What do employers look for?

By the SMU Social Media Team

Every SMU student goes through a compulsory 10-week internship, though most of our undergraduates take up two or more internships during their university years. While this introductory work experience goes some way towards preparing you for your future career, it also helps to know — before you start looking for an internship or a job — what it is that employers look for in their potential hires.

We spoke to hiring managers from different industries to find out their expectations of job seekers.

1. Maturity and balance

There’s a fine but clear line between carrying yourself confidently and cockily in an interview. If you can strike that particular balance, you’ll stand a good chance of setting yourself apart from the crowd.

Through seminars and informal discussions with your professors and peers, you’ll learn how to communicate confidently and effectively.

Matt Keating, head of mobile and digital services in Asia for Asian Mobile Banking (part of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia), shares his insights into how being prepared can help you stand out. “Being on time helps. Aside from that: being naturally curious, asking questions, wanting to learn more about the business and the industry. The ones that stand out are those who’ve done their research beforehand, and I don’t just mean sitting behind a computer and Googling because anyone can do that. They should be seeking out and talking to people, either in the company or in the broader industry.”

2. Teamwork and communication skills

In entry-level positions, there’s no room for rockstars. Employers value a new joiner who has the ability to work well in a team, to take instructions and execute them accurately, and to communicate effectively within and across departments.

Susanne Arfelt Rajamand, head of marketing for Unilever in Singapore, believes that students with great social skills generally get further in business. “Be willing to learn, not only within your role but also from the other roles within the company,” she says. She also cautions recent graduates against limiting their career progression at too early a stage. “Too many of the Singaporean graduates always think that promotion is the only way to a successful career. However, after being promoted a few times you may lack the broad view that would allow you to go any further.”

Project work gives you a taste of team dynamics, in preparation for real-world situations.

Matt has an additional word of advice: “I would encourage new joiners to look for something that they can improve in the company within their first three months on the job. Every company has lots of small issues that need to be solved to make things work better for the people in it. If you help your hiring manager to identify and address such a problem, you’ll be able to influence how the team or the company operates. This will also raise your profile and build your network.”

3. Past achievements and experience

Besides your internships, which will show prospective employers that you’re serious about the industry, your record of community service projects and co-curricular activities also speak volumes about your capabilities.

Co-curricular activities provide you with many opportunities to demonstrate skills such as leadership, collaboration and problem-solving.

Marigold Duncan, founder of mobile app BaKiPa, looks for candidates who have a record of taking part in activities that demonstrate teamwork, energy and commitment such as sports and leadership roles. Internships also create a positive effect on her impression of a candidate, especially if they provide a contact from the internship organisation as a reference. “If the candidate has completed an internship or community service project, I would like to understand what the candidate learned from that experience, what they enjoyed and found challenging.”

4. Academic record

It’s a no-brainer that outstanding academic credentials are a highly effective way for you to at least get your foot in the door of your preferred company. Don’t be surprised, though, to meet hiring managers who prioritise other qualifications beyond the GPA. Many agree that candidates with a strong CCA record are able to stand out despite an average academic performance, for the simple reason that grades only reflect one aspect of a person’s capabilities.

Graduating with a good GPA is just one way to be successful in the employment market.

This is why a good strategy in today’s job market is to hedge your bets: keep your GPA healthy, but make time and bandwidth to pursue co-curricular and other activities that will allow you to develop your interests and your soft skills. Be sure to take advantage of all the opportunities offered at SMU that will help you excel in these areas!

Undergraduate applications are open — visit admissions.smu.edu.sg to learn how you too can Transform into a Different U.