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The top five behaviours that employers are looking for

Posted March 19, 2019

When you apply for a job, it’s not just your grades that future employers are interested in. They’ll also be looking for evidence of other more subtle qualities too, which determine your attitude to work and how you’ll fit in with their company. These qualities are known as behaviours – and it’s just as important to make sure you demonstrate evidence of these in your job application or interview, as it is to share details of your exam results and any practical skills.

So exactly what is a behaviour – and how does it differ from other terms you’ve probably seen in application forms, like knowledge and skills?

Knowledge: this is the information, technical knowledge, or ‘know-how’ that you need to have to carry out your job. It might be background technical knowledge, company policy or legislation.

Skills: These are how you apply the knowledge you’ve learnt, and skills are usually developed through training or experience. Examples include understanding 3D diagrams, writing a presentation or operating a blow torch.

Behaviours: These are the personal skills, attitudes, approaches or mind-sets that demonstrate what kind of a person you are. They can be instinctive (like being hard working), but they can also be learnt (like how to talk to your boss).

For more on this, take a look at the definitions given on the Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education website.

Behaviours are particularly useful for employers when you’re just starting out in your career because you don’t yet have lots of experience or qualifications. But how do you know what kind of behaviours employers are interested in?

We asked some of the contractors working at Hinkley Point C (HPC) to share with us the top behaviours they look for in apprentices. This is what they told us…


Jump to:

  1. Willingness to learn
  2. Enthusiasm
  3. Commitment
  4. Adaptability
  5. Trustworthiness



1. Willingness to learn

This was the number one behaviour employers at HPC told us they wanted to see in future recruits – and it’s easy to understand why. Employers don’t expect apprentices to turn up with any – or very little – prior experience. And the nature of an apprenticeship means you’ll be learning all the time: whether on site or in classroom/training facilities. So what employers are really keen to see is that you’re self-motivated and willing to apply yourself to your apprenticeship.

Gerry O’Rourke, Early Careers Lead at BAM Nuttall, also had “follow instructions” on their wishlist. When you’re working on a site such as HPC – where safety is of utmost importance – employers need to know that you can follow set procedures and instructions.

ACTION POINT: How can you demonstrate a willingness to learn in your application or job interview?

  • Rather than writing on your application that you are ‘willing to learn’ – avoid this altogether! – use examples to demonstrate how you’ve shown a willingness to learn.
  • Think about your life experiences to date. Are there any instances where you excelled, showed initiative or led others?



2. Enthusiasm

Being enthusiastic at work is a good indication that you’re committed to what you’re doing and will stick with it. It also gives employers a good idea of how you’ll approach a challenge.

Employers want to know that you’re committed to the industry they operate in too. For instance, Emily Groves, Early Careers Recruitment Advisor at EDF Energy, had “enthusiasm for the nuclear industry” on their wishlist, as they want apprentices who believe nuclear has an important role in the future energy mix.

ACTION POINT: How can you demonstrate enthusiasm in your application or job interview?

  • In an interview, consider your body language: make sure you’re paying attention and demonstrating interest in what the interviewer has to say.
  • Ask the interviewer lots of questions about the job, company or industry. This will show that you’ve done your research thoroughly and are serious about the position.
  • In your application, show a wide range of interests, as this demonstrates an enthusiasm for trying out new things. Avoid just writing a list though; give reasons for why they interest you.



3. Commitment

Commitment (or dedication) was given as a top three behaviour by employers G4S Facilities Management (UK) Ltd, Cavendish Nuclear and EDF Energy. Employers want to know that you can commit to tasks and projects, and working in a team.

They’re also looking for apprentices who will commit to their company and its culture. Employers invest heavily in training programmes, so they want to know that anyone they take on is dedicated to working for them and will stick with their apprenticeship.

ACTION POINT: How can you demonstrate commitment in your application or job interview?

  • Charles Bedingfield, Training Manager at Cavendish Nuclear, has these tips: “How has your commitment to causes allowed you to grow and develop? What is needed for you to commit? Think about these questions, they’ll give you some interesting and relevant things to talk about with the employer.”
  • Also think about any jobs you’ve done or positions of responsibility you’ve held. What did they teach you about responsibility? Can you get your employer to write a testimonial that demonstrates how you were committed to the role?



4. Adaptability

Both Cavendish Nuclear and Doosan Babcock listed this as an important behaviour trait. It gives employers an indication of how resilient you are and how you’ll respond to adversity.

Charles Bedingfield, from Cavendish Nuclear, explains what this means in practice: “We’re all subject to changing circumstances. Some of our making and some that are thrust or forced upon us. So when the winds of change blow; do you build a wall, or do you build a windmill? Think about the statement for a second. What employers are looking for here are people who use change as an opportunity to grow and develop themselves and the people around them in a positive way.”

ACTION POINT: How can you demonstrate adaptability in your application or job interview?

  • Can you think of any examples in life that show how you’ve responded positively to a bad situation? It might be something that happened in your education – you didn’t make the grades you required, for instance – but employers won’t see that as a negative if it spurred you on to do retakes and pass with flying colours.
  • This might also be the one time you talk about things that are more personal to you. For instance, how you’ve coped with a change in circumstances.



5. Trustworthiness

Honesty and trustworthiness are essential behaviours in any relationship – including those you have at work. Employers need to know they can rely on you as a member of their team and to perform a task to the best of your abilities.

They also need to be able to trust you to represent their company. When you put on a jacket with a brand’s name, you are assuming responsibility to represent that employer to a high standard.

ACTION POINT: How can you demonstrate trustworthiness in your application or job interview?

  • Have you held any positions of responsibility or trust that you can reference? It might not be a job, but perhaps you help out a family member regularly with looking after their children – this shows that they trust you to care for others.
  • Are you responsible for any regular tasks? Checking the lab at the end of every engineering lesson, for instance. All of these are good examples of you being honest and trustworthy.



Let’s not forget the rest…

Other important behaviours or attitudes cited by employers at HPC include:

  • your ability to work in a team (can you give examples of being a good team player?);
  • being hardworking (can you give any examples of where you excelled on a task?);
  • good timekeeping (do you have a regular job that requires you to turn up to on time?) and
  • good communication (can you give examples of when you’ve had to interact with people outside your peer group?)


For more advice on and tips on filling in application forms, writing your CV or preparing for an interview, take a look at our Young HPC toolbox pages. If you’re aged between 16-21, you can also sign up to our skills programme, Young HPC and be first in line to hear about apprenticeship opportunities at HPC.

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