Despite the stark youth unemployment statistics and tough competition for graduate jobs, there is still a “war for talent” among top employers. Many firms tell us that new recruits aren’t as prepared for the world of work as they would like them to be, that more should be done while students are still at university to help boost their employability.
Multinational employers are looking for something even more. They are looking for graduates who can become the next global leaders, who can drive their businesses forward and compete on the international stage.
But what skills does it take to be a global graduate? How can UK graduates stand out and succeed in an increasingly competitive international marketplace? Is it a case of “have language, will travel”?
Well, in short, no. The Guardian’s recent report, Global Graduates into Global Leaders, the skills that leading employers identified as the most important were: an ability to work collaboratively with teams of people from a range of backgrounds and countries; excellent communication skills; drive and resilience; and an ability to embrace different perspectives.
In fact, these aren’t too different from the skills that employers would hope to see from any graduate, but they are specifically looking for young people to develop a global mindset and broaden their horizons. There are a number of things that students and graduates, who are looking to increase their chances of securing work internationally can do to enhance their global employability prospects.
If you haven’t yet gone to university, look for a place on a course that offers an exchange programme overseas. For those still studying, the key thing to do, of course, is to look for opportunities to experience the global workplace – through internships or work placements outside of the UK. Failing that, a UK-based placement in an organisation where you are working with colleagues in different countries, from different cultural backgrounds and across time zones.
We know that internships can be hard to come by, certainly in the current climate, and there are other avenues students and graduates should consider.
Gap years, at any stage in your student life, give you the ability to demonstrate the desire to develop yourself as a global citizen. You will be able to show your cultural agility – employers are looking for graduates who understand the perspectives of individuals from different cultures and backgrounds and able to empathise with and respond to these views.
Employers are also looking for graduates who see the world from a cosmopolitan viewpoint and have an awareness of different cultures. It is critical that you are able to cope with, and adapt to, living in different countries and environments, and the experience of a gap year will allow you to gain this experience.
Whilst at university, you should take advantage of schemes such as Erasmus, where you can study abroad as part of your degree, or perhaps there is an opportunity to take part in a charity challenge that will take you overseas. Or why not volunteer abroad?
Finally, while languages are not in themselves a skill that can guarantee a job, they are nevertheless going to be very useful in some work contexts, especially if you are planning to work overseas in countries where English is not the main language. Our research shows that employers viewed languages as a complementary rather than essential skill. However, from my own experience, I know just how much easier it is to have a grasp of the language of the country you are in when it comes to understanding the culture and the people.
All of the above will also help you to develop your independence, self-confidence and cultural agility; those skills which employers view as key to positioning yourself amongst the next generation of global leaders.
Carl Gilleard is chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters.Global Graduates into Global Leaders was a joint project by the AGR, Council for Industry and Higher Education and research agency CFE.
Thanks to The Guardian and Carl Gilleard for allowing icould.com to republish the article. The original version of this article can be found on Guardian Careers, along with loads more tips, chats and career advice.