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Graduate job-hunting: Standing out from the competition as a well-rounded candidate

Remember: you have to work and interact with your colleagues for a large portion of your week, so you make sure you demonstrate you’ll fit in

Lizzi Hart
Wednesday 13 July 2016 12:01 BST

We’ve already covered the importance of soft skills in the workplace - these incredibly integral feats are often overlooked in comparison to skills of the technical persuasion. But the thing is, employers want the full package. It might seem impossible, but if you can offer something close to well-rounded - yet still adept and qualified - you might just stand a chance against your competition. Here’s the lowdown on what graduate employers want - and how to demonstrate you’ve got them:

Enthusiasm and positivity

Would you hire you if all you did was moan and complain? Do you remember that one kid at school who always used to bring people down? Don’t be that person. Bringing positivity, and even just niceness, to an office environment is much more preferable, and could give you an edge over other candidates. Remember: you have to work and interact with your colleagues for a large portion of your week, so you should make sure you demonstrate that you’ll fit in well. A smiley, positive, and genuine attitude during an interview should help to achieve this.

Soft skills

Time management

Very important for managing tasks, this skill deals with deadlines, and using your time effectively to reflect your priorities. Luckily, your degree has already prepared you for this; you just need to show off your abilities by speaking about specific past experiences.


Many graduate roles will start off with lots of training and support, but after that initial period, it’s up to you. Employers need to know you’ll be able to get on with the job at hand. How can you demonstrate your self-motivation? Well, look at your degree and your dissertation, not to mention any extra-curricular responsibilities.


Work is essentially about solving team and company-related issues, as well as other people’s problems too. But, guess what? Your degree has also prepared you for this feat, especially in terms of the lateral thinking you were encouraged to adopt.


Even if your job doesn’t involve client interaction, employers still want graduates who can communicate effectively. You still need to be able to talk and relay information to your colleagues, team, and managers. Make sure your CV and cover letter are well-written and proofread, and that all your communication with the hiring manager/recruiter is polished, professional, and concise. Check out the Star method for inspiration.

Good listening

Essentially, can you listen and follow instructions effectively? Recruiters want to know you can do this properly, as this skill is incredibly important for many aspects of a graduate role: better listening often means quicker to learn, and better rapport and communication with customers, clients, and colleagues. Emotional intelligence also fits under this bracket, and companies want employees who are able to put people at ease, rather than make them feel awkward.


Depending on the type of role, this could be essential, or just desirable. Often, this skill will be put to test during an assessment centre. If you are a good communicator, and a good listener, you should be fine - just don’t try to control everyone. If you are a natural leader, use this to encourage the quieter members of the group to offer their opinion. If you are the quieter type, explain that you like to listen, and then offer a well thought-out idea. If you only have a one-to-one interview to work with, try and show off your teamwork abilities using group project successes from your university days.


Employers don’t want you to just stop trying once you’ve got passed the interview stage; they want an employee who will continue to work hard and put in the effort. To show off this ability, talk about times you’ve seen a project, or job, through from its conception to its end, despite whatever challenges.


No-one is expecting you take a job at age 21 and leave 50 years later. You don’t have to sign your life away, but you still need to offer some form of loyalty or longevity. It costs a lot of money for an organisation to hire someone new, so they want to avoid doing so for as long as possible. This is where the ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ question comes in handy for an interviewer. Don’t lie, but don’t say you want to go travelling in a year, for example, and then expect to get a job offer.

Hard skills

Hard skills are essentially the technical aspects of a role. Almost every graduate job out there will require some technical knowledge as you will be using a computer every day. If you’re keen to set yourself apart, go above and beyond what is expected of you and your degree discipline. Learn how to properly use Windows or Mac OS, rather than just how to get by. Employers will be excited by the fact you can pick up the technical training easily if you’re more computer literate than other applicants might be.

But where should you start?

Learn how to use MS Excel - right now. It’s one of the most underrated, yet essential, pieces of software across many different industries. Not to mention, it’s confusing to use if you don’t know your way around it, so you will not be able to just ‘wing it’. With more knowledge of the program, you can show off particular functions you can use, rather than just saying ‘proficient in’ - the former is much more desirable, and skills-based.

Then what?

After Excel, what does your desired industry use? Rather than graduate jobs - if you already have the needed skills for those - look at more experienced jobs in the industry you want to progress through, and see what more experienced employees should know. If you can trump your competition with your extra, and relevant, technical skills, you might just make up for any lack of experience.

Lizzi Hart is a linguistics graduate and a marketing assistant at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau

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