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4 useful job skills that you didn't know you learnt at university

By Jane Donnelly, Managing Director East of England

Interviewing for a job as a recent graduate can be a tricky path to navigate when it comes to answering a question about your relevant skills. With large amounts of academic knowledge but limited professional experience, you may feel worried about how you can answer a skills-based question in a convincing way.

Most other graduates in your position have the very same worry. Rest assured, hiring managers are fully aware that you probably don’t have a catalogue of experience and skills to your name just yet, and they, therefore, won’t be expecting you to list off endless examples of these during your interview. Instead, they’ll be more focused on assessing your potential during the interview, and more specifically, the transferable soft skills you’ve developed. These include the below:

1. Persistence and motivation

Of course, being able to motivate yourself to do a good job is incredibly important to your day-to-day performance at work, and is a skill all employers look for when hiring. But beyond this, you may be set targets which impact the rest of the team and business. There will also be occasions that test your motivation levels – be it a heavy workload, a trying client or a difficult project. It will be down to you, and only you, to spur yourself on when faced with these challenges. Therefore, you may well get asked the below questions during the interview:

  • What motivates you to do a good job?
  • How do you stay positive when faced with a challenging situation?
  • What’s your proudest achievement?


The above interview questions might daunt you at a first glance, but just remember that you are a successful graduate who dedicated years to studying – and this takes some self-motivation! After all, university was a more hands-off experience than school, and the teacher wasn’t going to give you a detention for missing a class or a pat on the back for full attendance. Your parents weren’t there to check you were studying enough and getting the best grades. It was down to you, and only you to put the work in, and it can’t have always been easy – especially after weeks of writing a dissertation or hours of working late in the library for yet another exam. But you did it, and this is the kind of self-motivation and persistence that you can reference in your upcoming interview answers.

2. Prioritisation and organisation

Next, employers will likely be looking for assurance in the interview that you can complete tasks to deadline and manage multiple projects simultaneously. This is just part of everyday working life. As such they may well ask any of the below questions:

  • How do you prioritise tasks?
  • How do you manage your time?
  • How do you handle distractions when you have a lot of work to do?
  • How did you maintain a work-life balance at university?


I’m sure if you think back to when you first started your degree, you will remember how much you suddenly had to manage your own time. You will have been given lots of exam dates and assignment deadlines at once. What’s more, you needed to balance this with any university committees and sports clubs that you joined, plus any part-time work that you took on. It was up to you to work out how you would prioritise each piece of work so that it was completed to a high standard and on time. You will have developed tactics to help you do this and gained further understanding of how you can perform at your best when under pressure.

So, prior to your interview, think about how you managed your time and developed a routine that worked for you. Did you keep to-do lists and re-visit them throughout the day? Whatever you did, write down these examples and weave them into your answers.

3. Ambition and a desire to learn

Thirdly, the world of work is changing so quickly alongside technology that employers want to hire people who will proactively take ownership of their learning in order to keep up. So, they may ask you one or more of the below interview questions to gauge your approach to learning:

  • When was the last time you learnt something new?
  • How do you prefer to learn?
  • What do you do if you don’t understand how to complete a task?


As a recent university graduate who has spent the last 3-4 years learning, you are well placed to answer any of these questions using concrete examples. Think about it – when writing assignments or studying for exams, you had to dig deep, sifting through books and journals to find specific references. This required patience and an inquisitive mindset. What’s more, if you didn’t get the results you wanted in an exam or on a piece of coursework, you had to swallow your disappointment, ask the lecturer for some honest feedback and work out how to improve for next time – whether this meant changing your research methods or your writing style.

If you can talk about your commitment to expanding your knowledge and improving the quality of your work during your upcoming interview, this will assure the interviewer that you have what it takes to only keep growing within the role.

4. Interpersonal and collaborative skills

Lastly, the ability to effectively build relationships with different kinds of people is incredibly important in the world of work. Employers are looking for candidates who are able to effortlessly adapt their communication skills in order to build a professional rapport with colleagues, clients and stakeholders. As such, they may well ask you the below questions:

  • Can you describe a time at university where you worked well with others?
  • Can you think of a time at university where you used your communication skills to achieve a result?
  • How do you build a rapport with people you don’t know?


Whether you are typically a very outgoing person or more of an introvert – your interpersonal skills will have been put to the test during your time at university. After all, being put in an unfamiliar situation where you have to live with a group of strangers and work with new course mates is enough to test anyone’s social adaptability. It might have been difficult, but no doubt you graduated having successfully worked with others, diversified your social circle, expanded your interpersonal skills, and made some lifelong friends along the way.

It is important to bear in mind that the above transferable skills are not an exhaustive list, and you will have also learnt many others along the way, such as problem-solving, analytical skills and emotional intelligence. And, if you can think of examples of these skills in action, examples which you think are relevant to the job you are interviewing for, then be sure to highlight these to the interviewer as well.

Hopefully, at this point, you realise that you have more to offer an employer than you originally thought and are feeling more confident about your upcoming interview. Because if you can showcase all of your transferable skills, and give examples of these in action – then no doubt you will be applying these skills to the working world in no time, whilst learning more and more along the way.

If you are looking for support with your employment needs please contact your local office.

About this author

Jane joined Hays in 1994 as an Associate. Initially recruiting within the Accounting and Finance in Scotland she progressed to Regional Director in 1999 running all Hays Finance, Office Support and Customer Contact recruitment across the North East of England.

Moving to Hays Australia in 2001 as Regional Director for offices across the Sydney and Canberra specialisms included Finance, Procurement, IT, and Banking. Jane also launched Hays Life Sciences in Australia and was instrumental in the development of the national Healthcare and Education business. In 2006 Jane was appointed a Senior Regional Director.

Jane returned to the UK in July 2013 initially completing a number of operational project roles in Cambridge and Chelmsford before taking responsibility, in 2015, as Regional Director for 6 offices across Essex and Suffolk. In 2017 Jane was appointed as the Managing Director for the East of England region, covering 17 offices. She also currently sits on the council for the CBI in the East of England.

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