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How do employers judge a job candidate’s work readiness?

What Does Work Ready Really Mean?

Business and industry face two intractable realities – a faster rate of change and a more competitive environment. Graduates will now encounter employers who expect new hires to be work ready from day one and who can learn quickly in their new roles.

So how do employers judge a job candidate’s work readiness? The most basic criterion is some form of employment history and employment, in this context, is defined broadly.

It’s useful if you have worked in a field related to the job they are seeking but any previous employment is a big plus. Paid work, volunteering and internships all qualify, and the more the better. The aim is to demonstrate your ability to turn up on time, understand work environments and have the ability to work with others.

‘Work experience is really critical. It actually means when they walk in the door for a job that they understand, that they actually understand, what the working environment is. It’s not just a theoretical concept,’ Chair and CEO of the Australian Accounting Services Board, Kris Peach, says.

‘If you can’t get paid work then go in and help in charitable ways or contribute in the community. All that is seen by employers as a capacity to commit and be reliable,’ Director of Employment, Education and Training at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Jenny Lampert, says.

Employers look favourably on applicants who demonstrate a willing and active capacity to learn as they are more likely to survive the steep learning curve that companies apply when getting new hires up to speed.


‘We find that it takes us a good 12 to 18 months to take an undergrad and build their business experience and expertise,’ Managing Partner Blackhall & Pearl Talent Services and former Asia Pacific Regional Talent Leader for Deloitte, Alec Bashinsky, says.

New hires can be slow to acquire and apply new knowledge. ’You have to shelter and protect those newer employees for a lot longer. It’s counterproductive and costs you a lot of money before you can let them loose. Or you have to put them on-site under a lot of supervision and a lot of overhead,’ Director of Strategy and Innovation at Dimension Data, Duncan Brown, says.

Graduates may be no less work ready than they were in the past, but there is more pressure and cost-driven competition in today’s dynamic work environment.

Employers want workers who can adapt as companies evolve. They are looking for graduates who have been involved in diverse, extra-curricular pursuits that involve accepting challenges and engaging with unfamiliar people, fresh ideas and novel environments.

‘It should be about curiosity and how to think, to ask questions, how to explore what somebody else might know – because you won’t have all the answers,’, PwCHead of Organisational Development Asia Pacific, Samantha Fernando, says.

‘Read widely. Get involved in a range of activities that are outside of your degree, because it’s the broader mind that actually brings the greatest value into an organisation. Because what that generates is a capability to adjust, flexibility, an enlightened view … and a willingness to learn,’ Insurance Council of Australia Executive Director and CEO, Rob Whelan, says.

Job seekers who demonstrate two almost inseparable qualities – good communication skills and effective teamwork – will also be considered more job-ready than candidates who can’t. Sometimes referred to as ‘soft skills’ or ‘people skills’, they are vital in virtually all workplaces and many employers now rate them as more important than a person’s grasp of technical or theoretical knowledge.

This is because the business world is more complex than ever before and any one individual is increasingly unlikely to have all the answers. People who can talk and write clearly, who can assimilate other points of view and who can offer constructive critiques are likely to make any recruiter’s short list.

Head of People and Performance at Bendigo Bank, Mark Schultz, says, ‘People have to constantly adapt and be flexible and pivot to whatever the next problem is we have to solve. So, there’s a whole bunch of technological skills needed but there’s also a whole bunch of soft skills, people and leadership issues, that are just as important and probably, in some cases, even more important.’

Education Leader Oceania at EY, Catherine Friday, says: ‘More and more, it is less and less about their technical discipline. More and more it is around demonstration of particular characteristics – people who can innovate, people who are articulate, people who can think on their feet, people who are comfortable with ambiguity.’

‘Without the ability to relate you’re not going to build business or attract new business and you won’t sustain your own career. It all relies on relationships – with your team, your boss, peers and clients,’ says PwC’s Samantha Fernando.

Graduates who can claim possession of some or all of these attributes can expect to land a good job in their chosen field. And while demand for various technical skills will change as new products and services emerge, demand for people with these job-ready skills won’t.

The business leaders quoted above were interviewed by the Australian Business Deans Council as part of wider consultations to understand how Australian business schools and their graduates can continue to improve and meet the future needs of industry.

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