7 September 2023

What Are The Most Important Soft Skills?

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Do you think you’re ready for the world of work? Yes, you might say, I’ve got a degree and a new suit from Zara, of course, I’m ready. 

Some employers might disagree.

A report from The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) has revealed that (employers believed) only 48% of graduates had the soft skills they needed for entering the workplace. Less than half of graduates are work-ready! 

The report also revealed, however, that 63% of employers believed graduates who had undertaken work experience had the required soft skills to be successful.

Those students who had completed a placement or internship were better prepared than their peers who had zero work experience.

The lesson: getting professional work experience (in the form of a placement, internship or insight) will make you more employable.

So, what are soft skills?

Soft skills are often referred to as ‘people skills’ or interpersonal skills. They describe a person’s attitude or approach to dealing with different situations.

These skills are not specific to a particular job or profession, they are transferable to any work environment – transferable skills, you might say.

Good communication, organisation and time management are a few examples of the traits described as ‘soft skills’.

‘Hard skills’ on the other hand are job-specific. They’re technical skills, directly related to a profession.

For example, someone working in construction will have hard skills that are related to their trade, such as plastering or bricklaying. A Clown’s hard skills would include juggling, riding a unicycle and making balloon animals.

soft skills

What soft skills are employers looking for?

Employers from all sorts of industry sectors who are recruiting for most roles are often looking for the same soft skills in candidates. 

Below is a table that featured in the ISE’s report. It shows the specific skills that employers focus on when training up graduates, and which skills they believe graduates possess. 

In other words, the table reveals which soft skills are the most in-demand in the undergraduate and graduate market.

What should you learn from this?

Employers are looking for candidates to demonstrate skills such as time management, or problem-solving like that one time you solved a Rubix cube. But lots of other candidates will have these skills and examples too. 

If you really want to set yourself out from the crowd you should focus on those skills that employers are hunting for but struggle to find.

Skills like the ability to deal with conflict, manage up and negotiate are those proverbial needles in the haystack that employers are searching for.

Want to set yourself up for success in any future work experience application? Sign up to our FREE Career Coaching Course, a four-day virtual programme in October, to upskill yourself on CVs, applications and interviews.

How can you develop the skills all employers are looking for?

The best way for you to develop these skills is to get yourself some work experience, a placement or internship in the industry you most want to work in in the future would be best.

By doing this you’ll be appealing to the majority of employers who believe graduates with work experience under their belts have the required soft skills to be successful.

So how can you develop the soft skills that all employers are looking for?

1. Commercial Awareness

Only 23% of employees believe that graduates have this skill.

This refers to your general knowledge and understanding of how businesses operate. 

By working as a placement student or intern you are able to gain a few months’ worth of valuable experience working with others in a real-life business environment.

Essentially commercial awareness comes from experience, and by being on placement you gain exposure to several functional areas of a business (this is especially true if you work for an SME).

2. Managing Up

Only 5% of employers believe that graduates have this skill.

This refers to your ability to manage the expectations of your manager in a workplace. 

This probably isn’t a skill that you can develop at uni from group coursework yet it is absolutely vital to have when you enter the working world. It shows maturity and confidence.

Talk to managers who you work with on placement about how you can develop this. One example might be to take more ownership over the deadlines for your projects.

3. Business Appropriate Communication

Only 34% of employers believe that graduates have this skill.

This doesn’t come naturally to people especially if you’ve never been in a business environment before, yet it’s one of the easiest skills to develop.

By spending time working within a business you will gain exposure to experienced business professionals who will use specific vocabulary that you will pick up on.

You will also learn how to make convincing arguments and how to conduct yourself in important meetings all because you’ve had some previous experience.

What are the key takeaways?

Employers feel like graduates who don’t have work experience under their belts are lacking some key skills.

If you can get a placement or internship this is great news! You will pretty much guarantee yourself the opportunity to learn from professionals within your chosen industry.

These people will help you to develop particular soft skills, so that when it comes to applying for a grad job you stand out from the crowd. 

You need work experience to stand out from the crowd, and the best place to find a placement, internship or insight scheme is right here on RateMyPlacement.co.uk.