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What skills do employers want?

Published 17 Jul, 2023  ·  4-minute read

Employers just want people who can do the job, right?

Well, yes. But also no.

Those specific skills are essential for landing a role in your field, sure. But they aren’t the only skills that employers look for.

There are some capabilities that can make you a more valuable team member in any workplace – from cafés to hospitals, from offices to courtrooms. These skills (some people call them “employability skills”) show employers you have more than the technical knowhow to do the things. They prove you’re a decent person to work with and someone who can deal with whatever the workplace throws at you.

So, what are these mysterious abilities? Exactly what type of skills are employers looking for when they scan your resumé? Let’s explore this with some expert insight from Dino Willox, Director of Student Employability at UQ.

Watch Get the edge at UQ on YouTube.

What do employers want? (Hint: it’s not just a list of skills)

It’s essential to know what you bring to the table and how to express it via your application and interview. This is true for any role, any company and any industry.

“Employers are looking for well-rounded individuals who understand what value they can bring to an organisation and can articulate this to employers.”

- Dino Willox

Dino explains that knowledge of your discipline is important, of course, but it’s not enough when it comes to desirable skills in the workplace.

“To be employable, you need to be able to continually adapt, learn and create value in new and different environments,” they say.

With that said, there are some universally valuable skills that can help you make positive contributions in almost any workplace. Inspira, for example, ranks these as their “top 5 employability skills”:

  • communication
  • problem-solving
  • planning and organising
  • negotiating
  • positive mental attitude.

Looking forward, the World Economic Forum predicts these 15 skills will increase the most in importance in the workplace over the next 5 years:

  1. creative thinking
  2. analytical thinking
  3. technological literacy
  4. curiosity and lifelong learning
  5. resilience, flexibility and agility
  6. systems thinking
  7. AI and big data
  8. motivation and self-awareness
  9. talent management
  10. service orientation and customer service
  11. leadership and social influence
  12. empathy and active listening
  13. dependability and attention to detail
  14. resource management and operations
  15. networks and cyber security

But including any of these in a cover letter will only get you so far. Simply knowing what skills employers want won’t cut it. The key is knowing how to prove these skills to an employer during an interview and how to apply them on the job.

That’s where employability comes in.

A member of UQ's Student employability team discusses options with a student

What are employability skills?

We understand why you might ask this, but there aren’t free-floating “employability skills” as such. Rather, there are abilities, tools and ways of thinking you can develop in different situations to increase your employability.

The world of work constantly changes and the skills that are in demand fluctuate over time. Just think about how COVID-19 changed the way people work or how things like the gig economy are shifting the way people approach their careers.

This is why Dino believes self-reflection is perhaps the most important capability for students.

“Being able to reflect on and learn from all experiences – curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular – is essential to being employable,” they say.

“At UQ, we define employability as the capabilities and mindsets that empower you to perform effectively in the workplace, generate opportunities and create positive social and economic impact.” 

- Dino Willox

Employability vs. employment

Dino emphasises that employability shouldn’t be confused with employment. It’s much more than finding a job.

“While we understand it is important to be able to get a job, we want to make sure that you are able to effectively do that job,” they say.

“That is what employability development is about.”

And that’s why Student Employability Teams at UQ don’t just tick off a checklist of “employability skills” to help you get hired. We equip you with the right abilities (and the right mindset) to develop your career and thrive at work. Because it’s not about landing your first job after uni – it’s about preparing you for a lifetime of feeling confident and comfortable in your career.

How to enhance your employability

A UQ student stands holding signs that say 'I completed the Employ 101xMOOC' and 'I volunteered within my school/faculty'

The great news is you don’t need to wait to start uni. You can begin working on your employability right now.

Self-reflection is the key to learning from your experiences and seeing how they influence your development. And you can start self-reflecting at any time.

Don’t limit yourself when it comes to self-reflection, either. Valuable experiences to reflect on and the capabilities they impact can include:

  • work placements (active learning)
  • casual jobs or volunteering (service orientation)
  • group projects (leadership and social influence)
  • assignments (critical thinking and analysis)
  • activism, politics or debating (persuasion and negotiation)
  • tough exams (resilience and time management)
  • competing in team sports (communication and collaboration)
  • using social media (technology use and design)
  • planning parties (organisation and creativity)
  • disagreements with friends (emotional intelligence).

With a little extra thought, you may be surprised at how even small moments can enhance your employability and shape who you become.

So, when you think about skills that employers look for, be sure to consider not only the skills associated with your chosen field, but also those skills that will serve you well in any career and any industry.

A great way to get a head start on your employability journey is with UQ’s free online course: EMPLOY101x “Unlocking your employability”. This self-paced course is available to anyone and will help you discover what you can do to develop your employability.

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