Make it easy for employers by matching your skills to their requirements.
Primary page content
Understanding the skills or competencies recruiters are looking for is vital when it comes to making successful applications and doing well in interviews.
Knowing what they want will help you sell yourself effectively. By giving examples that demonstrate you have the skills they need, you are more likely to convince them of your ability to do the job.
Demystifying job descriptions
Start with the job advert.
If it says, ‘We’re looking for a proactive Accounts Officer to join our busy team’, ‘proactive’ indicates they want someone who can act on their own initiative without constant direction, and ‘busy team’ implies he candidate will need to work well with a range of colleagues.
The job description and person specification will outline and explain the skills they are looking for.
An ‘E’ or ‘Essential’ listed next to a specific skill is a definite requirement, so evidence it clearly in your application.
‘D’ is for ‘Desirable’ – try to cover as many of these as possible in your application as it could set you apart from another candidate. However, don’t be put off from applying if you don’t meet all the ‘desirable’ skills or experience.
Examples as evidence
Simply listing the required skills in your CV or application won’t suffice – the employer needs evidence of each of these skills to feel confident that you have what they need.
Think through your experiences carefully and find the best example to highlight each skill required. Seeing the words ‘leadership skills required’ can be daunting, but you don’t have to be the president of a club or society, or a supervisor at work, to have gained leadership skills. Work experience, volunteering, part-time work, extracurricular activities and your studies can all be useful sources of examples.
For example, getting your colleagues together at the weekend to complete a group project would require leadership skills such as consulting, motivating and supporting others. If there is an area you feel you have little experience of, think about how you could get some exposure to it.
The STARR technique
Follow the STARR structure when giving an example of a particular skill.
Situation: set the scene by briefly outlining the context for your example.
Task: define what the task, problem or goal was.
Action: explain in specific detail what you did, with analysis of why and how you did it (to demonstrate the skill they are looking for).
Result and Reflection: outline the outcome to show your success in using that skill; you may also want to reflect on what you could have done differently.
Top tip: be specific. Focus your answer on the action, and make sure you describe what you did, not just your team. Try to keep the actions and results as objective as possible.
Example using the STARR technique
‘Can you describe a time when someone you were working with made a decision which you disagreed with on moral terms?’
Situation and Task:
‘I’m on the Film Society committee and we were planning an event to raise £100 to subsidise a special screening. The ticket price included a film screening and a drink. We had already started to promote our event when we costed it, and we discovered that we would make a loss.
'The President of the society wanted to charge for the drink and not change the promotion. The rest of the committee agreed, but I felt that this was dishonest and misleading.’
‘I suggested that instead of changing what we offered, we should buy drinks from a wholesaler so we could save money. I worked out the cost of value drinks and presented my working out on Excel to the rest of the committee.
'I persuaded them that we could make a profit if we focussed on promoting the event to full capacity. We therefore agreed as a team to focus our efforts on promoting our event to sell out. I also suggested that we seek sponsorship to cover the costs of the drinks and set about arranging meetings with some firms.’
Result and Reflection:
‘Due to our extensive promotion, we managed to sell all the tickets. I was also able to negotiate a deal with a local retailer and so made an additional £100 profit. I learned the importance of speaking up when you disagree with a teammate, but at the same time having useful suggestions about how things can be done differently.’
Evidence for skills
|Skill||What it means||Examples of evidence|
|Written and verbal communication||
|Attention to detail||
|Time management (organisation)||
|Adaptability and flexibility||
|Responsibility and reliability||
|Innovation and creativity||
No job description to work from
You may be applying speculatively for an unadvertised role, or the advert may simply state ‘Marketing intern required, send your CV...’ or something equally brief.
Here is how to find relevant examples when you don’t know what skills to demonstrate:
If they have provided contact details, be proactive and get in touch. You may be the only candidate who does so and then you’ll have made a positive first impression which you can follow up with an application perfectly tailored to their requirements.
Look at similar job adverts
Two marketing interns in two small business-to-business marketing agencies may not be doing exactly the same job, but there is likely to be some overlap. Find a similar opportunity in a similar organisation, and think about how the requirements they list would map over onto the position you are applying for.
Look at a different job advert for that organisation
This might give you an insight into their culture and the kind of people they look for, for example ‘We are looking for someone with creative ideas to join our innovative and fast-moving team’.
Create your own person specification
What duties might you be carrying out? What skills would you need to perform those tasks effectively? For example, are you likely to be researching what competitors are doing and writing a report for the management team? If so, this would require good research skills and attention to detail, but also the ability to condense information and summarise the key points.
Look at job profiles
The websites targetjobs.co.uk and prospects.ac.uk profile lots of different types of jobs, with lists of typical duties and transferable skills that are commonly needed for them. This might help you to identify skills you have overlooked.