Careers insight: Top 5 skills recruiters are looking for

24 July 2017

Peter Burnham, WBS Careers Coach, discusses the top five skills that recruiters look for at an MSc level and provides advice on how to develop your skillset.

There are key skills which are common across the majority of top graduate jobs, almost regardless of the industry and location. Recruiters are looking for MSc graduates’ potential to become a valuable member of their team and a future leader in their business.

To stand out from the competition, these are the skills you will need to be able to show to recruiters:

Commercial awareness

Recruiters have high expectations of graduates from top business schools. One of their expectations is that you will be genuinely interested in their industry, their business, relevant topics and the broader market. This means to secure a role you’ll want to be knowledgeable about the industry trends, competitive landscape, the company and role that you’re applying for, and that you can discuss current affairs and business news confidently with an informed opinion.  That’s the end goal, but building this commercial awareness takes time. The best way to develop it doing a little bit each day: following the news, reading industry-specific journals, reading companies’ annual reports and meeting people from the industry.

  • Interview questions assessing your industry knowledge can involve recent trends, competitor dynamics, future trends, etc. To build this knowledge: Consulting firms and professional services firms often release thought leadership on industries they work in which can give useful insights. Every industry will have its own particular journals, news websites and industry bodies which are also good to start reading articles from on a regular basis to get into the flow.
  • Company knowledge questions can include: knowing their company’s history, current strategy, its products/services, what kind of clients they work with and how they differentiate themselves from competitors. Read the CEO/Chairman’s messages and other highlights from previous years’ annual reports. Look at what investors have to say about the business (even if you’re not interested in finance) because investors analyse the future earnings potential of businesses. Get a picture of any industry awards or rankings which the company has won and why. Also, conduct online internet research into the company website and monitor ongoing news developments. 
  • Learn what topics interest people in the industry: professional services included questions about Block Chain in their video interviews this year. Any students who couldn’t demonstrate depth of knowledge in this key disruptor affecting dozens of industries would not have past the initial screening round. Investment bankers in M&A will ask about M&A deals that you’ve been following, marketing firms may want to see what marketing campaigns have inspired you, whilst investors will want to know where you would invest $100m or what you think about the US/China trade war (or Brexit, or slowdown in Europe, or the property market in Hong Kong). Find out what’s important to people who work in your chosen career right now and start building research your and opinions.

Once you’ve done your own research in these areas, there’s no better way to test and develop your opinions that asking people who work in your industries of interest. You can source and contact people with relevant job titles, or who work in relevant companies that interest you via LinkedIn, and by email. Emphasise your interest and ongoing research into their industry/company/topics of mutual interest, rather than asking straightaway for a job. They might be the experts, but these professionals are often interested in speaking with enthusiastic, proactive students – they were students once! But they’re also busy people so remember to politely follow-up with them if they don’t respond to your first email.


Being able to communicate is important in all jobs. It doesn’t matter how good your analysis is, if you can’t communicate effectively then your findings will be overlooked. Recruiters look for candidates who can communicate effectively and appropriately with different people and adapt their style accordingly (they would not expect you to speak to your boss in the same way you speak to your friends) both in writing and verbally. To impress, reflect on the specific kinds of communication needed in your target job of choice. Whilst every job needs communication, some might focus on presentation or persuasive skills (e.g. a sales role) whereas others will particularly want someone who can explain complicated things in an easy to understand. Think about the day-to-day interactions of roles you are interested in and when you have demonstrated relevant communication styles to fit that.  


Regardless of the job you do, you will be working with other people in one way or another. Recruiters are interested in applicants who can work well with other people, support colleagues and help everyone succeed, as they are thinking about how you would fit into their team. Assessed group discussions, which are a common part of the recruitment process, are a way of testing how well you can work with other people. Think about how you have helped teams succeed in the past (internships, academic groups, extra-curricular activities, sports, etc.). For companies, how well you will fit into their team is an important consideration. Reaching out to people who work there (again via LinkedIn, email) is a great way to get to know them, find out more about their working culture, and make a good impression to give you an edge through the rest of the process.


The recruitment process can be tough, as can the world of work. Recruiters want to see that applicants can cope with setbacks and recover when things do not go their way. This will be important when you start work, as in every job there will be occasions when things don’t work out the way you want and you have to pick yourself up and try again. Therefore consider your weaknesses, mistakes and setbacks you have faced with particular attention to how you responded to learn and develop from the experience. If you can show that you reflect, learn and develop from challenges it’s a good indication that you’ll develop well within their business.


When recruiting at MSc level, recruiters are thinking long term about your leadership potential. To recruiters, leadership does not just mean having a managerial position or being in charge of a team.  Either direct leadership roles or times when you have stepped up as informal leadership within the team is important. With every skill it helps to have concrete examples of when you have demonstrated that ability. For leadership, try to show you can listen to other peoples’ viewpoints, whilst being prepared to stand on your own when necessary. A drive for results is important as well as the ability to motivate people, delegate tasks, and lead by example. Think about good managers that you have had (and bad ones). Research the company’s CEO and leadership team.

To discover more about the Careers support on offer to your during your Masters year, visit our Postgraduate Careers pages