What Employers Really Look For in Candidates

Created on 2nd May 2018

As part of our research breakfast, which included survey data from over 3,000 Bright Network members, we compared crucial insights into how graduates think and what’s important when securing a graduate role.

Certainly, one of the most important findings from our research has been the differing perceptions between employers and candidates. Specifically, we found a large contrast between what employers value in candidates and what students believe employers value in candidates. This is a very critical finding. Those candidates who have a clear understanding of what types of attributes employers are looking for stand a better chance of succeeding throughout the assessment process. Below is the breakdown of these key findings.

Existing Industry Experience

  • Candidates rated this: 2nd/11th
  • Employers rated this 10th/11th

Existing industry experience is poorly valued amongst employers. This may seem somewhat surprising for most students - on the face of it industry experience seems to be a deal clincher. However, simply listing your experience on your CV isn’t everything. The experience doesn’t tell the employer anything about you. What is valuable, on-the-other-hand, are the skills you learnt through work experience you have done - what you did, and how the role helped you develop these skills.?

Importantly, this highlights you don’t need to have worked in the industry before to apply for a firm. Show employers how much you have developed in all the extra-curricular activities and work experience you’ve done and how this can be transferable to the industry you would like to work in.

Focus on:?

1. Experiences that have developed a new skill / insight

2. Be specific and give examples about the circumstances under which you developed these skills

3. How these skills have helped you grow and why they are relevant to the job you are applying for.?

4. Adapt the skills based on the application process you are preparing for. See how to prepare your CV, interview, and assessment centre?advice on the respective links.?

2:1 or Above

  • Candidates rated this: 1st /11th?
  • Employers rated this: 7th /11th

One of the most misaligned values is that getting a 2:1 is essential when applying for graduate roles. Sure, academics will always be important and getting a 2:1 is a pre-requisite for many application processes. However, many companies don’t set this as a standard and are looking for candidates with well-rounded experience and skills. During recruitment processes, many now include contextualised screening (methods to help organisations identify candidates with the greatest potential) and CV-blind interviews, which don’t take grades into account. A good degree grade alone won’t get you into your dream graduate role. So, what else can you offer?

The more varied your hobbies and extra-curricular activities, the more varied skill sets you’ll have learnt and can draw upon. If you know what career you are aiming for, find experience that you think will develop the relevant skills. It doesn’t even have to be directly related to the role. Even if you’re unsure about which career you want to go into, expand your natural skills and interests and find hobbies which facilitate this. Remember, employers are buying potential. Show them you have the potential and you will get far.?

Focus on:?

1. Varying hobbies and extra-curricular activities?

2. Analysing your experience to-date. Don’t worry if you don’t have directly relevant experience (unless it is specified). All experience is relevant for building skills


  • Candidates rated this: 11th/11th
  • Employers rated this: 5th/11th

“The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”?Viktor E. Frankl.?

What candidates believe is the least relevant skill set actually makes it in the top five for employers. A key skill in the world of work, employers need to make sure their graduate hires are capable of taking on the demands of the workplace. How quickly and easily can an individual be put under pressure, cope and bounce back to perform at a high level??

The importance of resilience cannot be understated. Those who have higher resilience are the individuals who thrive when they face difficult challenges - these people are very valuable for employers. However, do not worry! Building resilience is an active process which can be grown and developed and requires ongoing feedback with oneself. ?

Focus on:

1. Taking on activities such as sports which demand resilience.?

2. Taking on challenges that you wouldn’t normally consider. Stepping out of your comfort zone and facing adversity is a fantastic way to show and develop resilience.?

3. Treat difficult events and problems with perspective. Reframe challenges with the idea of learning and developing. Meditation is a fantastic way to guide you through this.?

Problem Solving

  • Candidates rated this: 7th/11th
  • Employers rated this: 3rd/11th

Making it into 3rd place for employers, excellent problem solving is crucial in the workplace and is highly sought after. Yet problem solving encompasses a huge variety of skills:?

1. Observational skills to build awareness of the problem?

2. Analytical skills to assess the core issues at hand?

3. Innovative and creative thinking to create a new strategy and implement new ideas

4. Communication, team working, leadership and resilience are all needed to see your idea through to the end.?

Can you now see why it is so important for employers? Becoming talented at problem solving is the end product to being proficient at a number of different attributes. At work you’ll be making very important decisions throughout your day and will regularly be given hard tasks to work on. How capable you are at problem solving determines how efficiently and quickly you are able to complete tasks to a very high standard. As with resilience, however, it is not just an ability someone has or not – it’s a mind-set and can be grown and developed.


  • Candidate rated this: 3rd/11th?
  • Employers rated this 1st/11th

Whilst the discrepancy between candidates and employers isn’t large, it is worth pointing out how important passion is. Employers only want to hire candidates who clearly want to work for them. As we have spoken about before, employers are hiring candidates for potential – potential to learn, grow, develop and become a real asset for the company. However, where candidates really become valuable is through a clear desire to work for a company – the rest can be trained. This passion has to be present throughout the application process.?

After all, put yourself in employer’s shoes – would you hire someone who isn’t interested in your company??


  • A lack of industry related experience shouldn’t stop you applying for graduate roles
  • Don’t rely on a 2:1 boosting your application
  • Resilience and problem solving are more important for employers than candidates realise.
  • Passion is your priority

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