Firstly congratulations, you are now ready to leave academia behind and take your first steps into finding your first role and career path.

Whatever your age or education level, the jobs market is more competitive than ever, with a large number of candidates applying for the same roles. You’re not just competing with people your own age but also those that have been made redundant due to the pandemic. Research tells us that employers still complain that young people come to them not ready for the workplace and missing some of the key skills and attributes needed to be successful employees.

Although there is an increasing focus on digital technology within the workplace, many new skills are needed to thrive in these changing times. Employers are looking for more than a technically savvy applicant, they are looking for the ‘soft’ skills. Those learned traits that have been key to the workplace for generations and are equally as important now.

To help support you in your quest to find work, I have identified the seven key skills I think graduates and schools leavers need to have to improve their employment prospects. Here goes…

  1. Commercial Acumen

When interviewing a candidate, employers expect them to have an understanding of the company and sector the business is in. It’s extremely frustrating for an employer to take their time to interview a candidate who has not spent the time understanding more about the business and how it operates.

You cannot be expected to know the inner workings of a company that you’ve only just set foot in, but understanding what it does, what sector it operates in, who it’s clients and competitors are is pretty vital. Simple research on the Internet would provide this information and show that you are interested in the company you’re applying to work at.

  1. Communication

The ability to communicate effectively with colleagues and customers is vital – no matter what role you are applying for. Being able to talk on the phone is a dying skill but one which is still valued in business. Additionally, written and verbal communication skills are needed within all companies. Your CV / application form is the first chance employers have to check this. Make sure you take the time to check your spelling and grammar using a UK English spellchecker!

You also need to be able to present yourself effectively at an interview. Focus on good eye contact, speaking clearly and answering all questions succinctly. Employers are looking for candidates who are capable of expressing themselves. Consider practicing interview-style questions with a friend or family member if you are lacking confidence or if that’s not possible, try speaking in front of a mirror. Confidence is definitely beneficial – as long as it doesn’t come across as arrogance!

  1. Teamwork

All companies need people who are team players and can work well with other colleagues. The ability to collaborate and support other team members towards the achievement of a shared goal is vital. As is providing support where required.

When applying for jobs make sure you can demonstrate who you’ve been able to work well in a team environment, this could be through a sports team, voluntary work or a part-time position or even where you’ve worked in a group to get a school / university project completed effectively. Showcasing your ability in this area will set you apart from other candidates.

  1. Solution Oriented

Having the ability to solve problems and find solutions is a key skill that employers value highly. Taking a logical approach to problem-solving and finding ways of overcoming challenges is necessary in every role you apply for.

To identify those candidates that have this ability, interviewers will often set applicants a practical test to assess how they identify solutions and the route they take.

  1. Organisation

Many roles require employees to work under pressure in order to hit company set deadlines. Organisational skills are critical for this. Being prepared and being able to balance home and work-life responsibilities are important to potential employers.

  1. Digital Skills

No one is expecting you to be a digital expert but for most roles, a level of IT knowledge and experience is a key requisite. You will be expected to be computer literate and have an understanding and practical knowledge of most Microsoft packages such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You should be able to send emails as a bare minimum and an understanding of social media channels is often an advantage.

  1. Flexibility to Evolve

The old belief that there was a ‘job for life’ is long gone and the average employee has at least three career changes in their working life.

To survive in the modern workplace – depends on a willingness to learn new skills and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. Showing that you have the aptitude to undertake further study and to develop your knowledge is seen as a great trait to have.

By developing these seven skills, you will have a head start in the world of work and will be seen as a more favourable candidate. By taking time to harness these ‘soft skills’ you will have a great advantage and should secure your first step on the job ladder. Good luck!