students in pre-final course year. A few may occur at different stages in the year and/or open to students of all years.
- Internships are advertised through Career Development Centre - Internships
Other job related work experience
- Many Irish companies advertise career related work experience to assist on projects/cover holiday absences. Such opportunities are advertised through UCD Career Development Centre - Internships
- You can forward CVs and covering letters direct to targeted employers to enquire about vacation work and advise of your interest
- Employers value this experience as it should develop new/enhance existing skills - such as communications and teamwork.
- Many UCD students go to the USA on J1 visas for at least one summer. The Students Union assists with:
- J1 visas
- making travel arrangements
- advising you on seeking summer work
It is useful to talk to students who were in the country of your choice in previous years or to relatives living in that country.
- You can undertake long or short-term voluntary work projects in varied organisations both in Ireland and abroad
- Voluntary organisations operate like any business, with opportunities in all areas including administration, research and fund-raising
- Unpaid work may be the only option if you are keen to get experience in areas such as media, advertising or PR, where paid summer placements are limited. See related resources
Voluntary work - Resources
- Activelink works with non-profit organisations. Links to directory of Irish non-profit organisations, job opportunities and volunteering
- Volunteering Ireland has a database of both residential and non-residential voluntary work opportunities in Ireland
- Comlairle (www.comhairle.ie) has a directory of National Voluntary Organisations and other agencies, many of whom provide paid and voluntary work opportunities
- The Citizens Information Board, the national support agency responsible for providing information, advice and advocacy to the public on social services has a database of national voluntary organisations including those involved in providing services as well as those involved in campaigning.
- Comhlamh www.volunteeringoptions.ie/ has a list of Irish organisations who send volunteers overseas.
- Idealist.org has a database of international volunteer opportunities as well as links to other organisations promoting global volunteering. Oneworld Co-ordinates many NGO job offers (Oxfam, Christian Aid, Caritas etc)
Start your own Business
- Make a product. Provide a service.
- Not for the faint-hearted but with planning, a creative mind, an innovative idea and a little capital, this can be challenging and rewarding. It also looks good on your CV. See here to get started.
- Involves following or shadowing a professional for a week or two, usually unpaid.
- The aim is to give students an insight into what a particular job entails and the skills that are necessary for that job
- How to get it - use personal contacts or send a CV to organisations of interest asking for work shadowing. This is unusual and impressive as it indicates real interest and commitment to this career path
- Two to four-day courses, to introduce you to an organisation and its varied career opportunities; generally held around Christmas and Easter
- Often used as part of the graduate selection process
- Vacancies are primarily in UK-based companies and competition is keen
- Vacancies are advertised in UCD Career Development Centre - Internships
- AIESEC: International student society organising exchange programmes and traineeships
- Internships USA: The largest internship site on the next. Contains internship information from 3,000 employers
- IAESTE: This programme facilitates students from faculties such as Engineering and Science to gain technical work experience abroad
- National Centre for Work Experience - The Centre provides information on work experience opportunities in many large UK companies. It is particularly useful for opportunities in Law firms.
- Collect your free copy of 'Work Experience' Gradireland booklet from the CDC