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What are employability skills?

What are employability skills?Find out what employability means, and why you need to think about it when you're starting your career.

Employability: the basics

'Employability' is simply your ability to get a job. That includes your skills, experience, qualifications and anything else that might affect an employer's decision when you apply.

However, when people talk about employability and employability skills, they are normally talking about things that will help you in any kind of career, such as time management or communication skills, rather than things that are specific to a particular kind of job.

Employability skills

There are a huge number of skills that will make you more employable in almost any job, and the mix you need will depend on the job you want to do – but here are some that are most in demand.


Unless you become a lighthouse keeper, you probably won't be able to do your job without talking to people, whether it's in person, on the phone or online.

Your communication skills will be under scrutiny from the moment you get in touch with an organization you are interested in working for, but you might also be asked directly about communication skills at a job interview, especially if you will be working closely with customers. You might be asked to describe how you deal with difficult people, for example.

Find out how to improve your communication skills.

Initiative and self-motivation

These two skills show employers that they can trust you to get a job done. Initiative is your ability to think about a situation and decide what to do without having to be told. Self-motivation is your ability to stay positive and keep working hard even when things get difficult.

To demonstrate these qualities, think about times when you have had to solve a problem or deal with a difficult situation.

Find out more about how to motivate yourself.

Planning and time-management

Being able to plan your work and spend your time appropriately is important in any job. To demonstrate it to employers, think about things you have done that required careful planning in order to meet deadlines. Examples might include coursework at school, a dissertation at university or projects you have taken part in during work experience.

Find out how to improve your time management skills.

Commercial awareness

Many employers will ask for commercial awareness from their employees. This is your understanding of how business, and the industry you want to work in, works.

This includes things like:

  • Understanding the purpose of the organization and who its customers are
  • Understanding who the organization is competing with
  • Paying attention to new developments in the industry
  • Understanding what affects the success of a business

Commercial awareness doesn't mean being a business expert: it just means that you can understand the practical things which affect the organization's work.

Work experience is normally the most valuable way to gain commercial awareness. This doesn't have to be in your chosen industry: even a Saturday job in a shop, for example, gives hands-on experience of the things that affect a business. You should also keep up with industry magazines and websites, and with the news generally.

When you apply for a job, make sure you research the organization carefully, so that you understand how it works and how the job you are applying for would fit into it.

The big test of your commercial awareness will normally come at a job interview, where you'll be asked questions about the organization and the industry and will have to demonstrate your understanding.

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