How Graduate Students Can Stand Out to Employers
Skills are important. But employers are increasingly looking for employees who exhibit certain traits.
We sat down with Ray Rogers, director of Career and Professional Development at St. Edward’s, and asked him to talk with us about what employers are looking for most in new hires out of graduate schools.
According to Rogers, it’s not only practical skills. They want people who are both driven and teachable. In the long term, creativity, curiosity and a collaborative approach are more important than a learned knowledge of particular technologies or industries. They want enthusiasm and flexibility. They want workers who are sensitive and responsive to other people’s needs.
This is fantastic news, right? Nobody’s more coachable and teachable than you. Creative, collaborative, a team player? Check, check, check! But how do you demonstrate such things on a resume or in an interview? Here’s what Rogers had to say.
First you want to identify the traits that the organization is looking for. You’ll have to do some research. Is there anything in the job description or on the organization’s website that communicates what’s valued? Connect with a current or past employee and ask some probing questions about the culture. For example, do they value teamwork over speed? Is one’s ability to process information more important than creativity?
Cover letters provide an excellent opportunity to tout traits. But don’t just crow about how honest or hardworking you are. Illustrate with brief stories. Talk about the community meeting you facilitated as an example of verbal communication skills. Or highlight the quick decisions you had to make in a previous job when a former vendor went out of business. Boil them down to their simplest elements: the challenge, your approach and the successful outcome. Trying to illustrate how observant and reflective you are? Share with them lessons learned from that experience as well.
In interviews, employers will often ask you to describe a time when you had to develop a creative solution, coordinate tasks on a team or the like. Think about how you can respond to these questions in ways that are honest, but also present you as the humble hero who saved the day.
A good interview is a two-way street. You want to spotlight your own skills and traits, but you also want to demonstrate your curiosity about the core of the organization that’s hiring. In advance, develop some questions that show you’ve done some thinking about their business: Who are your competitors? How do you measure success?
Organizations have different ways of testing traits. You can talk about how flexible you are, but what will you do when the hiring manager disrupts or ignores your PowerPoint presentation? How will you react if they contradict things you say or seem to react with sarcasm? In some cases, organizations tinker with the interview process to see how agile and level-headed you are under pressure.
If you’re still learning how to be a team player or your presentation skills are lacking, don’t try to fake it. The truth will be apparent or will come out in conversations with references. Instead, be up front about recognizing your current limitations and highlight your ongoing efforts to refine or compensate in those areas. Your interviewers will likely be impressed with how self-aware you are.
Graduate programs at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, are focused both on building the practical skills employees need, as well as the traits that employers want. Our six part-time and one full-time program offer flexibility to help you reach your career goals.
Ray Rogers is the director of Career and Professional Development at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.