What Employers are Actually Looking For

3 min readFeb 4, 2021
Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

I speak from experience in everything I say here. Not just my experience, but that of the many other skilled artists and freelance workers who are trying to find a job, both in a company with a normal employment contract, and in some kind of short-term project as a freelance worker.

There’s lots of talk about ‘soft skills,’ like communication, ability to think differently, teamwork, a sense of responsibility… the list goes on. Many recruitment agencies and employers themselves tell those looking for a job that these skills really matter, they make a difference as to whether you will be hired, or not. Indeed.com has many articles concerning how to display your skills in your resume, what the ’10 best communication skills’ are, and more.

These skills are important, absolutely. But, everyone has them on their CV. If you are seriously looking for a job and have thought about what you can offer to a company or organisation, you will have thought about the skills you can offer them and what makes you unique as a candidate. And this is important, but in the end, it doesn’t matter very much. We all put ‘communication’ and ‘teamwork’ on our CVs. We’re all supposedly good at displaying these skills.

Thus, what employers are actually looking for, in order to separate and distinguish between different CVs, and different people, really has nothing to do with who you are. What matters the most is whether you have already done the exact same thing that the job you are applying for requires. A job about research? You have to have done research. But not just that, if it’s a job about researching the fish market in Japan, it’s not enough to know a bit about food and a bit about Japan. There will be another candidate who has seen this job, and who has worked as a researcher for a large fishing company in Japan. They will have already completed the job that this company wants you to do, and the job will just be a matter of going through the hoops to end produce the knowledge and research you have done for the new company. It’s the same with logo design: it’s not enough to have designed hundreds of logos, you have to be a specialist at designing logos for a very, very small niche of companies, in order to be selected for a role.

The progress towards ultra-specialised workers has resulted in a job market where it is becoming increasingly different to present yourself as anything other than a labouring machine, producing the same thing over and over for different clients (if you work as a freelancer). All those lofty ideals about doing ‘meaningful work’ are thrown out the window when you enter the competition between job-seekers, and, more often than not, if you are young and trying to gain this thing they call ‘experience,’ it will take you a long time to find a job, and it won’t be your ‘soft skills’ that will have got you the job you do find.

Having connections, or being a specialist in a very niche area: that’s how employers really choose. Don’t be too despondent about being turned down from many different jobs. It’s not really something you can do much about, when the criteria for the competition are stacked against you from the start.

Jack Goldingham Newsom is the Chief Objektioner and Founder of the Objektion Project. We help people, social enterprises, and volunteer organisations to carry out their mission more effectively by challenging current ways of thinking, and developing new frameworks to support their vision.
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I work with imagination and creativity, with organisations who want to create meaningful change. The world needs more thinkers, I aim to be one of them.