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Skill Up: What Soft Skills do Employers Look For in Job Applicants?

We've written an article listing soft skills before, but in this post, we wanted to focus specifically on what employers are looking for.

Unlike academic subjects like mathsEnglish and science, soft skills tend to come from life experience or as the result of working towards a goal.

Employers often comment that school leavers lack soft skills and this partly down to a lack of life experience in general, compared to older job applicants. So, to help you identify the types of soft skills that employers look for, we've put together this post, listing some of the most common soft skills you're expected to have. 


Girl talking on a phone

The one soft skill that every employer looks for is good communication skills. That means being able to give accurate information in a clear and concise way. Although this may sound obvious, communication clearly is tougher than it sounds. Whether we're talking or writing an email, we tend to add in information that isn't always relevant. And by the same measure, we often leave out bits of information that the other person would find important. Having good communication skills is all about adjusting the way you talk and write for your audience. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how they want the information and what do they want to know.

Good manners

This might seem obvious, but we've included it here because having good manners and being polite are two of the best personal skills you can have, particularly when speaking with employers. Every job out there will require you to communicate with other people and doing so in a polite way will make things run a whole lot smoother. The relationships that you form at work are extremely important, so it's definitely worthwhile  paying attention to the way you treat other people.


Man in a suit

As a school leaver, there's a chance that you've never really experienced being in a professional environment other than school. For this reason, employers often find younger job applicants a bit too laid back. When applying for jobs, it's important that you show that you have a professional approach to work and that you understand the importance of maintaining high standards.

And this goes for job interviews too.

If you have a job interview, make the effort to look professional and dress the way that employees of that company would dress. For more information on dressing for interviews, check out our post on what to wear in job interviews.

Decision making

What will I wear today? What will I have for lunch? Blue pen or black pen?

We make decisions every day of our lives whether we're aware of them or not, and that's good, because it's a highly sought after skill among employers.

Bearing this in mind, we're all capable of making choices when we need to, so make sure you demonstrate this to employers. In a typical working day, you may be faced with dozens of important decisions that will affect your workload and your employer's reputation. You therefore need to show that you're capable of making sensible decisions that will have a positive impact on the company. You'll most likely be asked to demonstrate decision making skills in an interview, so give a potential employer examples of when you've had to make important decisions that affected other people.


Laptop and paper

Being organised is a great life skill in general but particularly useful in the workplace. In a lot of jobs, you'll be responsible for managing your own workload, which means being organised so that you meet deadlines. They key to having good organisational skills is to have processes in place. In every job, there are always certain tasks that you'll need to do over and over again and having an effective process in place can help you get things done quicker and more effectively. You can demonstrate your organisational skills to an employer by drawing on your experiences of studying for exams.


Before someone hires you, they'll want to know that you're going to stick around. There may be instances at work where you'll be working on long-term projects and you'll need to have the commitment to see them through until the end. When applying for jobs, make sure that you highlight your commitment to working with the company by showing how you've committed to projects in the past.


Woman working on laptop

In the workplace, things don't always run smoothly and when things get turned upside down, employers want to know that they can rely on you to do what is necessary to put things right. And that means being flexible. Being flexible can often mean going outside your comfort zone in order be more effective. When completing an application form or preparing for an interview, make sure you are able to give examples of times that you've had to be flexible for the greater good.

Time management

This is arguably one of the most valuable soft skills you can have as a school leaver.

It's also one of the most difficult to attain.

Knowing how much time to set aside for a particular task can be challenging, particularly if the task in question is completely new to you. In most cases, good time management skills come from experience but being organised in the first place and asking for help when needed can go a long way to helping you manage your time better. You may want to mention to an employer how you managed your time while studying for several exams at once. It's a good idea to have a few examples of times where you have demonstrated good time management skills as employers are sure to ask you a question on this.

Ability to work under pressure

Man typing on laptop

Every job has its own pressures and employers will want to know that you have the life skills to be able to cope when the going gets tough. Despite what people might think, coping with pressure doesn't mean worker harder or longer hours.

It's about being as resourceful as you can.

This might mean seeking out extra help with a project, or taking some time to recharge your batteries in the middle of a busy day. Try to think of a time at school when you had a lot on your plate. What did you do to help you cope with the pressure and what was the outcome?

Although soft skills aren't always seen as being as important as technical or practical skills, to employers, they definitely are. Having technical ability is one thing, but being able to present information on time and in the correct manner is another. According to Career Builder, 77% of employers say that soft skills are as important as key skills. This infographic shows those skills in order of importance according to the survey:

Soft skills infographic

As well as soft skills, you'll need to have some certain skills which every employee needs in the workplace. These are called employability skills, and you can learn more about them here.

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