What Employers Want In IT!

gradmalaysia talks to some key employers in Malaysia’s ICT sector to find out what employers are looking for in graduate recruits.
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In the fast-moving, fast-evolving ICT industry, the hunt is on for employees who are able and willing to adapt and learn on the job to improve their skills and grow as their companies do.

Today, ICT graduates have the advantage of their skills being in demand in practically every industry – even those that may not be immediately obvious, such as banking, retail and consultancy.

‘For PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the challenge is to recruit graduates from non-accounting backgrounds, such as business information systems or IT graduates for our specialist units like the Risk Assurance Services or Advisory teams,’ said Salika Suksuwan, a senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers. ‘Typically, graduates view PwC as an “accounting firm”; those without accounting degrees may not be keen to consider our firm because of that misconception.’

Those who can, do

Academic achievement and degrees do catch the attention of recruiters, but what employers are really looking for is the ability to think critically and effectively apply what has been learned in university.  

‘We are looking for soft skills and the ability to think on your feet,’ said Pauline Ho, Partner at PwC.

‘Understanding the basic knowledge within the framework is crucial, but understanding the in-depth process and the mechanics of ‘how-to-do’ is more important,’ said Nichollas Tan of HP Malaysia. ‘Knowledge can be learned as long as students commit to their work and are proactive in managing problem solving.’

Grad expectations

Graduate applicants today expect to take charge of their careers – and employers are willing to accommodate them.

‘We find that they typically place importance on their training and development, particularly coaching and mentoring,’ said Salika. ‘They are also keen to work overseas and like to be mobile. They also tend to appreciate other aspects of their work life, for example corporate responsibility initiatives.’

On the flip side, however, employers have noted a tendency for young employees to job-hop. As organisations invest a lot – in terms of both time and money – in the orientation and training of new recruits, this lack of company loyalty has become a key issue and challenge.

‘The typical lifespan for a graduate to work in an organisation is around two to three years, and then they move to another company,’ observed Nichollas.

Sharon Anthony agreed, ‘They need to understand that a career is something that has to be built over time, and not one that is “served on a silver platter”.’

Speak up to stand out

In today’s globalised economy, communication and interpersonal skills are as important to employers as technical knowledge.  

However, most organisations find that students lack competence in skills such as confidence; interpersonal skills, eg command of English; the ability to engage with hiring managers ie ability to articulate; being innovative and being proactive.

Nichollas explained, ‘These often are key constraints where most organisations cannot find a suitable fit.’

Graduates’ poor command of English is a particularly key concern among employers today. ‘Suitable employees with relevant knowledge are easy to find, but there are some challenges in terms of their command of the English language,’ said Susan Anthony of T-Systems.

‘It is very important that a potential candidate communicates and expresses himself or herself well, especially during the interview,’ said PwC graduate recruiter Reuben Phillips. ‘Presentation and leadership skills are also very important. Students who are well-read and keep abreast of current events would be one notch above the rest.’

Employers cited extra-curricular activities during university as a great way to build up the sought-after ‘soft skills.’ Including these in a CV will frequently make an application stand out to recruiters.

‘We look at their involvement in extra-curricular activities and project work with many people, leading a team etc during university, and whether they assumed roles of increasing leadership and responsibility in these,’ said Sharon Anthony.  

‘Those who are more active in university have better skills in project management,’ Pauline pointed out. ‘Students involved in group projects display leadership skills – even if they are just a team member.