Skills and competences? They’re so yesterday…

young woman doing martial arts

Do your strengths equip you for battle?

The battle lines are being re-drawn. At my signal, unleash a hell of a change.

If you think this analogy is a touch lame, then you haven’t tried making a job application to a big recruiter recently. If you have, then you know it’s a war out there. You need meticulous planning and organisation and then you sally forth armed with self-knowledge to meet a mysterious opponent armed to the teeth with difficult questions, psychometric tests, group exercises and (gulp) presentations.

And what’s in your armoury? Well, conventional wisdom tells you to equip yourself with a full understanding of the recruiter’s competences and matching evidence that you have developed all of these in your life so far. After all, each step of the recruitment process is based on the same set of competences.

But the ground might be shifting. No sooner have you got your head round competences, along come strengths and attitudes (it’s a kind of arms race thing). . The former measure is a bit difficult to explain so I’ll leave it to the leading professional services firm, Ernst & Young, to explain what happens in their interviews.

A final strengths-based interview is incorporated as part of the assessment centre in most cases. Whilst competency style questions will be asked, the focus will once more be on the idea of strengths, and whether a candidate is being genuine and natural in their answers.

So rather than asking you how you have demonstrated group work skills, they ask you what you do well, what activities energise you, when are you most yourself. In other words, they want to know from you exactly what you think you’re good at.

When it comes to attitude, a growing number of recruiters are focusing as much on your personality as your strengths and competences. Whether you are positive, genuine, enthusiastic and demonstrate the right attitude to work is going to be more of a selection factor than ever before. Same battle, slightly different rules of engagement.

If you want to read more about this, go to our sister site in the UK, and read the Employer Insight for Ernst & Young.

Insights into IT recruitment

paper aeroplane with codeWe’ve all seen the news stories talking about the job opportunities that exist in the IT sector. But what does that mean to graduates looking for their first job?

It’s actually good news, and not just for IT graduates. I recently met John Caulfield, Solutions Director with Oracle Ireland. Oracle has recently announced a big recruitment drive across the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia) region, stating that a significant portion of the jobs available are graduate positions. But, he explained to me, they are not just offering jobs for IT technicians. There are also roles in sales, finance, marketing and HR, which means there are opportunities for graduates of all disciplines.

The other bit of good news is that your personal qualities can be more important than academic achievement. A recent gradireland survey suggested that more employers were introducing stricter academic criteria this year, with a majority looking for a 2.1 or above. However, Caulfield said this wasn’t the case with Oracle. The key things that they and similar employers look for are soft skills – particularly communication, project management and customer focus. The best technical skills in the world are useless, he commented, if they cannot be utilised in a team working towards a common project goal.

Much of the collaborative work that goes on in multinationals is now done virtually, so you will need the ability to demonstrate good communication skills, project management skills, the ability to listen to customer needs and translate these into requirements, an understanding of your role in a wider group to achieve a target. Relating past experiences (in project work, student societies and other extra-curricular activities) to the work environment will help you to show employers that you have these core competencies.

Companies in the IT sector are now focusing on growth, which means long-term job opportunities. Large employers have traditionally viewed their graduate entrants as an investment for the company: expanding their talent base by bringing graduates into the business, training and developing them, has been part of a long-term strategy designed to sustain business growth. During recent years, with recruitment budgets being cut, we have seen less of this so it’s encouraging to see a return of that ‘talent pipeline’ approach.

So how do you become part of that talent base? According to John Caulfield, social media is an increasingly important part of the mix when job hunting. While not all companies will have a dedicated recruitment channel, most now will have a social media aspect to their graduate recruitment. In their current campaign, Oracle has set up Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to engage with potential recruits and try to give a flavour of what it is like to work for them. Networking is also important. Most organisations rely on referrals and recommendations from existing employees to widen their talent pool, so maintaining contacts with lecturers, alumni groups and peers post-graduation is another important element of any job search.

Check out for the latest vacancies in the IT sector. You can also register on site to receive jobs by email for the sectors of your choice.

When should I use a recruitment agency?

business cardWhen you’re looking for a job, it’s tempting to sit back and let someone else do the work on your behalf. But if you’re thinking of applying through recruitment agencies (or consultants, as many prefer to be known), you’ll need to do a bit of work yourself as well.

It’s worth remembering that recruitment agencies work on commission: this means they are working first for the employers, who pay their fees, not for you. So finding the perfect job for you, as an individual, is not top of their ‘things to do’ list. On the other hand, they will work proactively on your behalf if they think you are someone they can place easily.

This means it is worth putting in the work to find the right match. It’s a good idea to sign up with more than one agency, but choose them carefully to make sure they have access to the sort of jobs and employers you are looking for.

When you first contact an agency, sell yourself as if it were a real interview and explain exactly what you want. Treat your consultant with respect and build a good rapport with them. Make sure you keep in touch, and respond quickly when they contact you about a specific job – they work to tight deadlines.

The big advantage of using recruitment agencies is that they will have access to jobs that may not be advertised directly by the employer. Many recruiters prefer to use consultancies than to put out a job advert in their own name, because it’s easier and more cost-effective or because they want to keep a low profile. This is more likely in the current market, when they don’t want to be swamped with hundreds of applications to sift through.

Agencies can also be useful if there is a particular sector or role you want to get into. Specialist consultancies will have an in-depth knowledge of their sector and can advise you on your  prospects within it. They like to be seen as experts and you can often find useful market information, including salary scales and recruitment trends, published on their websites.

Of course, not all companies use agencies for graduate-level recruitment. So, as with everything else, don’t rely on this as your only method of job hunting.

A year working abroad can improve your employability back home

Recently we’ve blogged about the pros and cons – from a recruiter’s perspective – for taking time out. Here Jos Weale, gradireland summer intern, gives a graduate’s viewpoint. Jos has recently returned from a year in Berlin spent working as an English language trainer.

A year working abroad after university could be an option for you if you’re not sure where to turn career-wise, and not just because it can give you a bit (or a lot!) of distance to focus. Time working overseas can boost your CV and prepare you for the ‘real world’ back home much more than you might think.

By working abroad you are constantly developing the usual key skills and gaining experience that prospective employers back home are looking for, including team work, interpersonal skills, time management and communication skills.

What’s the twist? You’re learning and developing these skills in a foreign language, environment and culture. That looks pretty impressive from an employer’s perspective.

What’s more, as you live, breathe and eat in a culture which is different to your own, you are developing more than just buzzwords for your CV. As a rule, intense character building comes with the territory of working abroad: dealing with language barriers every day, getting used to foreign bureaucracy, joining the local football team or meeting up with tandem partners… it all requires patience, perseverance and some guts!

The experience of working abroad is unique to each person – perfect for making a CV and interviewee stand out in the crowd. If you’re proactive during your time away, you can weave the skills you’ve learnt together with an alternative perspective and improved confidence; all of which could give you the edge when you’re going for that first graduate job on your return.