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Employability Skills: The Definitive Guide (2021)

13 September 2021

Employability Skills: The Definitive Guide (2021)

Contents

 

In this guide, you will discover:

  • What employability skills are
  • Why they are important
  • How to improve them at school
  • How to showcase them in your UCAS application, CV and much more...

Let's dive in.

What are employability skills? Definition and examples

Employability skills (also known as foundational skills, job readiness skills or job skills) are the transferable skills needed by an individual to make them employable. 

Throughout your career, prospective employers and universities will look for evidence that you have these all-important skills.

They are especially vital when you don’t have much ‘on the job’ experience to illustrate your ability to perform the role. 

There are two types of employability skills:

  1. 'Soft' or non-technical skills, e.g. teamwork, communication and time management
  2. 'Hard' or technical skills e.g. writing, computer and analytical skills

Here's a list of career definitions if you need to brush up.

According to global employers, the top five most important skills are:

  1. Problem solving
  2. Teamwork
  3. Communication
  4. Adaptability
  5. Interpersonal skills

In the UK, the biggest shortfalls lie in adaptability, organisation and communication.

Now, let’s explore why employability skills are so important to potential employers.

Why are they important?


Employability skills are essential to securing your dream job.

They go beyond qualifications and experience; they directly reflect how employable you are.

In an increasingly competitive market, strong employability skills will take your application to the next level. They, along with academic achievement and relevant experience, create the foundation of a great job or university application.

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Soft Skills

What are soft skills?


Soft skills are non-technical employability skills. They are indicative of personality and how an individual engages with those around them. 

Why are they important?


Soft skills are essential in almost every industry.

According to a LinkedIn survey, 92% of hiring managers said soft skills are more important than technical skills. 

An employee might be brilliant at the technical skills required to perform a role. But if they cannot communicate, manage their time effectively or adapt to change, their success in the workplace will be limited.

Soft skills are more like personality traits or behaviours; they are hard to teach and must be learned over time.

If you aren’t thinking about these skills yet, it’s time to start! Employers will want to see how you developed and built on these skills at school. 

Unsure how? This guide will tell you everything you need to know.

Top 5 Soft Skills


1. Problem Solving


Problem-solving is just what it sounds like: the ability to solve problems. This is a particularly useful transferable skill that also demonstrates a group of subskills:

  • Research: the ability to define and gather information on the problem
  • Creativity: the ability to generate potential solutions
  • Decision-making: the ability to choose the most effective solution
  • Implementation: the ability to enact that solution
  • Analytical: the ability to measure the effectiveness of the changes you’ve made 

Beyond the steps above, problem solvers can typically think on their feet, adapt and take initiative. They are good with ideas and can act fast when needed.

In fact, problem solving is the number one skill employers look for, which makes sense, as it's transferable across all industries. Unexpected problems always arise and companies look for employees who can tackle them head-on.

2. Teamwork


Essentially, teamwork is one's ability to work well in a team. But it's much more than that.

It encompasses many different skills:

  • Supporting the members of your team
  • Making others feel welcome and valued
  • Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses
  • Working towards a common goal

Being a team player demonstrates communication skills, empathy, collaboration, adaptability... the list goes on.

Without efficient collaboration, performance drops. That’s why it's the key to a successful company.

"If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself."

- Henry Ford

3. Communication Skills


Communication is the act of transferring information.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Communication skills also include:

  • Active listening
  • Verbal communication
  • Body language
  • Confidence
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Open-mindedness
  • Clarity

These skills will prove immeasurably important in any career and there are numerous situations in which you will find them useful. For example:

  • In an interview, when communicating with the interviewer your suitability for a role
  • To solve a problem, when you must first communicate what's wrong to your manager

Good communication helps you to understand your colleagues (and vice versa). This creates a better working environment, motivates others and supports innovation.

If you want to improve your communication skills, check out our cutting-edge marketing programmes, where you can learn from industry experts how to communicate with a range of different audiences.

4. Adaptability


Adaptability is your capacity to adjust to new conditions - something Covid-19 has tested for everyone. It goes hand in hand with problem solving, as both involve unforeseen circumstances.

Adaptability also demonstrates:

  • Creativity
  • Receptiveness
  • Patience
  • Decision-making
  • The ability to work under pressure
  • Time management
  • The ability to meet deadlines

Flexibility in the workplace is becoming more and more important. If a team cannot adapt, a big setback could undo everything. With a team that can, there is almost no setback that cannot be overcome.

Dr Max McKeown, author of Adaptability: The Art of Winning in an Age of Uncertainty said "All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation." 

All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation.

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5. Interpersonal Skills


Interpersonal skills encompass your ability to interact with others. They make the workplace run smoothly.

Some examples are:

  • Conflict management
  • Empathy
  • Leadership
  • Negotiation
  • Positive attitude
  • Listening

These are especially important for managers, as they need to be able to express recognition, resolve disputes and listen well to their employees.

Those with strong interpersonal skills tend to build better working relationships, as they naturally strive to understand their colleagues and what motivates them.

Do you have an innate ability to interact well with others? Why not take it to the next level with one of our Politics Programmes?

92% of hiring managers said soft skills are more important than technical skills.

Improving Your Soft Skills


Extracurricular activities are a fantastic way to improve your soft skills at school and enhance your employability.

Societies or clubs


Playing an active role in any society or club is a great way to expand your skill base.

The focus can be anything - sport, science, music, even LARPing! What matters is participating, organising, maybe even managing something with your friends and peers.

This will help you to develop your:

  • Problem solving
  • Confidence
  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Organisation
  • Self-motivation
  • Determination

If you aren't enrolled in any clubs or societies, have a look at your school website or speak to your teacher. If you are, have a think about what skills you have developed there - it will definitely come in useful when you’re applying for jobs or universities.

These also look great in the hobbies and interests section of your CV!

Tutoring


Tutoring can be more than just a job.

It can supercharge your university or job applications by proving a thorough understanding of your chosen subject, as well as:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • The ability to communicate with a range of people
  • Coaching and mentoring skills
  • Organisation
  • Creativity
  • Responsibility
  • Patience

If you aren't tutoring at the moment, it's worth considering. It can be low-commitment (as little as an hour a week) and can really strengthen your skillset.

Volunteering


Volunteering is another skill booster to consider whilst at school.

There are so many volunteering opportunities, from charity work at a local food bank, hospital or homeless shelter to teaching football at a local school.

Working for free in your spare time reflects all sorts of desirable traits, including:

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Reliability
  • Commitment
  • Initiative

As with tutoring, volunteering can be low-commitment. Why not explore some of the volunteering opportunities in your area?

Career Coaching


Career coaching is professional mentoring to help you achieve your career goals.

A large part of that relates to employability skills.

Unsure which career is right for you? Career coaching can help you decide based on your soft skills, interests and preferences.

If you do know which career you would like to pursue, career coaching can help you take the first step towards securing your dream job.

Either way, career coaching improves your employability. That’s why every InvestIN programme includes tailored career coaching from industry experts who will:

  • Train you on how to secure a competitive role in your desired industry
  • Provide you with an action plan for how to get there, starting now

And give you expert advice on:

  • A-level/IB/college class choices
  • University and degree choices
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Work experience
  • Application and interview techniques

This is just one of the ways InvestIN programmes can help you land your dream job.

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Hard Skills

What are hard skills?


Hard skills are technical employability skills - the kind you can take a test on. They are specific, measurable and typically learned in formal education or training.

For entry-level positions, employers don’t tend to expect candidates to have hard skills from the outset. If they do, it will always be specified in the job description.

Some hard skills, like writing and numeracy, are transferable, but most are industry or job-specific (e.g. coding or translating).

Why are they important?


Hard skills are needed for the specific tasks and responsibilities of a given job. They, along with soft skills and experience, make up your employability.

Basic hard skills are always in high demand. 

In a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 30% of HR professionals said they had encountered shortages in computer and writing skills.

For entry-level jobs, hard skills aren’t always as relevant as their ‘soft’ counterparts, but they quickly become more important as you progress through your career. Eventually, your key hard skills will become your area of expertise.

In certain industries, such as technology and engineering, hard skills make up most of the required skills for a given job.

Top 5 hard skills


Computer Skills


Due to technological advances, computer skills are more vital than ever.

That’s why LinkedIn ranks them as the number one hard skill employers look for. These include skills such as:

  • Microsoft Office
  • Excel
  • Social media
  • Graphic design
  • Data visualisation
  • Front end programming
  • Machine learning

As you can see, these skills range from highly transferable (e.g. MS Office) to highly specialised (e.g. machine learning).

Looking to supercharge your computer skills? Take a look at our Tech Programmes, where you will gain authentic, hands-on experience in everything from AI to app development.

Data Analysis


Data analysis encompasses the ability to examine large data sets, draw useful conclusions and present them clearly.

This skill is in very high demand; there is data almost everywhere, and companies are looking for those who can analyse it. 

Beyond this, data analysis showcases other abilities, such as:

  • Problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Decision-making
  • Prioritisation
  • Collaboration
  • Optimisation

If data analytics sounds like you, check out our brand new Data Science Programmes. They're packed full of immersive experiences led by top professionals, including:

  • Employing data to salvage a business
  • Investigating the ‘black box’ problem in AI
  • Using big data to crack down on scams and much more!

Project Management


Project management means handling the end-to-end process of any given objective at work, including criteria, requirements and deadlines. 

Even if you don't want to become a Project Manager, employers look for those who have project management skills.

Managing a project well requires a range of hard and soft skills including:

  • Time management
  • The ability to work under pressure
  • Budgeting
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving
  • Leadership
  • Dealing with risk
  • Critical thinking
  • Patience

These are incredibly valuable to employers as they reflect objective-driven thinking.

Those with excellent project management skills can work independently, ensure tasks are completed on time and within budget, solve problems easily and adapt to new situations.

Looking to develop your project management skills? Check out our Entrepreneur Programmes

Learn to build a business from the ground up and receive expert career coaching, interview tips, networking opportunities and much more.

Writing


The ability to write with good grammar, spelling and punctuation is essential in almost every job. 

Written communication also encompasses the following skills:

  • Reading
  • Editing
  • Clarity
  • Blog writing
  • Social media copy
  • Reporting

It is also extremely useful outside of work.

For example, a well-written CV or personal statement can make the difference between an offer and a rejection. In fact, 77% of hiring managers said typos were the most common CV mistake.

Do you have a way with words? Get ahead with our Writing Programmes. Learn from industry experts how to build a bestseller and break into the industry.

Graphic Design


Graphic design skills aren't just for the creative industries.

Many employers look for candidates who have a good eye for design, especially in fields like marketing and operations.

Plenty of smaller companies design their own website and may need input from the whole team. Plus, any presentation will be far more persuasive with some slick design.

Some popular design tools include:

Are you considering a career in art or design? Have a look at our Art Programmes! Learn from leading artists and designers how to create a successful career in art.

Improving Your Hard Skills


In Lessons


If the hard skill you want to improve relates to a subject you are studying, lessons can be a great starting point.

Skills such as writing, IT and numeracy are best taught in school, so your development starts there. If you want to progress even further, consider doing an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) to hone your writing skills, finding a mentor to brush up on your maths, or practising on your computer in your spare time. 

Courses 


Taking a course outside of school doesn’t just develop your hard skills.  

It also shows initiative and self-motivation, both traits looked for by universities and employers alike.

Online courses are on the rise, too. You can now access expert teaching from the comfort of your own home thanks to sites like SkillShare and Coursera.

Regardless of the format, if you have some free time in the school holidays, taking a course is worth considering. Especially if you want to have plenty to talk about in your UCAS personal statement and CV (more on those later).

Immersive Career Experiences


InvestIN programmes have been specifically designed to give you the tools necessary to succeed in your dream career.

We provide experiences in some of the world’s most competitive and desirable industries including medicine, law, engineering, psychology, investment banking and many more.

Gain authentic, hands-on career experiences through bespoke industry-specific simulations, seminars, site visits, interactive activities and much more.

Learn from some of the biggest names in the most competitive fields: benefit from expert advice, unparalleled networking opportunities and personalised career guidance.

Explore our career experiences

How do I showcase my employability skills?

We’ve seen what employability skills are, why they’re important and how to improve them.

Now let’s look at how you demonstrate them to universities and employers.

UCAS Personal Statement


Since you only have 4,000 characters, the UCAS personal statement is all about quality over quantity.

Start by thinking about what transferable skills you have developed at school, then pick one or two of the best. If possible, include examples that show initiative, leadership or teamwork, as these will help to set you apart.

It's essential to consider which skills are most relevant to the degree you are applying to. The course description should give some examples.

Each time you include a skill in your personal statement, make sure you give evidence to back it up.

Here are some soft skill examples:

"I’ve always been passionate about learning new skills and solving problems. Working towards my gold Duke of Edinburgh award has taught me a lot about leadership, long-term commitment and teamwork, and has motivated me to pursue many different new interests, such as volunteering.”

Speaking of Duke of Edinburgh, did you know InvestIN is now an Approved Activity Provider? That means our summer programmes can count as your Gold Award residential!

"In order to give back to the community, I have been volunteering at the British Heart Foundation for the last 18 months. As well as demonstrating my reliability, I have also developed my interpersonal and communication skills. This, alongside completing my grade 7 cello, reflects my ability to manage my time efficiently under pressure."

"Studying drama and delving into the context of different plays has allowed me to develop my research skills; fine art has encouraged me to be more creative and think outside the box; English language has enhanced my communication skills, both written and verbal."

“On the InvestIN Young Investment Banker Summer Experience, I furthered my communication skills in a range of industry simulations, including pitching to real investors. I also learned to address large groups and work under pressure, both of which I had struggled with previously.”

Here are some hard skill examples:

"Studying physics and biology at A level has enabled me to interpret data and successfully draw conclusions from it. In writing up experiments, I have learned how to communicate these conclusions effectively and dissect them further when needed."

"In order to supplement my design toolkit, I have taught myself Google SketchUp in my spare time. This has enabled me to develop my 3D design skills, culminating in my electric car charging station project."

"While managing the budget for my local rugby club, I took an intermediate Excel course online. As a result, I can now confidently use VLookups and pivot tables. I have utilised these new skills to create monthly budget reports for management."

“On the InvestIN Young Doctor Summer Experience, I gained hands-on experience alongside doctors in a real hospital including drawing blood, performing a ward round and taking a patient’s history. This experience further cemented my passion for medicine and showed me that I am ready to study it at university level.”

Is keeping track of all of this a bit daunting? Check out our Summer Success Journal! It's packed full of expert tips, structured guidance, enrichment examples, exercises, key resources and much more. 

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Applying for jobs


Writing your CV


When it comes to writing your CV, it's all about structure.

It’s a huge opportunity to showcase your skills - but you need to organise them correctly.

The employment history section is a great place to showcase your employability skills. You should include any work you have done, including:

  • Full-time work
  • Part-time work
  • Volunteering
  • Internships
  • Work experience

For each, highlight the following in short sentences or bullet points:

  • What your role was
  • What you were responsible for
  • Employability skills you demonstrated or learned
  • Problems you overcame
  • Achievements

Here are some examples:

Customer Assistant, Tesco

June 2020 - April 2021

  • Resolved customer queries quickly and efficiently, gaining valuable communication skills
  • Ensured customer satisfaction in a team that consistently met revenue targets
  • Assisted with stock rotation, successfully completing required tasks under pressure
  • Adapted to the role quickly, completing training in half the expected time

Work experience at UCL, Engineering dept.

2 weeks in June 2020

  • Assisted the optical telecommunications team with their current work
  • Learned experiment methodology and spoke to each member of the team about their role and background
  • Recorded results and input them into MatLab, then helped to clean the data and plot graphs to draw conclusions from
  • Gained hands-on experience working with optic fibre and wrote a report on its current uses, benefits and drawbacks

Interview


During an interview, there should be lots of time for you to showcase your employability skills. Typically, these come in the form of competency-based questions. For example:

  • Tell me about a time when...
  • Give an example of when you...
  • How did you deal with...

These can be tricky to answer, and you may find yourself rambling. The STAR method will help: situation, task, action, result.

Situation


Think of an experience you had that relates to the question. We’d recommend preparing some examples ahead of the interview. Some of the most common behavioural questions are:

  • Describe a problem you had at work and how you handled it
  • Give me an example of when you demonstrated leadership 
  • Tell me about a time when you succeeded/failed

It’s a good idea to make sure you have some situations ready to go. If you haven't got much work experience, don't worry. These situations could be from school or an extra-curricular activity.

Here are some examples:

  • “While on our Duke of Edinburgh gold expedition…”
  • “I was on the committee planning our school leavers’ ball…”
  • “At the care home where I volunteer…”

Task


Describe the task at hand.

It’s easy to rush into the ‘action’ part here. So make sure you take the time to give the interviewer a clear picture.

Why was the task important? Is it something you did independently or was it a team effort? How much pressure was there?

Action


This should be the bulk of your answer.

Explain in detail your approach to the task, including why you took this approach and how well it worked.

Highlight which skills you exhibited, for example:

“I made a schedule to ensure we managed our time efficiently...”

“I adapted to the change of management quickly by…”

“To avoid confusion, I organised the data into charts and presented it to the team...”

Result


Finish by summarising the result of your action.

Did it solve the problem? How did you monitor its success? Did you take measures to ensure the problem wouldn’t happen again?

Here are some examples:

  • “To avoid this happening again, I created a template for everyone to use…”
  • “I informed the programme about the problem and the solution I had implemented…”
  • “I observed our website traffic in the subsequent weeks to ensure our traffic didn’t decrease…"

Looking for more STAR examples? The University of London has great answers for each employability skill.

Assessment Centres


An assessment centre (or assessment day) is where candidates compete for highly competitive jobs by completing a range of activities.

Typically, you will participate in some of the following:

  • Group exercises
  • Scenario role-play exercises
  • Case study-based analysis exercises
  • Psychometric personality questionnaires
  • Psychometric ability tests
  • Competency-based interviews

In these exercises, you will be assessed on your employability skills.

For example:

  • In a group activity, you could be assessed on your communication, interpersonal and problem-solving skills and teamwork
  • In psychometric ability tests, you could be assessed on your numerical, logical and language skills
  • In competency-based interviews, you will be asked to give examples demonstrating your employability skills

To really excel in an assessment centre, you will need to practice. Try running through some scenarios with your friends or take some psychometric ability tests online.

Now it’s your turn…

Time to get started on your journey to employability.

Which skills are you going to work on first? Maybe you’ll start a club at school, take an online course or something completely different. However you do it, gaining these skills won’t happen overnight, so don’t feel rushed.

Are you ready to take the next step on the path to your dream career?

Our programmes offer immersive simulations, fascinating talks and career advice from industry experts.

Discover your future today.

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