Job skills

What makes you employable? Qualifications and an impressive CV? Not necessarily. Your employability and job skills can be all sorts of things.

Girl at work daydreaming

Is pen-sucking a job skill?

What does employability mean?

In a nutshell, it means finding and maintaining a job using all your skills – not just your ability to pass exams. “It’s about making sure you fit in with an organisation,” says Claire McCartney, an advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “It’s not all about qualifications. You need to think about what makes you stand out from other people. Quite often this will be extra stuff you’ve done in your personal life that you may not think is that useful, such as taking on extra responsibilities at school.”

What job skills should I have then?

Employers have long-term doubts about the employability of young people leaving education, according to the CIPD. So what skills do you need? Here are some selected skills that Prospects show us employers want in their employees:

  • self-awareness: knowing your strengths and skills and having the confidence to put these across;
  • initiative: anticipating challenges and opportunities, setting and achieving goals and acting independently;
  • willingness to learn: being inquisitive, enthusiastic and open to new ideas;
  • action planning: prioritising, making decisions, assessing progress and making changes if necessary;
  • interpersonal skills: relating well to others and establishing good working relationships;

How do I get these job skills?

Take a long hard look at what you do in your spare time; you may already have most of these skills.”You should take all your activities into account,” says Ali Moran, an HR consultant at Workplace Law Group. For example, babysitting shows a responsible attitude, reliability and trustworthiness. Being in sports clubs could demonstrate leadership, organisation and being a team player,” she says.

But don’t panic if sport or babysitting’s not your thing, the good news is that education providers are waking up to the need to teach professional skills. Some offer modules and schemes, such as Liverpool John Moores University’s World of Work programme, and Glasgow Caledonian University’s work-based learning project, Real WoRLD.

Will work experience help me get a job?

Work experience is highly valued by employers. It shows enthusiasm, is a great way to investigate potential career choices, and you may get a good reference out of it, too.

“You need to do extra things to stand out,” says Claire. “Try to get a summer work placement – even if it’s just for two weeks – it can help you plan where you’d like your career to go.”

The National Council for Work Experience issues a quality mark to employers who have shown they meet a national standard for providing work experience, and has a list of accredited companies. The Government has also just launched a new scheme, the Talent Pool, to match new graduates with short internships.

Vicki Martin, a 22-year-old job coach, chose to get work experience in film while studying at uni. “Work experience makes you stand on your own two feet,” she says. “I helped with community-based projects and got the opportunity to talk to many different kinds of people, which is what I do now – supporting people with learning difficulties in their workplaces.”

What about voluntary work?

Doing voluntary work will also enhance your CV. “It shows initiative and a willingness to get involved,” says Ali. A good place to start is youth volunteering charity V, which focuses on encouraging 16 to 25-year-olds to volunteer. You can search for opportunities near where you live, or even apply for cash to start your own project.

You could also look into gap year schemes, such as The Year In Industry (YINI), which finds paid placements for university students before or during their degrees.

What if I want to earn while I learn?

Apprenticeships offer work-based learning combined with off-the-job training and are a good option for those wanting more employability experience. Young Apprentice of the Year 2009, 16-year-old Tashi French, became an apprentice while taking her GCSEs. “It boosted my confidence because you meet new people from different schools and you’re in a new environment,” she explains. “It’s an adult environment, so you have to change the way you act.”

Next Steps

  • Looking for a mentor to help boost your knowledge and skills? Find a youth zone close to you.
  • Reveal your skills with Define Me and find the right words to tell employers.
  • Download Motimator - an app that helps you get the career you want - by giving you a gentle kick up the ass each day when motivation is running low.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


job skills

By Anne Wollenberg

Updated on 29-Sep-2015