The top 5 things employers look for

If you scan through some of the job adverts listed on the Cambridge Jobs Board, you will see words like ‘passionate’ and ‘flexible’ listed time and time again. While any online dictionary will give you a definition of what these words mean, what an employer is ‘actually’ looking for can sometimes be very different.

So, what do local employers mean when they ask that ‘applicants have an innovative approach to their work’? What about if they say ‘only motivated or committed applicants need apply’?

Below you will find a list of the top five things employers look for in applications and what they actually mean!


You might think it strange to find ‘motivated’ in this list. It would be easy to assume that anyone who applies for a new job in Cambridge is motivated and wants to be successful. Right?

Well, as much as this should be true, the reality is that many job seekers will apply for jobs in Cambridge in a ‘batch style’ process, i.e., they send off multiple applications at the same time and wait to see what comes back first.

What this means for employers is there is a good chance that the person they ask to come in for an interview might not be as keen as they think. Hence, this is why many employers list this word in their adverts. They want to make it plainly clear that they only want to receive applications from people who genuinely want the job.

From an employer’s point of view, a motivated person is someone who very clearly wants the job on offer and is keen to work with the company. Their motivation will be apparent at all stages of the application process, from initial application through to final interview, and they will not be afraid to show they are keen.

And it doesn’t stop there. A motivated person will then carry this enthusiasm into their new job and will relish the opportunity to take on whatever challenges lie ahead.

Job seekers – Don’t use standard or templated cover letters for applications and make it clear why you are interested in this job and what has motivated you to apply. It could be the job itself, the company and their products or the industry they are working in. Be honest and don’t be afraid to share your real reasons.


If motivation often refers to the interest and enthusiasm towards getting the job, commitment is more often than not all about what someone is prepared to do when they get it.

It’s all well and good impressing an employer with your drive and motivation during the application process. However, if you don’t convince them that you are committed to them in the long term, this will hold you back.

Clearly, commitment is a ‘two-way street,’ and it’s as much about a job seeker feeling there is a commitment from the employer, as it is the other way around. But employers want to feel that they have someone joining their team who is prepared to go that extra mile and help the team or company to deliver when it is really needed.

Job seekers – Demonstrating your future commitment to an employer is hard to do with just your CV (or cover letter). The best way to do this is during the interview process. You need to let them know that you are prepared for what the job will involve and that you are happy (assuming you are) to take on extra duties (and sometimes hours), outside of those listed in the initial spec. All jobs change over time and employers want to know that they have employees who are committed to the team, regardless of these changes.


Obviously, this has nothing to do with palates or hot yoga! (Apparently, the latter is meant to be really good for you) Flexibility in the workplace is all about being willing to adapt to an ever-changing employment landscape.

From an employer’s point of view, the corporate picture can change from month to month, year to year. Indeed, in smaller companies, this can even be week to week. Thus, with this uncertainty, the ideal employee will be flexible enough to not only accept change but also embrace it and make the best of the situation.

In real terms, this might refer to flexibility around the amount or the schedule of working hours. Or it might relate to flexibility around the duties and responsibilities of a given job. In any case, flexibility is, much like commitment, a two-sided coin and job seekers need to ensure that where employers request flexibility from their staff, they are also happy to offer this in return.

Job seekers – Flexibility is something that you can demonstrate both on paper (i.e., in your CV or cover letter) and during the interview process. If the job you are applying for is one that you know will often require ‘out of hours’ work, or ‘changing responsibilities’, and you have worked in this sort of environment before, make sure this is clear in your CV. Demonstrating prior experience of being flexible is essential.

During an interview, not only can you elaborate on your CV and describe situations where you have been required to be flexible, but you can also show that you did it willingly (assuming you did). Being happy to be flexible is very different from being prepared to be flexible, just because you had no choice.


This is very similar to motivated and committed, but with more flair and a little ‘joie de vivre’!

The motivated employee comes to work each day with a smile on their face. The committed employee stays at work each day until the job is done. The passionate employee loves what they do and wouldn’t be found doing anything else. Their passion knows no bounds and is infectious to those they work with. OK, maybe this is a bit OTT, but you get the point.

When employers say, they want passionate people, what they mean is job seekers who genuinely love their job or industry/sector they work in and want to come back each day and do the same things over and over again. Passion could be mentioned in the same sentence as ‘vocation’ or if you are in the LAPD SWAT ‘a calling!’

A good example would be teaching. Many of the best teachers in local schools do their job because they love to do it. We all know how hard teachers work and often for very little or no recognition. They have to put up with a great deal of ‘noise’ outside of the classroom, and yet they come back for more. Why? Because they have passion and a real desire to do their job to the best of their ability.

Job seekers – So, when you next see a job advert with ‘passion’ listed, think about why you are applying for the job and is it really what you want to do? Can you see yourself coming back for more each day, regardless of what you had to deal with the day before? More importantly, can you transmit this passion during your interview (without coming across as desperate) and show an employer that this is real, genuine enthusiasm for their job?


This is maybe a surprise word to see on this list, and for many would be associated with more highly technical jobs in Cambridge, such as scientists or engineers. And yet, it is a word that often appears in job adverts and in a wide variety of different positions and industries.

So how can a Finance Manager be innovative? What about the electrician who has to conform to industry standards and has very little leeway on what they can do?

From an employer’s perspective, innovation often means being creative which, in turn, means being prepared for the unexpected. In some ways, this is similar to being flexible. If flexible is about an employee embracing change in their job, innovation is about coming up with solutions to problems, regardless of whether this is something they have faced before.

As mentioned above, some jobs are built upon innovation, and this is just ‘par for the course.’ However, more and more jobs in Cambridge are less ‘standard’ and require a ‘continuous adaptation’ to the surrounding environment.

Job seekers – Being innovative can most easily be demonstrated at interview when asked the age-old interview question: ‘Can you give us an example of when you had to……’ Regardless of what you are being asked to demonstrate, if your example was based on finding an innovative solution to a new problem, here is your chance to tell someone about it! No need to be big-headed, just merely detail how the approach you came up with was new and un-tried (assuming it was) and that it worked (assuming it did!).

So, next time you are looking at job adverts and decide upon one to apply for, give some real thought to what they are asking for and if this is what you really want. If it is, then hopefully some of the above will help you to be better prepared for the application and interview process.