Employability & Job skills

When you apply for a job, very often you will be competing for the position against people who have roughly the same educational qualifications as you. If you’re going for a position as an electronic engineer, for example, it’s almost certainly going to be the case that everyone applying for the position will have a degree in electronic engineering, as this will be the absolute minimum qualification for the job.

It could well also be the case that you’ll be up against people who have similar levels of experience in that position to you. There are, of course, plenty of cases of people looking to punch above their weight, so to speak, by applying for positions whose job specs demand more years of experience than they actually have, in the hope that there’s either some other experience they have that should be regarded as equivalent to what has been asked for or something else about them that shows their great potential for this line of work.

In practice, however, any given pool of applicants for a position is likely to have roughly the same number of years of experience within it. It’s pretty rare for someone with twenty years of experience in a sector to suddenly go for an entry-level or graduate position; and it’s similarly unlikely that even the hungriest young graduate would be foolhardy enough to apply for a senior-level post.

In light of the fact that when you apply for a job it’s quite likely you’ll have a similar degree or other qualifications and a similar number of years of work experience as your rival applicants, what can you do to make yourself that decisive little bit more employable than them.

Perform well in your degree and other jobs

Well, one solution is simply to have achieved the very best results possible in your qualifications. Getting a first-class degree or straight As never does any harm. However, it’s by no means a guarantee that you’ll go to the top of the pile. While some employers value academic excellence, others don’t see it as necessarily meaning you’ll be able to cut it any better out in the real world.

Another solution is to make sure your CV shows how outstanding your performance has been in your previous jobs. Hopefully, if you’ve followed the other bits of advice in this section of our site, you’ll have a CV that shows off exactly what your strengths are and clearly demonstrates these attributes in action in your previous work.

By having a CV that does this, you’ve given yourself a really great chance of being shortlisted for the job that you’ve set your hopes on. But unfortunately the cream of the rest of the crop who have applied for this particular job might have also done an equally good job of making a CV that shows their professional pedigree. What you need is one extra little thing that sets you apart even from these frontrunners.

That one little thing is most likely to be a skill that you’ve gone out of your way to acquire and will potentially be of value to your future employer. Because while any job has a core set of skills that all of the applicants with a serious chance of being offered the position will have, there are also loads of other skills that would also be of use to employers that only a relatively small proportion of people will have. And if, having done a little bit of digging to find out what additional skills would be most relevant to your career sector, you then take the steps to get those skills, you’ll have that one little thing that might just tip the balance in your favour when the time comes for the employer to make a final decision about who to hire.

As we say, which skills you develop should be based around what employers in your field are most likely to look for. To give you a little initial inspiration, however, here are some of the most in-demand skills from employers, which would all be welcome in a pretty large range of industries.

Languages

With our rich literary heritage, there’s no question that here in the UK we really have a way with words. Unfortunately, all those words happen to be in English. As a nation we’re less open to learning a second–let alone third–language than pretty much any other country in the world.

And although the rest of the world seems to be making reasonably big efforts to learn English, the fact is that if you’re a company looking to do business in other countries–as many, many companies are–then having people who are fluent in the language of those countries is an enormous asset; not only does it help them from a practical standpoint, but it also shows their prospective business partners abroad that they’re willing to adapt to their needs.

The combination of a need for speakers of foreign languages and the real dearth of people who can speak them in this country creates a real open goal for anyone who has the motivation to enrol in some language classes. There are very few sectors out there where an ability to speak another language wouldn’t be a bonus. If you want to work with oil, Arabic will be an asset; and if your chosen career is commerce, Chinese will complement your other skills.

In fact, any language that has a large number of speakers worldwide will really help your chances of getting a great job. Even if the position you’re applying for doesn’t require someone with foreign-language skills, companies like to have linguists within the organisation, just in case the need for them arises.

IT and machinery

Now, everyone has a line on their CV that says something roughly equivalent to ‘excellent knowledge of Windows and MS Office applications’. Many people regard this as being all they need to show in the way of IT skills. After all, unless you’re going for some sort of specialist job in the tech sector, surely all you need to be able to do is prove that you know how to create a Word document, put numbers into an Excel spreadsheet and send emails using Outlook?

There are two problems with this type of thinking. Firstly–and employers will know this from past experiences of hiring people who make claims of great IT skills, only to find that in practice they know little more than the basics–very often it’s not simply enough to say that you know how to use a piece of software.

Real credentials–certificates and qualifications–always look better than claiming you’re proficient in using a piece of software. They prove your claims are true and clearly show the limits of your skills. Using Microsoft Excel provides a classic example of this. People often claim that they have skills in using this very complex piece of software, but in reality they can’t use it for anything beyond the basics of making a simple table or schedule. Talk to them about macros and they’ll just give you a puzzled look.

So it’s worth taking the time to get the basics right. There are literally thousands of training centres and colleges across the country that offer certificates in the essential pieces of office software; by having some of those certificates, you’re proving that you really are IT literate.

The second problem with simply professing knowledge of Windows and Office is that many employers would love it if you had qualifications in other pieces of software as well, even if they’re not listed as essential criteria in the job spec. The truth is that there are all sorts of types of IT skills that are very important for the workplace.

In the travel industry, for example, one of the most important pieces of software is Galileo, a reservations-management system. If you want to work in the travel sector, being able to use this software will be a huge point in your favour. Now, while some people are lucky enough to get on-the-job training in it, others aren’t. But since it’s not the sort of software you use at home, you can’t teach yourself how to use it very easily. And at any rate, an employer is going to value a real qualification in it much more than self-training, or even claims of on-the-job training with a previous employer.

So if you wanted to get into the travel sector, taking the time to take a short course in Galileo will give you a great leg-up. Not only will you have proof that you know how to use it, but you’ll also demonstrate to employers that you’re serious enough about your career ambitions to take the time to do relevant training.

With there being literally tens of thousands of pieces of specialist software out there, it’d be impossible for us to brief you on every single one. But it’s easy enough to find out which ones it’d be beneficial for you to know. Simply look through job vacancies in your sector, and take note of the names of the pieces of software that keep coming up. Then get searching online for training opportunities for them in your sector. Employers will respect someone who’s taken steps to train themselves rather than expecting this training to be provided when they start the job!

The same advice applies to operating machinery, another area in which you will find there are abundant training opportunities available. In fact, if you’re looking to do a job where knowledge of operating a particular piece of machinery would be expected or welcome, getting the right qualifications is even more important; no-one wants to hire someone who breaks a piece of kit costing tens of thousands of pounds because their claim on their CV that they knew how to use it was more than a little bit exaggerated!

Driving

Because the costs of motoring have skyrocketed in recent years, it’s not uncommon for young people who have all sorts of amazing skills and qualifications to be unable to drive a car. While this may not seem relevant to your job–isn’t it better to take the bus or train to work anyway?–there are in fact many jobs where having a driving licence would be seen as a bonus.

Essentially, for any position that involves–or could involve at some point in the future–meeting clients or suppliers, a driving licence would be regarded as a great asset. This covers a huge range of careers, and especially those that involve selling.

So if you’ve not yet got behind the wheel of a car, now’s the time to give it a go!

Health and safety

Cynics and curmudgeons often say that we live in a society that is obsessed with what they call ”elf and safety.’ But whether they like it or not, this is an area that employers have to take very seriously, and they expect their employees to do the same.

Just as people who work in offices need to prove their competence with software, people who work in a position that could affect the wellbeing of other people if they get things wrong will be in a much stronger position to apply for jobs if they have the certificates to prove that they understand and are equal to the health and safety challenges of their field. So if, for example, your goal is to work in hospitality, having certificates in areas such as food hygiene is a much better way of proving that you’re serious about your career than simply taking it for granted that employers assume the people they hire will know how environmental-health regulations inside and out.

But health-related qualifications aren’t just for specialist working environments. Every workplace needs someone who is trained in first aid, for example, and if you can include a St. John Ambulance certificate on your CV, then you’ll definitely find yourself more in demand with employers, whether your place of work was an office or an abattoir.

Interpersonal skills

In this section of the site we’ve already covered the fact that emphasising your skills by using elements of a skills-based CV is a really good way to sell yourself to employers. But you can also go a step further by taking short courses that provide further proof of you having made the effort to acquire these skills.

These may take the form of workplace training opportunities in areas such as leadership or effective communication, which you can detail on your CV. Or you could take the step of attending courses outside of your current workplace, which will demonstrate your seriousness about your career even more strongly. Whichever route you choose, you’ll have demonstrable proof of your skills rather than mere claims, something which will set you apart from your fellow applicants.