The 25 things employers and graduates want from each other

We speak to three experts for their views on what graduates and employers want from one another, and what each should be looking out for


With a bit of luck, today’s graduates will make quite a few career moves throughout their life and job interviews will become a little less daunting. But, starting out, it can be hard to figure out exactly what an employer is looking for. Equally, it’s important to know what expectations graduates can and should legitimately have of employers: the jobs market is very strong at the moment and, in most industries, there’s no need to work for a company that treats its staff poorly or only pays lip service to diversity and equality while actually providing very little opportunity.

We spoke to three experts for their views on what graduates and employers want from one another, and what each should be looking out for. Ken Lee, managing director of Eden Recruitment, looks after the needs of both employers and staff. Helen Vaughan, psychotherapist and owner of Maynooth Counselling, considers what makes staff happy. And Barry Bowen, senior engineering consultant with Morgan McKinley, tells us what companies need to do to attract and retain staff.

What employers want

1. “Someone who knows their strengths, is a good communicator, and knows who they are and what they are bringing to the table.” (Ken Lee)

2. “As a recruiter, we focus on the strengths of an applicant, where their strengths are and a client that would be a good fit.” (KL)

3. “Employers want people who are open to professional development: it’s good for the graduate and employer to learn more.” (Helen Vaughan)

4. “Employers want someone who is a good fit for their workplace culture – and this works the other way round, too. It does happen that a candidate starts and, for one reason or another, they don’t get on with their line manager or don’t meet expectations and so go back to another offer. Workplace culture is somewhat intangible. Here at Eden, we get new recruiters to come in and meet with some of the team before we make the hiring decision: it’s a chance for them to ask about the day-to-day and extracurricular life, and a chance for us to lay on the table what it is like to work here.” (KL)

5. “Employers don’t want really difficult staff, so they need to have clear guidelines around expectations, performance, hours and productivity and bullying. If they’re clear, there’s no need for passive aggression or other problems.” (HV)

6. “Employers want happy staff and that may mean creating room for exercise at lunchtime, whether that’s giving people the chance to go for a swim, having lunchtime yoga classes or providing gym memberships and bike parking.” (HV)

7. “A person with interests and a life outside of work is more rounded than someone who comes in and works 10 hours a day but burns out.” (HV)

8. “Obstacles like the Jack Lynch Tunnel in Cork, the M50 in Dublin and the congestion in Galway don’t just play a factor in people’s decisions when applying for roles: quite often, experienced hiring managers are refusing to consider anyone who may have to spend time [stuck in traffic], and their HR partners have been working hard to counteract this by adding incentives aimed at alleviating these issues.” (Barry Bowen)

9. “As employees become more and more cognisant of work-to-life balance, basic salary is falling down the pecking order when it comes to people’s motivation for finding a new role. First and foremost is the role itself: be it a motivating position, the level the role is at and indeed the responsibilities included in the role.” (BB)

10. “While some of the larger companies can have longer onboarding processes, it’s because they want the top graduates available. This is the process they dictate and it can be a huge accolade to get into the company and get that global experience that will look so good on the CV.” (KL)

11. “Our clients have been enquiring about some of the ‘extras’ that their competitors are offering – they are competing with one another to offer those incentives and benefits that get people to join and stay with their company.” (BB)

12. “We want people who are open to diversity and accepting of different ethnicities and orientations. An open-minded approach means an open-minded team.” (BB)

What graduates want

13. “It is hard to generalise as everyone is different. Some individuals are very driven and know where they want to be in a year or even 10 years’ time; they know their career path and how they will contribute to the company. But they are rare: less than 10 per cent of graduates.” (KL)

14. “More commonly, graduates consider what the company is looking for, how they can fit into the role and how they can get some of the experience they are looking for.” (KL)

15. “What a graduate wants may depend on sector. A finance graduate coming to the market today, for instance, has a lot of opportunities in areas such as anti-money laundering, risk and compliance: we tell them about these and see what resonates with them.” (KL)

16. “Flexibility is important, especially around family commitments such as the school drop-off or pick-up, dental appointments and even creche graduation, as both parents strive to earn an income and run a home at the same time. Since late May, one company we are working with now cater for their engineering team to come in early on a Friday so they are free to go at 2pm. This has boosted staff morale and increased applications as word spreads throughout the industry. We have flexibility here: and people can come in as early as 7.30am and leave early, or come later and stay later. We don’t schedule meetings outside the core hours of 9.30am-3.30pm, and we facilitate people leaving early and working from home where, for instance, they may need to make a conference call to the US later in the evening.” (BB)

17. “A good workplace will have clear anti-bullying guidelines and reporting processes, as well as access to counselling – ideally, at least six sessions.” (HV)

18. “Employers compete on compensation packages, holiday entitlements, work-life balance, promotion opportunities, training culture and the sort of technologies they use.” (KL).

19. “Healthy food instead of just vending machines with chocolate, so that if you’re working late or hard, you won’t have a slump. Other firms may provide flu vaccines or health insurance.” (HV)

20. “Providing food can help workers save time during their day. We do a 20-minute breakfast meeting where people can sit down together, grab some food, and plan for the day. It has a knock-on positive effect.” (BB)

21. “Ten years ago, there were more applicants than jobs, and people were heading for the boat. Now, it’s an employee-driven market and most graduates are getting multiple offers and have a good choice of jobs. As a result, employees are competing with each other for the best talent. This is good news for graduates, of course, but starting salary isn’t the be-all-and-end-all: they want a place where they can match their skills to a particular role. Graduates are thinking about how to get the career that will bring them to where they wish to be in a few years’ time.” (KL)

22. “Work-life balance really matters and this means being able to go home and switch off, instead of being expected to answer emails late into the evening.” (HV)

23. “If graduates have three offers on the table and are talking to a fourth employer, they may have a career path in mind and so they want to know what the technical environment is like – if, for instance they are a computer science graduate going for a programmer role and hoping to become a full stack developer – what the employer is working on and what they are moving towards and what sort of training and opportunities they will get. Graduates are not shy to ask questions.” (KL)

24. “Graduates want ethical companies and to feel part of good, beneficial initiatives.” (KL)

25. “It can be hard for the smaller companies to compete on benefit packages, but not everyone wants to work for a large firm. Some graduates prefer smaller companies with direct access to the MD or CEO; they prefer a tight team doing good work.” (KL)

Case study

Niamh de Barra, manufacturing biotech associate with Takeda Dunboyne Biologics

Niamh de Barra is from Tipperary and received an honours degree in neuroscience from Trinity College. She is currently completing a masters in bioprocess engineering in DCU. As part of the masters programme, she spent time in NIBRT and completed practicals in filter integrity testing, column packing, UF/DF and cell culture.

What makes a good workplace for an employee? Is it all about salary or does wellbeing come into it?

“I certainly think wellbeing has an effect on employee satisfaction and morale. Of course, salary is important, especially with the rising rent costs around Ireland, but in my opinion no amount of money can alter how you feel about going to work in the mornings. At Takeda Dunboyne Biologics, we champion the fight for people living with rare diseases. Joining Takeda has given my career a great sense of purpose, knowing that the breakthrough therapies and innovative medicines we produce will help patients around the world to live better lives.

“I think another hugely important factor for a good workplace is atmosphere. Here at Takeda Dunboyne Biologics, you’re encouraged from day one to ask lots of questions and to approach anyone, be they other graduates or members of the site leadership team, if you’re unsure of anything. This makes our working atmosphere very collaborative, informal and welcoming.

“Another important factor for any workplace is the opportunities that it provides. By constantly encouraging their workforce to improve their skills, whether they are academic or practical-based, and by recognising these efforts, employers can greatly improve employee motivation and happiness.”

Is wellbeing inextricably linked to decent working conditions?

“Definitely – if you constantly feel under pressure or unsafe at work, your mental and physical health are undoubtedly going to be affected. As this site is a new-build, Takeda was given the opportunity to design a facility that is open-plan to support and enable a collaborative approach, with adjustable workstations to adapt to your needs throughout the day. With construction of the site complete, we are working on the final elements such as a running track and gym, which will have classes tailored to what employees want. Our restaurant offers healthy, locally sourced food that caters to any dietary requirements. If we need a change of scenery, we have a coffee dock with a trained barista where meetings can be held in a casual manner. The building allows in an abundance of natural light in the open plan, laboratories, and manufacturing suite.”

Does the environment matter to graduates?

“In this day and age it’s nice to be part of a company that is taking climate change seriously. We aim to be paperless, have no paper or plastic cups, cutlery or bottles on site, and are one of the four manufacturing facilities in Ireland with a grade A energy rating. We’re reducing our water and chemicals usage by applying new technologies such as single-use bioreactors.”

What are legitimate expectations an employer should have of an employee?

“I think that employers should expect enthusiasm and initiative from employees. Entering into a graduate role, however, I think that it’s important that employers provide the relevant training and support to give employees confidence in their ability to carry out the role. Employees should speak up and voice their opinions, but it’s important that employers provide a supportive atmosphere so new employees feel comfortable doing this.”

How can a graduate suss out a potential employer and vice-versa?

“I think that open days are very telling of the atmosphere of a company. The company values can be presented, and the general enthusiasm of employees can be [FIGURED OUT]when speaking to them at open days. Going to the open days also shows the company that you have an interest and that can stand to you in the application process.

“If you get to the interview stage, the questions asked and the demeanour of the interviewers will give you an inclination of whether or not you suit the company – this also works vice-versa. Here at Takeda, I found that the interview process was focused on whether or not I fit the company values and working style. Finally, when graduates are researching potential employers, it is important to take into account their development strategy to ensure that there are opportunities to further their career.”