What are employers looking for in graduate candidates?

The time has come for you to enter the next chapter of your life: building a career. We know that applying and interviewing for roles can be a daunting experience, so we’ve put together this blog to give you some insight on how you can set yourself apart in a competitive job market.

So, what are employers looking for in graduate candidates…?

Graduates that understand their soft skills

As well as gaining a degree, your time in university has helped you to develop your soft skills. These transferable attributes will be of great interest to potential employers and will be an important part of any job application and should be included on your CV.

Rather than taking time to reference each module you studied in great detail, focus on the skill that you gained or honed as you studied the module, and even provide examples of when you have put these skills into action. It will be of great benefit to you at all stages of the interview process to think about how these skills could be applied to the role at hand.

According to a survey by LinkedIn earlier this year, these are the top transferrable skills that employers are looking for:

  • Creativity
  • Persuasion
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Time Management

For you to understand exactly how your skills will be suited to the role you are applying for, you will need to spend time researching the company.

Graduates who are proactive in gaining experience

Some roles and businesses will be inundated with applications from qualified graduates. It’s crucial that you set yourself apart from the crowd.

One way to do this is to be proactive in gaining experience, deepening your knowledge of your chosen industry, or desired role. You can learn more about how to look beyond your educational qualifications to secure a great graduate position in this blog.

Graduates who are genuinely interested in a company and position

As you are likely to be in a highly competitive market, it’s important that you communicate your dedication and commitment to the role at hand quickly – a lack of devotion can be easily spotted.

It’s vital that you express an interest for This job at THIS company, not a job at any firm. Employers want to hire graduates that have a genuine passion for building a career within their business, not a candidate who his looking for a job until a ‘better’ opportunity presents itself.

By making each application tailored to the role and business, you can prove that you are serious about committing to this position.

Asking questions in the interview is a fantastic way to demonstrate your interest in a role or company, as well as how prepared you are and your strategic thinking.

Recruiters and hiring managers learn more from candidates from the questions they ask compared to the answers they give.

Graduates that are aligned with company culture

The importance of company culture has gained prevalence in recent years, spearheaded by the likes of corporations such as Google. Company culture is important for employees, who want to enjoy the time they spend in the workplace, feeling like they make a valuable contribution and their work is impactful. It’s important for employers, because it defines the company and employer brand, attracting great talent and a workforce that is inspired, motivated and productive.

Once a business has defined its company culture and environment, they will work hard to maintain it, and this is reflected in their recruitment strategies.

Employers will look beyond academic credentials and seek out employees that are aligned with their company culture and will work well with the rest of the business. You will need to allow them to see past your education and qualifications and see your personality, general competencies and work ethic.

Your research into the company will give you an indication of the company culture. Looking for company values, vision and mission statements will give you an insight. You can delve deeper by looking at company social media profiles or any thought-leadership articles they have provided, or if they have been included in any annual lists. Another way to prepare to expose your personality is to become comfortable answering character-based questions.

Questions such as;

  • Tell me about yourself

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, it’s an invitation for you to creatively tell your story and introduce your character. Practice your response to this question: someone who becomes defensive and uncomfortable, or answers too literally, will not be perceived well.

Think broadly and consider what you want to be known for and how you want to be perceived. What brought you to this point, what you have encountered along the way and where do you want to go?

  • Tell me about the most significant accomplishment you have achieved so far and why?

This question opens the door and enables you to highlight yourself in specific ways. By discussing one accomplishment and perhaps more importantly, why it’s so important to you, gives additional insights into your personal values, work ethics and interpersonal skills.

  • Tell us about someone you admire and why

Ultimately, this is a chance for you to explain the qualities that you admire and value in other people. If there is someone that you can pick that is relevant to the role you are applying for, this is fantastic but avoid being cliché, because recruiters can see through this.

The best strategy is to pick someone that you genuinely admire, this way you will naturally speak about them with authenticity, passion and conviction. Your answer will show the attributes, values and accomplishments that you aspire to.

  • Tell us about something that isn’t included in your CV

The hiring manager or recruiter will want to understand the person behind the application and get to know you, so while this should be kept professional, something with character will set you apart from the rest of the applicants. An unusual hobby, challenges you’ve faced or a personal goal that you’ve achieved are all good examples of stories you could share here.

  • Tell us about a time when you had to deal with multiple deadlines and how you met them

This question isn’t being asked to determine how many tasks you can handle at once, it’s to learn about how efficient you are at prioritising and completing your work. Discuss skills such as a positive mindset, communication, creative thinking, time management and give context around the experiences you have with each.

To learn more about what employers are looking out for in an interview, take a look at this blog.

Interviews are a chance for you to showcase your skills and abilities, but they are also an opportunity to have meaningful conversations. Approach each application and interview with confidence, preparation, professionalism, curiosity and a willingness to learn from each experience – you will soon understand what employers are looking for.


If you would like help looking for a graduate position, contact a member of the Anne Corder team today.

About the Author

Emma Plummer

Emma Plummer

Recruitment Partner

Emma blogs for the ACR jobseekers’ blog covering tips on how to stand out, managing the job-hunting process and more.