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 in 2019, 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.

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.

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.


Alex Smith

Recruitment Specialist

I’ve worked in recruitment for the same agency for over 12 years, covering finance, office support, construction, and engineering. Temp and perm. Previously, my line of work was within banking and estate agency.
Favourite food: “Curry (Hot)”
Favourite film: “Heat”

Outside of work

“Gym 5 days a week. Home life consists mostly of entertaining a 3 year old! (for clarification – my son)”

Alex on ACR

“Very refreshing to work for a recruitment agency that genuinely care for their candidates and clients”

E: alex@annecorder.co.uk
T: 01733 235298

Sarah-Jane Bond

Recruitment Specialist

I have spent the majority of my career working in Operational and Project Management roles. I first worked with ACR about 25 years ago as a candidate. ACR secured me a role at RNIB, where I stayed for 15 years, finishing as Head of Operations. Recruitment has always been a big part of the roles I have undertaken and is something that I really enjoy. When you match a fantastic candidate with the right client there is no better feeling!
Favourite food: “Has to be any dish from the Mediterranean”
Favourite film: “There are many, love a chick flick, especially ‘The Holiday at Christmas”

Outside of work

“I love socialising with friends, can always squeeze a bit of retail therapy in around volunteering at Deeping Rangers FC, running their hospitality on match days.”

Sarah-Jane on ACR

“I couldn’t have been more delighted when Nel asked me to join the company and have felt at home since day one. They really do care about providing the best service for their clients and candidates, building genuine relationships with both. The team culture is second to none, everyone supporting and looking out for each other. It is a pleasure to come to work every day.”

E: sarahjane@annecorder.co.uk
T: 01733 235298

Emily Hill

Recruitment Specialist

Emily was a Primary School Teacher for 10 years, before moving into the EdTech space, as a Relationship Specialist for MATs. She joined ACR in July 2023 and particularly thrives when recruiting for Account Management, Customer Service and Sales roles.
Favourite food:
“Spag bol or pizza”
Favourite film:
“The Notebook – or any romantic chick flick really!”

Outside of work

“I have a 1-year-old, so love fun family weekends with my husband and son more than anything. Time socialising with friends and family is where I’m happiest.”

Emily on ACR
“The unique culture, values, and style at ACR is polar opposite to other recruitment agencies and what I believed recruitment was. Having previously been a Relationship Specialist, I feel I’m doing the same thing! No hard sell, we truly care about our candidates and clients, and the team culture is 2nd to none!”
E: emily@annecorder.co.uk
T: 01733 235298

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