What graduates and employers want from each other

Finding a balance that meets the needs of both parties is essential for a successful working relationship

There are job shortages across many sectors, including construction, engineering and hospitality, but these are not necessarily graduate jobs.

Anecdotally, many graduates tell of submitting many tailored job applications for roles in which they feel they’re a good fit and hearing nothing back. Or, they apply for a job and go through seemingly endless interview rounds, only to fall at the last hurdle.

Despite these frustrations, there are jobs out there. But there’s little point in applying to a company that you don’t really want to work for; forget about their time, you’re wasting your own precious time and energy.

Going into any job hunt, it can be helpful to know what you want, and what employers are looking for.


What graduates want

There are many studies on Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2010, says Dr Mary Collins, a chartered psychologist and executive coach with over 15 years of experience working in leadership development and talent management.

“The results of these studies, as well as what I see in my own psychology work, are consistent.

“Firstly, they want supportive leadership. These are leaders who really care about their employee’s wellbeing, career development and learning. They are almost like a mentor in the workplace.

“Secondly, they seek positive relationships at work, in a workplace that is social and fun. A 2022 study by Gallup shows that having a best friend at work makes you 50 per cent more likely to be content there. And, when you think about it, this makes sense: you will probably be happier if there is someone you can have a banter or a moan with.”

Generation Z is also looking for flexibility at work, Collins says.

“In this hybrid world, it is important that they have autonomy over when they work. I would be somewhat wary of companies that insist on you being in the office, particularly when you consider some of the challenges facing Gen Z, such as the housing crisis.

“It is a delicate balance, and being fully remote doesn’t serve anyone unless it is a specialist role. A team leader may need more of an on-site presence if they are managing people, and graduates can learn through mentoring and absorbing what is going on around them [in the office].

“But the American psychologist Adam Grant says that it’s important for leaders not to confuse presence with performance: just because someone is in front of [their manager] does not mean that their output will be better.”

Collins says that many workplaces have “anchor days”, where everyone comes into the office on a given day of the week and works together.

“But there has to be flexibility on both sides and when organisations are flexible around someone’s life needs — including a caring role or a disability — they get this loyalty back.”

What about the brass tacks? After all, careers and job satisfaction are great, but they don’t pay the bills: we work for money.

Some graduates, including those from education and ICT courses, will earn more at the outset than, say, humanities graduates. And few will be on the big bucks from the outset; as painful as it may be given the high cost (and low availability) of housing and the high cost of living, experience is valuable to people at the early stages of their career.

“The key is fairness,” says Collins. “Are you being paid fairly? There is an acknowledgment that graduates are new to the workplace and have a lot to learn, so once it is legal and fair, look beyond the compensation package at the benefits. For example, will they pay for a masters, or study leave, or is there international mobility that would allow you to move to a branch of the company in a different country? Take a medium-term view by considering the learning and development opportunities: are there chances to move from entry-level to team leadership, and beyond?”

Every graduate will have heard horror stories about toxic bosses, or companies that think they own every moment of your week. Nobody wants to be getting up in the morning with a lump in their throat, taking breaks to cry under their desk.

Collins advises graduates to try to get an insider view of what a company is like.

“Ideally this would be through an internship, but failing that, try to talk to the people working there. Glassdoor.ie can be a useful tool, but employees in a company may have very different experiences depending on which team they are in. Ultimately, you can have a great workplace with a great culture, but a team leader with poor leadership skills, or a bully, can destroy everything. Gen Z want to work with you, not for you, so they don’t like micromanagement and they want to be part of a collaborative team.”

Finally, today’s graduates have strong values, and they want to work for diverse, inclusive organisations that value equality and have strong social and environmental values, says Collins.

What employers want

There are some roles that require particular technical specialties, but a growing number of companies are happy to employ people with any degree where they have acquired basic transferable skills.

These include communication, research and analysis, teamwork and creativity. Once a graduate can show, on their CV and through interview, that they have these skills, many companies are happy to provide whatever on-the-job training, or additional courses, that are necessary.

“What I hear from employers is that they want emotionally intelligent graduates,” says Collins.

“These graduates have self-awareness. They know what they are good at, they know where they need help and they know when they need to ask for help.

“They have good relationship skills. They know how to talk to and relate to people. In an era of digitalisation, technology takes over so much of the operational and data side of the job, that they need human skills like having a conversation and building good relationships. Employers want graduates with empathy, who can ask good questions. I see in my work that, even in healthcare, some professionals struggle to talk to patients, but being able to make small talk is important.”

As much as graduates value flexibility, so do employers, Collins says.

“They want someone who can be flexible and adapt to different circumstances and roles. With the rise of ChatGPT and artificial intelligence, we know that many of the roles we have today may not exist in future, and there will be new jobs created that we haven’t yet imagined (the rise of data analytics roles in recent years is a profession that barely existed in the recent past). So employers need to know that someone has the agility to learn on the job.”

Ultimately, Collins says that employers care about attitude, and they value graduates who are open, honest and good communicators.

“The graduate should be willing to raise issues as they emerge, and they should be a good fit. A lot of skills can be taught if you have the right attitude.”