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5 Skills Employers Want to See in Graduate Students

What skills do employers look for in new hires? Northeastern Co-op DIrector Ellen Stoddard shares her tips on identifying your best transferrable skills.


When I’m helping my graduate students land a co-op, I always emphasize identifying your best transferrable skills. Those skills could come from the academic world, a previous employer, or a different line of work.

The place to start if you’re lacking specific technical experience—as many are when they try to change careers—is with your transferrable skills. And that’s for good reason: According to a survey co-conducted by Northeastern, most business leaders say it’s more important for graduates to be well-rounded and possess broader capabilities, such as problem solving and communication skills. The National Association of Colleges and Employers has also done extensive surveying to determine the key competencies needed to be career ready.

So which are the most important transferrable skills to emphasize in your resumé and during your interviews? Here’s what I consider the top five:

Communication Skills

Communication can mean anything from your body language in meetings to your social media presence outside the office. Whether you’re writing an email or making a presentation, you need to be aware of all the messages you’re sending—and receiving. While good communication means, in part, that you can express yourself well, you also need to be receptive to messages and understand the emotion behind the information you’re receiving from other people.

Employers know that excellent communication skills don’t just happen overnight. It takes practice to perfect your listening, verbal and non-verbal skills and, once developed, it’s a valuable skill worth highlighting.

Interpersonal Skills

Along with good communication, employers like to see refined interpersonal skills. How do you relate to others? How will you not only fit into the existing team, but become a valuable member? How do you present yourself over email, over the phone, and in-person? While you want to be yourself, make sure you don’t make others uncomfortable raising hot topics in heated discussions.

In short, show your potential supervisor that you’re more than a bunch of words on a resumé. You have the skills that turn a potentially good applicant on paper into a great one in person.

Global Experience

If you’re multilingual or bicultural, if you’ve lived or studied abroad—those are assets employers like to see. As projects and products move internationally or inter-culturally, employers value people who already have experience in different environments and cultures, and are able to apply the lessons they’ve already learned. Be honest about your need for work authorization if that’s the case, but other than that, don’t focus on the things you don’t have by not being from the country where you’re applying. Present the diversity you bring.

Time Management

Time is an important, but finite, resource and employers are well aware of this. If you’re a superstar at time management, you should emphasize this on your resumé and in your interviews. Show that you understand how to prioritize and delegate work, that you meet deadlines, and that you’re comfortable working under a healthy amount of pressure. Demonstrate you can handle a large workload and multi-task projects—but not your own focus.

Initiative

Think of examples where you’ve taken initiative in other work or volunteer scenarios. Initiative is one of those traits employers tell me they don’t want to have to teach. They’re looking for employees who have a sense of curiosity and keen perception of how things work, don’t work, and could be improved. It sounds trite to say, “Be the one who comes up with solutions rather than problems,” but it’s amazing how much that can set you apart.