Job Application Advice: Selling Your Skills

What do employers want?

Employers ask for evidence that you have:

  • motivation for the role;
  • the ability to adapt to and share the organisation’s vision and ethos;
  • relevant skills and competencies.


Many roles are open to graduates of any discipline as employers are often interested in your potential rather than your existing knowledge. Even for those jobs that require specific technical or scientific expertise, the successful candidate will be the one who demonstrates motivation and the personal and transferable skills needed to succeed.

The application procedures of many major graduate employers have become explicitly focused on motivation, organisational fit, and competency. It is not uncommon to find that a personality profile is a part of the initial application process and to be asked to provide very detailed examples of competencies such as ‘teamwork’ or ‘problem solving’ on the application forms.

Transferable skills

The competencies or transferable skills that are particularly popular with graduate recruiters include:

  • communication – ability to communicate orally, in writing, or via electronic means, in a manner appropriate to the audience;
  • teamwork – being constructive and willing to take on less attractive tasks, contributing practically to the team’s success;
  • leadership – being able to motivate and encourage others, whilst taking the lead;
  • initiative – ability to see opportunities, to set and achieve goals and act independently;
  • problem solving – thinking things through in a logical way in order to determine key issues, often also including creative thinking;
  • flexibility/adaptability – ability to handle change and adapt to new situations;
  • self-awareness – knowing your strengths and skills and having the confidence to put these across;
  • commitment/motivation – having energy and enthusiasm in pursuing projects;
  • interpersonal skills – ability to relate well to others and to establish good working relationships;
  • numeracy – competence and understanding of numerical data, statistics and graphs;
  • IT knowledge – a basic understanding of common office equipment and programs and the ability not to be daunted by a change in the technology.

In addition, private sector employers like applicants to have some commercial awareness and knowledge of the business world and its relevancy to their organisation. You should therefore research the companies you apply to. Knowledge of their competitors can also provide you with a deeper level of understanding.

It is not enough to mention that you are a good communicator, or a team player, on your CV – you need to qualify it with a description of relevant experience.

Employers often have set criteria when selecting applicants. These may be laid out clearly in the person specification or be identifiable from the job description, advertisement or the organisation’s web pages.

Alternatively, if there is little information about the role, you could draw up your own list of the competencies likely to be required. The job profiles in types of jobs, have useful sections on the skills and qualities usually needed for entry into particular careers.

Relating skills to opportunities

How do you know what skills to highlight when compiling a CV, covering letter or application?

You should focus on presenting evidence of the skills and qualities that the employer is seeking, including your academic projects and achievements and also responsibilities you have held during work experience or voluntary activities, involvement in societies, or management of sporting activities.

Recruiters want to see skills and qualities that match their selection criteria. When examining your past involvements more closely, consider:

  • What exactly have you done?
  • What were you responsible for?
  • What were the outcomes?
  • How did you achieve success?
  • Is there evidence of ‘how’ you have demonstrated relevant skills?

Although it is important to be concise, it is not enough just to list your skills. Where is the evidence? Employers cannot simply take your word for it.

Thinking about how to express the evidence for your experience can also be a challenge. Focus on active verbs. Go to power words for descriptors of responsibilities and language suggestions that may help.

  • Consider how your motivation, personal qualities and aspirations reflect the ethos of the recruiting organisation and the post you are applying for.
  • Understand the skills and competencies required for the role. This will be transparent where a job specification is made available. It may be more difficult when there is only an advertisement to go on, as is more commonly the case with small to medium-sized employers.
  • Decide on the best way to sell your skills. Which CV format will you use? What should you to put in your covering letter? See CVs and covering letters for advice on making effective application.

Analysing job adverts

The following two advertisements are typical of the opportunities you’ll see advertised in graduate directories. Imagine this is the only information you have on which to base your CV application. See beneath each vacancy how they can be analysed in terms of skills, attributes and qualities.

High Roller Group

The High Roller Group has for 20 years been the consulting service of choice for the life insurance and pensions markets in the financial services sector.

Our approach to client service delivery is to translate strategic vision and objectives into systems and processes that succeed. High Roller’s ethos and success is based on the ability to focus our expertise on the knowledge and experience of the client. To enable them to grow and deliver, we develop strong and ongoing relationships with our clients. Our business and tradition is based on ‘partnership for progress’.

Work offered: Trainee Decision Maker; Data Gatherer/Investigator.

Subject of Study: 2:1 in any degree discipline, (ideally supported by ‘A’ Level Maths, but not essential). 2:2 graduates will be considered on an individual basis.

Locations: London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh. Apply: Please send your CV and Covering Letter to Ms L Groom.

Analysing the advertisement

  • Organisational ethos:focus on a ‘partnership’ with clients.
  • Skills required: numeracy; problem solving; customer focus; communication and interpersonal skills; sector knowledge and understanding.
  • How might those be expressed? This vacancy has some very specific requirements in terms of numeracy level and degree performance. It expects candidates to have an interest in the financial services sector. The financial sector often prefers a ‘traditional’ approach to CVs. See the CVs section for an example of how this vacancy might be addressed using a chronological CV. Look at sample CVs for examples.

Whitter Travel Consultancy

One of the UK’s leading specialists in tailor-made tours and cultural holidays to North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, is looking for a recent graduate to train as a Travel Consultant. We are committed to providing the best service to our clients while supplying a unique holiday adventure to suit their individual needs. We believe you will thrive with our 10-month training plan which will give you the opportunity to experience all aspects of our business.

Responsibilities will include dealing with client enquiries; selling worldwide tailor-made holidays and creating itineraries; booking tours and reserving flights through suppliers; preparing client travel documentation; managing bookings and general customer service.

Candidates must have a relevant degree (2:2 or higher); good administrative skills; experience of travellers’ needs; excellent customer service skills; sales knowledge and preferably language skills.

To apply, send us your CV, or upload it directly to our website.

Analysing the advertisement

  • Organisational ethos: interested in delivering a great experience to customers. They see the client as an individual and offer them a unique experience.
  • Skills required: a 2:2 or better in a relevant subject as well as administrative skills and customer service experience.
  • Skills desired: languages.
  • How might these be expressed? This vacancy focuses very much on the candidate’s qualifications and experience. Therefore you may find a chronological CV to be the most effective. You may wish to highlight all relevant experience in your covering letter. (Check if there is a facility to include your covering letter if uploading your CV.)

Post Doctoral Position – Business Strategy/Regulation of Urban Utilities

Located in Bruges, Belgium, the Federal Institute of Technology consistently ranks among the best universities in Europe and the World. The Chair Management of Network Industries within the College of the Management of Technology invites applications for a post doctoral position in business strategy for urban utilities.
Required qualifications:

  • A PhD in management, business, economics, or political science;
  • Research and publications in business strategy/regulation in one or several of the following industries: energy, communications, transport, and/or environmental services;
  • Fluency in English. A working level understanding of written and spoken French will be a distinct advantage.

Main responsibilities:

  • Organise a new Executive Master (EM) in Urban Utilities Management (UrbUtil);
  • Manage the administration, logistic and curriculum of the EM in UrbUtil;
  • Conduct research on business strategy in network industries;
  • Participate in international conferences in academic and business circles;
  • Contribute to teaching in the EM in UrbUtil.

An initial one-year contract will be offered with the possibility of a permanent position depending on the success of the Executive Masters programme. Please send letter of application, curriculum vitae, and names of at least three referees to Dr Michele Berryman.

Analysing the advertisement

The skills set required is very academic and specific. The transferable and soft skills that might be useful are present in terms of organisational, administrative and teaching skills.

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