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What makes a graduate employable? We asked 100 top companies in Ireland

Seriously – check your writing skills.

RECENT GRADUATE? LOOKING for work? If you’ve done some research on what trends are currently shaping the graduate recruitment market, you may well have heard of ‘employability’. So what exactly is employability?

Well, it’s the right mix of academic achievement and workplace and life skills that add up to what most employers are looking for.

Just achieving an excellent degree will not get you the job you want on its own. Employers are looking for graduates who will fit into their organisations smoothly and start delivering results rapidly. Graduate development programmes are expensive to run and companies want a return on their investment in graduate talent in the shortest possible time frame.

Each year gradireland releases the Graduate Salary & Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey, our official survey of graduate starting salaries and recruitment trends, conducted in cooperation with over 100 of Ireland’s leading graduate employers. We asked companies what they felt was lacking in terms of the skills and knowledge which Irish graduates were bringing to the workplace.

Language skills are in demand across all sectors

In terms of ‘hard’ skills, which are skills that a student gains through formal learning, 43% said that lack of fluency in a foreign language was the greatest shortfall which they saw in new recruits to their organisations. This is the number one area which companies are pointing to for improvement, and is up from 26% last year.

Why? Ireland’s open, globalised economy makes international trade part of day-to-day life for many companies, including global brand names. Seventy-five per cent of the world doesn’t speak English, so while it might not be in the first line of the job description, it is clear that fluent language skills will give you an edge in the cut-throat competition for the top graduate jobs.

Communication skills

Over 20% of employers responded that the written communication skills of graduates are not up to scratch. This tallies with the fact that 52.3% of employers identify communication as the number one ‘soft’ skill in which graduates are found wanting. You can be top of the class throughout school and college, but if you can’t communicate your brilliant ideas or convince your colleagues of the effectiveness of your new discovery, then you aren’t going to cut it in the business world. So make sure your written and spoken communication is as good as it can be during the application process.

Soft skills are the everyday acquired abilities that really make people able to deliver. Seventy-four per cent of employers we surveyed said that by far the most effective way of getting ready for the workplace was to obtain an internship or complete a work placement. Placements and internships are viewed as almost an essential now by both students and employers.

Working abroad, volunteering and taking part in student competitions, such as the National Student Challenge, were achievements which employers felt contributed to the all-round ‘employability’ package.

Finally, almost half of the employers we talked to said that a lack of basic IT skills was a problem with graduate hires. You don’t need to be a programmer, but a 21st century job (in any sector) is likely to require an element of computer literacy, so presenting yourself as a ‘digital native’ is a must.

Two major practical steps you can take

Develop your language skills: if you want an international career, developing fluency in a second language will give you a massive edge when it comes to your career. Whether you want to work in marketing, engineering, teaching or any other sector, language fluency is a key employability skill.

Get involved: if you’re still in college, register for societies and get involved in student events. Employers love seeing people involved and taking initiative. If you’ve graduated, consider doing some volunteer work.

Involvement shows passion and initiative, building teamwork and communication skills, all key traits for the workplace.

Mark Mitchell is Director of gradireland.

Graduates can meet hiring employers, course providers, careers advisers and more at the gradireland Summer Fair in the RDS Dublin on the 10th of June. Entry is free, you can register here.

So you’ve graduated… now, where to get a job? (And how much will you get paid?)>

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