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University is a great way for you to build your skills (both soft skills and more specific ones) and set you apart from your peers. But how do you know what skills you need? In 2011, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) released a ‘7 point framework for employability skills’ that were important for people to have to do well in their career and employers spoken about what skills they regard as important. 

Here’s a list of the soft skills you should be developing while you are at university:

Problem solving

The CBI (2011) defines problem solving as ‘analysing facts and situations and applying creative thinking to develop appropriate solutions.’ 

You will already have problem solving skills which have been developed inside and outside the classroom, and it involves getting to the bottom of something, rising to a challenge,

and being able to follow a number of steps between the actual situation and a desired outcome. You’ll have to show employers that you can problem solve in a systematic manner and one way to do this is through Bransford and Stein’s (1984) IDEAL problem-solving model.

  • IDENTIFY the problem.
  • DEFINE the problem. 
  • EXPLORE the solutions. What are the positives and negatives of each solution?
  • ACT on a specific solution.
  • LOOK back and evaluate your activities. 

Team working

The CBI (2011) defines team working as ‘respecting others, cooperating, negotiating/ persuading, contributing to discussions and an awareness of interdependence with others’. Employers often use teamwork exercises in the selection process, for example a group exercise centres around a team of potential candidates working together to find a solution to a problem. This provides recruiters with good indication how candidates work with others, as well as problem solve. 

Nowadays, companies cannot address challenges in solo departments, but change has to occur across organisation as whole, so teams from both across functions and globally work collectively towards a common goal. 

Team come in all shapes and sizes and within a team you may play a specific role, so think about what role you might be especially good at: 

  • Project manager – managers the team and makes sure that they project is delivered on time.
  • Expert specialist - in a specific field who can highlight the impacts of any solution to the organisation and end-user.
  • Innovator – challenges the status quo and adopts creative approach to tasks.
  • Analyst – evaluates all the proposed solutions and highlights possible risks.
  • Finisher - insures that all documentation and other outputs from the team are submitted.

You might also need to use other skills within a team such as negotiation/persuasion, innovation and creativity, presentation and problem solving.


The CBI (2011) defines self-management as the ‘readiness to accept responsibility, flexibility, resilience, self starting, appropriate assertiveness, time management, and readiness to improve on your own performance based on feedback/ reflective learning.’

If you have everything ready for your lectures, can organise your time so that you get your assignments completed before the deadline, can plan what you should be doing in a day in the library, can juggle extra curricular activities and a part time job alongside studying and socialising you’ve already got self-management skills. 


Communication is essentially about being able to get the right message across. The format of communication can take many different forms, especially written and verbal, and the language used will depend on context. Communication may include:

  • Face-to-face - messages can be misinterpreted by your choice of words, body language and tone.
  • Telephone – people often has a ‘telephone voice’ that has a higher level of diction and clarity as well as a specific tone to their regular speaking voice so that they can get the message across with more ease. 
  • Written communication – such as report writing or emails. Your style of writing, presentation and choice of words can all affect the way the message is delivered and received.
  • Social media – can often be misinterpreted due to abbreviations, emotions and the incorrect use upper or lower case letters. Just remember your audience. 
  • Presentations - you have to think about who your audience is and what is the message you want to convey.
  • Persuasion - if you are trying to change someone’s mind, motivate an individual or get a team to come to an agreement, you may use certain words or body language that help people come around to your point of view. 

As we can spend almost our entire day communicating, we need make sure that we communicate in the clearest, most effective way possible.The seven Cs of communication are a great way to think about this: 

  • Clear - what is the aim and purpose of your message?
  • Concise
  • Concrete –specific, factual and provides the right level of detail.
  • Correct – check you spelling, grammar, tone and language.
  • Coherent
  • Complete
  • Courteous

What skills do you need as a graduate 2

Business and customer awareness 

The CBI (2011) states that ‘graduates should have a basic understanding of the key drivers to business success–including the importance of innovation and taking calculated risks–and the need to provide customer satisfaction and build customer loyalty.’ 

Unless your degree is very industry focused, you are less likely to gain these skills inside the lecture theatre, and practical experience, such as internships or placements, are a better way to gain this knowledge. 

You can also gain an insight into your chosen industry sector by reading newspapers, journals and newsletters from professional bodies. You can stay abreast of industry by:

  • Creating Google alerts to refer to a page
  • Looking at company websites which provide an insight into the industry and the challenges they face
  • Industry-specific events can help you meet people who work in the industry and give you an insight into the structure of an organisation and the various roles which exist within it.

Application of IT

At a basic level, you are going to have to demonstrate that you are familiar with word processing, spreadsheets, file management and email. However technology is currently changing all industries, so you need to understand how it could improve processes within an industry or add value to the career path you are interested in. You might also need specific IT skills, such as knowledge of programming languages, Adobe software, CAD software, statistics software or project management systems. You can update some of your IT skills through university support classes, whilst you can also use online courses to learn about new technology and develop further skills.

Application of numeracy and data analysis

The CBI (2011) defines the application of numeracy as ’the manipulation of numbers, general mathematical awareness and its application in practical contexts.’ It is important to understand what numeracy means to your sector. Most careers will require some knowledge of basis mathematical functions, whilst you may find you need more analytical skills such as the ability to use quantitative and qualitative data, interpret data, present it in visual format and explain it to others.

Underpinning the CBI’s 7 point framework is a positive attitude, which includes being able to turn up for work on time, looking professional, using the right language and being open to new experiences in the workplace. If you are a self-starter you will already have these skills - you just have to demonstrate them to potential employers! 


Leadership, ‘the capacity to influence people, by means of personal attributes and/or behaviour to achieve a common goal’ (CIPD) doesn’t necessarily have to come from the top. 

Organisations need leaders on many different levels to drive and champion success through throughout the business. Leadership may include being able to handle people on large scale projects but might also involve mentoring an individual to build their confidence and make sure they fulfil their potential at the organisation. 

Enterprise, Creativity & Innovation 

Companies are in the midst of technological change, global competitors and changing markets, and they need employees who can develop innovative solutions that will keep them ahead of the competition. Graduates who are creative, innovative and use their own initiative are essential to developing solutions to challenges of the future.

Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Coleman (2014) has identified four key components to an individual’s emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness: the ability to recognise how their feelings will affect their job performance.
  2. Self-management: the ability to demonstrate self-control and remain calm and clearheaded even during highly pressured situations.
  3. Social awareness: the ability to listen to what is said and more importantly what is unsaid and allow this to guide both your interaction with others and your decision-making.
  4. Relationship management: employees with high emotional intelligence have the ability to inspire, influence, develop others, challenge the status quo and manage conflict.

Emotional intelligence helps both individuals and teams to perform better in challenging situations. 

What skills do you need as a graduate

Resilience, perseverance and motivation

The APA states that resilience is ‘the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even big sources of stress.’ As the graduate market and job market in general are increasingly competitive, it’s likely that you’ll face a number of rejections before securing a role. 

You can teach yourself to be resilient by thinking about how you reacted on negative events and how you made the situation better. For example, you may have received a bad grade on an assignment through but by speaking to your tutor about what mistakes were made you could rectify this and improved your grade in the next assignment. Remind yourself of other times you’ve come back from adversity and you can do the same in the workplace as well. 

Research & Use of Information

Research is the ability to search for, find, collect, analyse, interpret and evaluate information. You just have to think about whether the information is relevant and from a valid source. 

Global awareness

Having global awareness means being open to new ideas, willing to step out of your comfort zone and being curious about the world we live in and the people within it. You also need cultural agility and cultural dexterity to adapt your style of working to reflect the culture and customs of the country you are operating in. This includes the willingness to go with the flow and accept different ways of doing things.

Graduates also need to understand the challenges of global market and how to identify opportunities. What threats and what opportunities does global market present? Employers need graduates who can navigate the changing global landscape and provide solutions which can guide an organisation to continued success. 

They also need graduates who can work together teams and often virtual teams located throughout the world. Furthermore, companies are not limiting their graduate recruitment to national boundaries so graduates face increased levels of competition where companies seek to source the best talent with global perspective.

In a study of 12 graduate recruiters who represent 3,500 graduate vacancies, Diamond et al (2008) identified 8 ‘global competencies’ which complement the generic employability skills. They are:

  1. The ability to work collaboratively with teams of people from a range of backgrounds and countries.
  2. The ability to embrace multiple perspectives and challenge thinking.
  3. The ability to negotiate an influence clients across the globe from different cultures.
  4. The ability to form professional, global networks.
  5. Multicultural learning.
  6. Knowledge of foreign economies and own industry areas overseas.
  7. Understanding one's position and role within a global context or economy.
  8. Openness and respect for a range of perspectives from around the world.

Working under pressure

The ability to work under pressure involves dealing with constraints which are often outside of your control - these might be resource or time constraints, the difficulty of the task or having insufficient knowledge required to complete the task, or unforeseen changes or problems. Effective planning and time-management (to mitigate or allow for unexpected problems for example) can reduce the likelihood of some pressurised situations occurring, but will not eradicate them completely. How have you dealt with working under pressure in the past?