How to make yourself more employable: the new employability skills of the 2016 worker

06 May 2016 -


Whether you’re applying for a job, recruiting or just wondering how to boost your employability, there are fundamental job and work skills that most employers will look for. And they’re not all obvious…

Guest blogger Adrian Furnham

What does a degree in Media Studies, Fashion Design or Women’s Studies from the University of the Watford Gap or the University of Rutland indicate about a candidate? Or say a Congratulatory First from Camford in Physics? What does it say about the ability, values or skills of the graduate? Is the degree, in-and-of-itself, an indication of the employability of a person?

What could an employer assume about what a graduate knows, can or will do, or their attitude to work as a consequence of doing any degree? Intelligence, perserverence, conscientiousness…or just exam taking skills? Daddy’s money that got one all the good schools and tutors that lead to great institutions.

Educational qualifications are just one aspect of a person’s assets which they bring to the world of work. There are a number of important fundamental issues in considering a young person’s employability. But the most fundamental is what can and can’t be easily trained? And this can be better refined as:

Should you select for skills and train “attitude” or select for attitude and train skills? And then there is the question about “hard” vs “soft” skills. The opposite of hard is not easy. Can you teach a techie nerd “emotional intelligence?”

Related is the question about motivation. How hungry are they? What are prepared to sacrifice to climb the corporate ladder? Do they understand how competitive the world is now?

What employers want in (all) employees is not difficult to define. First, they want them to be hard-working and productive. The work ethic: conscientiousness. To pitch-up and to pitch in. They want them to be honest, reliable, and dependable. They want a self-motivated person who can be trusted to do what is asked of them. And to go the extra-mile when required. And they want then to have not only the willingness but the capacity to learn.

Some managers call this motivation and they despair about the younger generation who seem unable to grasp the fact that migrants are going to take all their jobs. Productive people are organised and ambitious, prudent and worldly-wise, adjusted and realistic. It takes a great deal of effort as well as ability to achieve certain goals: success in educational and sporting arenas. It pretty easy to detect….and very important for employability.

Second, you want people to be smart; bright, curious, fast-learners not plodders. People who are inquisitive, widely-read, interesting in understanding stuff. It is not that difficult to assess intelligence.So what does person’s choice of degree and institution say about them and the institution? What can we read into a starred first from Oxbridge as opposed to a dodgy 2:2 from a University that a few years ago was a training college. A good measure of pure intelligence: maths trumps sociology, physics trumps media studies, philosophy trumps event management.

But bright and hard-working is not enough. Emerging from the gilded cage of an ancient university clutching a certificate is still not enough. There are other important features that make one employable. Foremost is the concept of rewardingness. This is more than emotional intelligence and social skills. It is about being warm and trustworthy; about being sensitive and well adjusted; about being sociable and sufficiently altruistic.

The arrogant and the socially inept are neither rewarding to work with or for, or indeed be served by. Rewarding means they are a pleasure to be with. Their attitude, spirit, charm is rewarding. They are uplifting and inspiring not heart sinking. They are glass half-full, can-do, have-a-go, plod-the-extra-mile…types. No amount of brilliant degrees can compensate if this missing.

Fourth, even at the beginning of any career employers look out for signs of being leader-like. That means being able to make decisions for which they are accountable and have good judgment. It is about taking the initiative, as well as the strain when it counts. Most jobs have a career structure from technical expert, through supervision and junior management to positions of power and influence.

Being leader-like means being able to inspire the confidence of others: peers, superiors and customers. It means not only being a team player but potentially a team leader.

Finally, employers often want people who have the big picture and globally minded. People who look ahead. Those who notice opportunities and see trends. Who look forward and not back. Who anticipate and adapt to the future without being a victim of it. The world changes fast. People who can adapt do better. And those who anticipate changes before they occur better still.

So what makes you employable? Can one of the above five virtues compensate for others? Can the less intellectually gifted compensate by being very hard-working and very charming? Some-times depending on the job they are applying for. Can the geaky, nerdy, gadget-obsessed person get a job when they seem low of rewardingness, or leader-likeness? Probably not.

Of course, not all these desirable characteristics are equally weighted. Some jobs require much more than others. Sales-people don’t have to be super-smart, but all other five characteristics are important.

The bottom line: qualifications are an indicator of just a few criteria of employability.

Adrian Furnham is a business psychologist and author of 80 books and 1,000 scientific papers. He is an adjunct professor at the Norwegian Business School

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