Scrabble tiles on the table, with words like employment

As a 16-19-year-old, you might be looking for your first job, perhaps it’s a part-time apprenticeship to work alongside your qualifications or your first foray into the world of full-time employment.

Here are the five qualities that, time and time again, employers say that they value the most when recruiting young people:

  1. a positive attitude
  2. ‘soft skills' such as communication, problem-solving, time management, teamwork, working well under pressure
  3. ‘hard skills’ including literacy, numeracy and computer literacy
  4. formal qualifications with English and maths at GCSE or equivalent as a minimum
  5. experience of part-time jobs, work placements, work experience or volunteering

A Positive Attitude

As you've not been in employment before, those interviewing you don’t expect you to know everything. Instead, they are looking for those that are enthusiastic, hard-working, keen, committed, energetic, and keen to learn and contribute to making the business a success. 

If asked about your attitude in an interview situation you can talk about your commitment to something, perhaps a part-time job such as babysitting, or a passion for your hobby. If you've had setbacks, you can show how you've picked yourself up and learnt from your mistakes. 

‘Soft Skills’

Soft skills describe the basic personal skills that enable you to do well at work. They are often described as transferable skills as can be used in all different types of jobs. Soft skills include:

Communication Skills

  • the ability to communicate with colleagues and customers, listen effectively and respond to questions, give instructions and take feedback, and be polite.

If you are asked in an interview situation about your communication skills you can talk about how you relate to people from a different background to you - this may be through work experience, or perhaps you help look after your older or younger relatives. 

Problem Solving Skills

  • these do not necessarily mean solving a problem in terms of maths or engineering, but how to sort things out if there’s a problem, show a ‘can-do’ attitude, and the ability to think on your feet. As a good example, one employer cites a young apprentice who ran into some trouble when the photocopier jammed when everyone had gone home. The photocopies were needed for a meeting in the early morning, so he went to the company next door, explained the problem, did the photocopying there, and got an engineer to come in and fix his company’s copier for the following day.  This meant that the meeting in the morning went swimmingly. 

If you’re asked about this in an interview, perhaps you can think of a situation where something has gone wrong and to solve the issue you’ve had to think on your feet. 

Time Management

  • employers want you to be able to arrive on time and be reliable. While at work, they want you to be flexible with your time, as well as be able to plan and prioritise your work so that you can do your job efficiently.

If you’re asked about this in an interview, you could look at how you worked for your GCSEs or other qualifications, as well as taking part in extra-curricular activities, chores around the house, a part-time job etc. and how you planned and organised your days when you were really busy.


  • businesses rely on one another to achieve their goals. You need to be able to get on with your colleagues and give and accept help. 

If you're asked about this in an interview, you may have hobbies that involve teamwork, for example being part of a sports team or a choir or orchestra, which you can explain to the employer.

Work Well Under Pressure

  • while working there will be times where you have to juggle different tasks; it may get busy and you may feel as though you can't cope. You can't panic, or get too stressed, but must work quickly and get the job done to a high standard.

In an interview situation, part-time jobs that young people often have, such as bar/restaurant work, call centres, cashiers etc. are good examples of displaying your ability to work well under pressure, and if you've had one of these you should definitely let your employer know about it! If you've not had this sort of experience, you can again look at how you managed your time in the lead up to exam season. 


Image Credit: Flazingo Photos/flickr 

'Hard skills'

Hard skills are specific skills that you learn, whether it be learning a language, driving a car, or using a programming language. Most jobs you apply for will require specific hard skills which you should only apply for if you have, however you'll also be required to have more general hard skills. These include:

Literacy Skills

  • this includes reading, writing and communication. Although literacy may not be the most important thing in your line of work, you will need to be able to read and communicate in a written manner in most occupations. For example, you might be part of an engineering firm, but have to tweet on occasion, while you may also have to read and send emails to communicate with clients and customers. One thing that puts employers off potential candidates is those that can't produce quality CVs with the proper use of spelling and grammar, and the ability to structure proper sentences and paragraphs.

Numeracy Skills

  • most jobs involve numbers to some degree, be this dealing with money, counting stock, using a calculator or spreadsheet, and so basic skills and confidence in numeracy such as adding and subtracting, percentages and proportions are important. 

IT & Digital Skills

  • being able to use computers and the internet in the workplace is important, as well as being able to keep up to date with technology, and being able to adapt and be open to change.

Qualifications & Knowledge Base

The qualifications you'll need at work will depend on the role you are applying for. However, English and Maths at GCSE or equivalent are seen as a must, whilst if you are looking to go into the Engineering sector, Science qualifications (GCSE or equivalent) are also essential.

As well as these qualifications, it's also important to understand how the theoretical knowledge you learnt in the classroom applies in a variety of work contexts. 

If you didn’t leave with good GCSEs, it is important to have the attitude to improve on these, for example doing short courses and signing up for government training programmes shows that you want to develop good skills and are committed to getting a job. 

Work experience

In taking on a candidate looking for their first job, employers are taking a gamble on you - you've yet to prove that you are a good employee and they are unsure how you will act in the world of work. Because of this, work experience is vital - it's a way of you being able to understand the workplace and what is expected of you as an employee, and for employers to vouch for you to express how hard working, willing and dedicated you are. 

In this way, the more work experience you get under your belt when you are younger, the more likely employers will be to take you on, and this is especially the case of work experience in your sector. However, as well as placements, employers will also be interested in other activities that show commitment, dedication and drive, and ways in which you have gained soft skills (or even hard skills) and met people from other walks of life. This may include memberships of clubs at school, hobbies, part-time jobs, looking after siblings or elderly grandparents, and you can reflect on these and explain to the interviewer how the skills you have gained and what you have learnt can help their organisation. 

Further important things that employers look for:

  • understanding what the company is about, researching it, and matching your skills to the job you are applying for
  • how to present yourself at work, including turning up to your interview on time, well dressed and interested in the company
  • an understanding of what it means to work, and basic working etiquette
  • having enthusiasm and drive, as well as an attitude and motivation to work. 
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