What are employers looking for in early career candidates?

I have been working as an Employers Engagement Manager with risual Education for over 3 years. In this time I have spoken to a large number of employers who are looking to recruit and fill their talent pipeline for the future. I work with micro businesses at one end of the scale through to large multinationals. Clearly the needs of these organisations vary significantly when it comes to the sort of people they are looking to attract. However, there are a few recurring themes during my conversations which I find very interesting.

Soft Skills

Employers I have worked with for the last few years always comment on their perception of candidates soft skills following interviews. Although it can be difficult to assess some soft skills during the recruitment process candidates do have an opportunity to demonstrate their written communication when they apply and oral communication during an interview.
Other qualities employers often look for are self-motivation, teamwork and flexibility. These are more difficult for candidates to demonstrate, but some effort to highlight these and other personal qualities is well worth it. If they spend some time thinking about things they have done previously in school/college, at home or in a previous job it should be possible to include some examples. Ideally these should be part of a candidates application, but if not they need to have some good examples rehearsed for an interview. A typical example to demonstrate teamwork might be covered by a candidate regularly partaking in a team sport. However, a candidate who doesn’t play sport might choose to mention team based academic projects they have been involved with.

Cultural Fit

It seems that more businesses than ever are making judgements regarding cultural fit when hiring new people. Clearly this is very subjective, but a good reason for candidates to do their research on employers. Candidates who are armed with this knowledge will find it useful at an interview as they can demonstrate how tuned in they are to an organisations values.


As the employers I engage with are considering taking on apprentices it might seem unreasonable for them to expect candidates to have experience. However, I have noticed that employers always seem to prefer applications from people who have some experience that demonstrates soft skills. Work experience, either paid or voluntary is ideal, but less formal arrangements such as supporting family members can be mentioned in applications as well.

You will have noticed that I have not included a mention of qualifications. Of course these matter as there is usually a minimum requirement even for entry level roles. However, in an increasingly competitive job market the factors I have discussed above are considered very important by employers today.

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