What do employers really want?

When I was first writing this book, I asked employers what they wanted from young recruits to their organisations. What made them select one applicant over another? 

I wanted a fresh perspective so I focused on small- to medium-size companies rather than large organisations, many of which have comprehensive recruitment schemes for young people. I talked to solicitors and farmers, engineers and call-centre bosses, retail managers, pub owners and a host of other people who stay in business because they refresh their operations with new talent.

Generally the answers, regardless of the industry, were pretty consistent. What employers want is bright, enthusiastic, sensible recruits who want to work. Revisiting some of these employers to write this new edition, I found that their answers remained the same.

Most employers accept that when they take on a school or college leaver, they’ll have to invest a lot of time and money in easing their new recruit into life in the workplace. What they ask for in return tends to be quite simple: willingness to learn, adaptability, reliability (it helps if the staff turn up on time for work every day!) and a modicum of emotional intelligence so they can interact with other team members.

My argument, that supports this book, is that these are qualities that most young people have in abundance. They might not realise that they have them but they are there and can be developed. Contrary to the doom-and-gloom tabloid headlines that would have us believe everyone between the ages of 18 and 22 is workshy, apathetic and looking for an easy life, I believe that most young people want to work and look forward to taking their place in the employment market. The ones I’ve talked to are enthusiastic, ambitious, keen to fulfil their dreams.

The problem for many of them is that they don’t know how to cross the education-employment divide. They look at job advertisements and are baffled by their language and frightened by their demands. Many of them know they can offer a lot but they don’t know how to express what they can do in terms that would impress an employer.

This book attempts to bridge that gap. Hopefully, it will help young people assess the skills they already have and see how those skills are relevant to the workplace. It will help them present themselves more positively to the outside world – and it will also initiate them into employment culture.

Call me Pollyanna, but I believe that most young people have enormous potential. They are our future – we have to nurture new talent in order to survive. We have to encourage their dreams and aspirations and show them what they are capable of.

If this book helps a few school and college leavers understand that they have the skills, capabilities and attitudes that employers want, then I’ll have done my job.


For more tips on entering the world of work, see the new edition of

What Employers Want

by Karen Holmes