What qualifications do employers look for?

5 Apr 2023
If you’ve been searching for a job, you may have seen potential employers specify that certain qualifications are necessary for the role in question - especially when it comes to more specialist roles such as healthcare, legal and finance. 

There are a range of credentials that certify your knowledge and skill-building in a specialist subject, that can include  skill-related, academic and vocational qualifications. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, qualifications are grouped into nine levels, and covered by the Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF) and the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEW). 

Why do some employers prefer qualifications?

Qualifications may give you a better understanding of processes and the way things are done, by blending practical and theoretical learnings. This offers a level of introspective understanding that isn’t always as easy to get from experience alone. 

Having certain qualifications can also help you stand out from the increasingly competitive job market. There are a wide range of qualifications that can help you stand out from the crowd, but which ones are most valued by employers? Read on to find out the different types of qualifications that UK employers are most likely to look out for. 

Qualification types

Entry Level Qualifications
Entry Level Qualifications (ELQ) are the most basic qualifications and rank just below GCSEs. They aren’t compulsory, and rank gets progressively difficult as they level up, from levels one through to nine. 

ELQs include: Entry Level Qualifications are great for people looking to enter education, or learn a new language or subject.  

Whilst ELQs may not be necessary for certain job roles, obtaining an ELQ and showing it on your CV will demonstrate your drive to learn. 


General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSEs) are typically taken by students between the ages of 14 to 16 in a school setting and are graded on levels 1 through to 9. Prior to 2014, GCSEs were graded on an A - F system. The majority of GCSEs are solely exam based. 

The main aim of GCSEs is to demonstrate a fundamental understanding across a wide range of subjects. Compulsory GCSEs at a schooling level include English, Mathematics and Science. 

For entry level jobs, hiring managers will look for GCSEs in Mathematics and English - without this it can sometimes be difficult to get your foot in the door. However, there are a number of industries you can work in without any GCSEs, including retail, hospitality and construction. 

A Level Qualifications.

Advanced Level Qualifications (A Levels) are usually studied over a two year period in a college or sixth-form setting, after people have obtained their GCSEs. They can be  coursework and/or exam based.

A Levels are a prerequisite for entrance into higher education, with universities and other higher education institutions usually requiring a minimum of three A Levels. 

The grading scale for A Levels goes from A* to E, with a 40% pass mark achieving an E straight through to 80% for an A. 

If you have a clear idea of your career path, obtaining A Levels in subjects from that field is a great way to get there. 

Strong A Level results may set you apart from the competition as employers may look for these qualifications when recruiting in industries such as finance, science and legal. 

Vocational Qualifications 

Vocational Qualifications are qualifications that are work-related and often learned alongside your job. There are 7 levels of NVQs. 

The purpose of a Vocational Qualification is to help people learn more about their specific job role in a practical way. 

Vocational Qualifications can include:  Level 3 NVQs are equivalent to A-Levels - the main difference between the two is that NVQs focus on a specific trade or profession, whereas A-Levels focus on academia. Level 7 NVQs are the equivalent of a Bachelor’s Degree. 

NVQs can demonstrate to your prospective employers your willingness to learn, setting yourself apart from the competition. 

Higher Education Qualifications

Higher Education Qualifications are taken once you’ve got A Levels and GCSEs. 

Qualifications can include:  The majority of higher education courses include lectures, seminars, exams and placement years. In most instances, higher education qualifications are undertaken in institutions such as university, by people over the age of 18. 

It's never too late to start building your qualifications. Whatever you're interested in, there's a wide range of options available to support everyone into becoming more skilled, whatever stage of life you're at.

If you have been unemployed for a while and need employment advice, or if you have a health condition or a disability and are looking for work, then Ingeus delivers a range of employment support services including the Work and Health Programme and Restart Scheme which help people  get back into work.

If you’d like some support and guidance in finding a job, speak to Ingeus today.

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