Employability Skills - how to figure them out!


I would be a wealthy person if I got $10 every time a student told me they didn’t have employability skills to offer employers.

No employability skills? Really? Anyone who has lived on this planet for the past 18 years or more will have skills they can offer. I’m talking about the skills we develop through life experiences that help us interact and work alongside other people in a whole range of situations. Whether we call them transferable skills, soft skills, real skills or employability skills – we’ve all got them. Some of us just happen to have more, or can identify them more easily than others.

I don’t like using the term ‘soft’ skills to define these skills because, quite frankly, there is nothing soft about them. They are essential in this day and age – and employers and job applicants ignore them at their peril.

I like to call them ‘employability’ skills; the skills that help you gain employment that will hopefully lead to satisfying and challenging roles, and can transfer from one career sector, employer or environment to another. They're different to career management skills (that's another blog)

Employers are wanting ….

All employers want employees with good team skills, technology skills and communication skills.(And don’t worry if you’re not an extrovert who can chat about anything to anyone, because good communication skills involve listening, holding a conversation and explaining yourself thoughtfully – as well as writing clearly and appropriately).

Problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, taking the initiative, self-motivation and a desire to keep learning are other highly desirable skills, according to employers. No surprises there – aren’t they the skills that you would want from people if you were recruiting someone to work in your team?

If you can demonstrate to employers that you have most of the above, you’ll do well in work and life in general.

Do a stock take of your employability skills

Time to take stock. You can create a list of your employability skills simply by looking carefully at the activities, responsibilities and work experience you’ve had in life so far. For example:

  • Playing a team sport demonstrates time management, communication, collaboration and commitment and team work skills etc.
  • Team coaching demonstrates collaboration, leadership, organisation, problem solving, time management and communication skills etc.
  • Helping set up computers, webpages or social media accounts for others demonstrates problem solving, communication and technology skills etc.
  • Working part time in retail or supermarkets is developing your skills in communication and interpersonal skills – and demonstrates punctuality, self- motivation and responsibility etc.
  • Care giving, whether looking after younger siblings or helping out with grandparents, demonstrates time management, communication and interpersonal skills etc.
  • Leading or being involved in successful group projects at university develops collaboration, communication and self motivation etc
  • Volunteering at a charity event demonstrates time management, collaboration, motivation and initiative.

How about sitting down with a friend or family member and thinking about what you are doing in your wider life and you should be pleasantly surprised to see you have lots of employability skills – and there are plenty more that you can develop.

Your list is a bit on the short side?

If you find you have less employability skills than some of your mates - it is never too late to get out and start building up those skills. As you can see from the examples above, getting involved with others, particularly in volunteer work, part time work or work experience, you will quickly build up transferable employability skills.

One easy way to build up skills at AUT is through the AUT Edge Award. This is run through our Employability and Careers team and gives you lots of opportunities to develop employability skills through volunteering and getting involved in activities, clubs and leadership roles. The award is acknowledged on your academic manuscript, highlighting your potential to employers.

If you focus on employability skills and combine them with your degree, you’ll be away laughing – and I will have no chance of becoming a millionaire any time soon!

by AUT Careers and Employability writer Angela McCarthy