This article was first published in the October 2015 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

What makes you a desirable employee for any organisation? I recently worked with an organisation to restructure its human resources and finance teams. The executives were concerned that too many employees were traditionalists more keen on preserving the status quo than adapting to market pressures and new ways of working.

To cull weaker performers and hire more proactive business partners, they ran a series of assessment centres, comprising interviews, written tests and other exercises. New roles were based on three criteria, dubbed ‘the three Es’. Let’s consider these as it’s a good way to reflect on what makes us employable.


Most jobs require some degree of technical knowledge. Human resources specialists have to know employment legislation. Finance professionals must know acceptable and unacceptable accounting practices. Sales people have to know their products thoroughly.

The thing is, just about everybody in the human resources and finance departments had the requisite levels of expertise; their technical acumen wasn’t really in doubt.

Emotional intelligence

This is best defined as the ability to understand and alter emotions in both oneself and others. However, many people see emotional intelligence as synonymous with interpersonal skills – building relationships with new colleagues and customers, working effectively within teams, criticising others constructively and handling conflict appropriately.

Emotional intelligence was perhaps the biggest factor in deciding whether people were hired in the new organisation. What mattered more than their technical expertise was their capacity for understanding others and cooperating with them.


The third ‘E’ concerned work ethic, which in this organisation comprised a range of related skills: a readiness to demonstrate initiative; a willingness to work hard and be persistent; and the ability to motivate oneself in the face of adversity.

You may think that the three Es sound obvious but I think there are valuable lessons here. First of all, it’s worth noting that technical expertise was not the stumbling block for most people. There are many people with the right specialist knowledge who, unfortunately, are not very employable.

No, it was more usually a deficit in emotional intelligence or a lack of work ethic that led to people not being offered jobs. Clearly, these are the more prized career assets.

The three Es help us to think about the ways in which we add value to our organisations, identifying the strengths we have as well as the weaknesses we may need to develop. And hopefully they should prompt us about the actions we need to take in order to remain eminently employable.

Dr Rob Yeung is 
an organisational psychologist and coach at consultancy Talentspace