Job-hunting for young people - 7: "What do employers really want? And how can I show I've got it?"

Nicola Morgan's series to help adults support young people approaching the world of work

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Obviously, different jobs require different qualities, but there are some things that pretty much all employers want. A lot of them seem obvious but you’d be amazed how many people just don’t bother to show them.

So, here’s what almost all employers need and what you have to show really clearly in your application and interview:

Punctuality. If you’re supposed to be there at 8.30, arrive before 8.30.

  • How to show it: mention it in your application. If you get an interview, turn up in good time.

Reliability. Everyone can make mistakes but you need to show that whatever the weather/traffic/your tiredness, you will always either be there or you will let people know as soon as possible that you can’t be. Of course, if you’re ill, you can’t work, but reliable workers are people who do everything in their power not to make life harder for their fellow workers.

  • How to show it: mention it in your application. Be convincing about your attitude to work. Turn up for your interview with everything you need; fill in the application form perfectly.

Respect. You might not like your employer but you have to show respect. No employer likes someone who is rude or can’t take criticism. You will probably make mistakes at first and, when you do, you need to be able to take criticism, say sorry and show that you will try not to do it again. It’s tough, but necessary. It’s how work works: we have to show respect to those higher up, and earn their respect of us.

  • Show this by being respectful in your application; in a letter or email, write "Dear Mr [surname]" or "Dear Ms [surname]"; use fairly formal language in your application (unless it's a company where it's obvious that they are always extra casual - take your cue from the job advert). Mention your desire to learn and your ability to take criticism and learn from it.

Enthusiasm. No employer wants to take on someone who doesn’t seem really to want the job. This is why the word “passionate” has almost become a cliché in applications!

  • Show this clearly in your application and any interview by emphasising how much you want this job. Sound really keen. And if you get an interview, enthusiasm should shine through from beginning to end.

No arrogance. When you start a new job or career, you need to expect to start at the bottom. You may feel you’re way too good for that but if you are prepared to “do your time” doing the boring, mundane things, you won’t regret it later.

  • When you are working out exactly what to say in your application, take care to sound confident but not arrogant - and ask someone else to read it first to make sure they agree. Things such as "I'd love the opportunity to work for you" sound nicely unarrogant.

Energy. Employers like workers who will get stuck into things and volunteer for extra tasks. Those are the people who tend to get promotion.

  • Again, it's all about choice of words in the application. Make sure you sound keen and hard-working enough. In your interview, any time they ask you how you feel about doing such-and-such task, show your keenness to try.

Ability to get on with other people. This doesn’t mean you have to be life and soul of the party, just that you don’t rub people’s back up or annoy them.

  • Mention it in your application. In an interview, look people in the eye and smile when you meet them; make it clear that you are listening; smile and nod at appropriate times.

I'll say more about interview technique in another post.

None of these things have certificates or exams. Hooray! And anyone can learn the skills. Hooray again!

On Wednesday (July 16th) at 1pm I'm taking questions on Twitter. Follow @nicolamorgan and @PsychologiesMag

Nicola Morgan

Author and speaker about adolescence, -

Nicola Morgan is a multi-award-winning author for and about teenagers and an renowned speaker at conferences and schools around the world. Her classic book on the teenage brain, BLAME MY BRAIN – THE TEENAGE BRAIN REVEALED, was followed by THE TEENAGE GUIDE TO STRESS and THE TEENAGE GUIDE TO FRIENDS and innovative multimedia teaching resources on the brain and mental health, BRAIN STICKS™, STRESS WELL FOR SCHOOLS and EXAM ATTACK. Her next books are POSITIVELY TEENAGE (May) and LIFE ONLINE (June). She writes articles at