What on earth is “employability” (and how can it help me get a job)?
You may have heard the word “employability” bandied around by employers, careers advisors, and even politicians, but what on earth does it actually mean? I asked David Shindler, Employability coach and author of Learning to Leap, a Guide to Being More Employable, to take over this week’s blog post and explain the concept to us mere mortals…
[GUEST POST by David Shindler]
“I have a first degree, an MBA and work experience; why are employers not responding to my applications? My qualifications speak for themselves.”
These are the words of a 20-something graduate I spoke with recently at the National Graduate Recruitment Exhibition. The missing link between this young man’s desire for a job and his lack of success so far can be put down to both a lack of understanding of ‘what’ will make him more employable and ‘how’ to put this across.
An official definition of “employability” (courtesy of the Confederation of British Industry) is “the combination of the attributes, skills and knowledge that you need to have in order to ensure you have the capability to be effective today and tomorrow in the workplace”. But even with this in place, many jobseekers are still confused as to what employability actually means and how it is relevant to their job search.
Are you a good fit?
In very simple terms, being employable means you are a good fit within the specific role, culture and business of an employer – whether you are applying for a job or already within an organisation.
For young people fresh out of education, employers want to know how ‘market-ready’ you are. They do not expect you to be the finished article and often, they are more interested in your attitude than your skills as the latter can be further developed once you join.
When examining whether or not you’re a good fit for their organisation, employers look for things such as:
- Attributes: Do you understand the professionalism we expect in our company? Can you demonstrate to us that you have the work ethic that we expect here? Who are you as a person? What is your offer to us as a unique person that shows you can do this job and you are the right one for us?
- Skills: Do you know and can you demonstrate to us the soft skills as well as hard, technical skills required to succeed here?
- Knowledge: Do you get our business and the world we inhabit? Can you put yourself in our customers’ shoes? How does what you know and have experienced to date help you to be successful in this role?
Employers want you to be employable for their specific organisation – that means staying up-to-date with both technical and non-technical skills and being open to change and self-development.
Employability development will not go away if you do get a job; it is relevant throughout your working life because you may change roles, jobs and careers several times. The days of working for a single employer doing the same job the same way are over. We all need to learn new skills, new knowledge and adapt our attitudes and behaviours for changing personal and business circumstances.
It is no longer enough for you to be good at your ‘subject’ for you to be good at a job. Yes, you need qualifications and technical or functional expertise to be capable, but adding to your employability ‘set’ of capabilities can make all the difference in getting work, staying in work or moving on.
What employers want…
In my recent book, Learning to Leap, I took eight main ‘sets’ of employability capabilities from research by the CBI and the UK Commission on Employment and Skills, broke them down into 35 sub-areas and then mapped them onto Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence framework to create a personal Employability Window. These eight sets are what employers are looking for, in addition to competence in the subject, when they say ‘employability’:
- Positive attitude (‘can do’ approach, readiness to take part and contribute, openness to new ideas and constructive criticism, drive to make those ideas happen);
- Self-management (willingness to take responsibility, self-starting, assertiveness, flexibility, resilience, work/life balance, time management, learning and personal development, personal presentation);
- Team working (respecting others, co-operating, awareness of interdependence on others, negotiating/persuading, contributing to discussions);
- Communicating (building rapport, listening, questioning, oral literacy, written work, networking);
- Digital literacy (computer skills, understanding and using the Internet – especially search engines and social media);
- Solving problems (analysing facts and situations, creative thinking for solutions, working collaboratively);
- Numeracy (basic calculations, understanding the role and application of mathematical principles in the work environment);
- Global, business and customer awareness (understanding the key drivers for business success, innovating, judging risks, understanding the need to build customer satisfaction and loyalty, contributing to the whole organisation, transcultural understanding).
Inevitably, there is much debate about the priorities, focus and emphasis for any given employer and the type of employability skills and mindsets will change in line with the environment (see the Future Work Skills 2020 report for a prediction of needs over the next decade).
So in conclusion, employability is the jargon that covers what an employer expects as the minimum professional standards for you to fit into the workplace or remain a good fit with your current employer. Knowing what these are, then being skilful and authentic in presenting the best of you, will help you get a job or a new role time and time again.
David’s 10 top tips for building and sustaining your employability
- Take a strategic, not just a short-term, approach to your employability – it’s not a quick fix!
- Develop employability capabilities even if you want to run your own business rather than be employed – they are just as relevant.
- Don’t pay lip service to lifelong learning – you may change jobs and careers several times.
- Invest in developing your self-awareness as a core foundation for all relationships.
- Devote energy to understanding and increasing your emotional intelligence.
- Get it right by exploring your natural talents, strengths and what is right about you.
- Do it well by skilfully applying what you know about yourself and what you are good at
- Find the sweet spot – the common ground between what you want out of life, your unique offer as a person and what an employer needs.
- Create your own luck by saying ‘yes’ more than ‘no’ to opportunities.
- Make it stick by developing reflection, building confidence, taking ownership and responsibility for action, and embracing the support that’s out there.
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