What Employers Are Looking For When Hiring Recent College Grads

To all my recent/soon-to-be college grads, this Forbes article by Sergei Klebnikov hits the nail on the head for you.  Feel free to share and leave a comment that speaks to your experience, either as a hiring professional or a recent/pending graduate.

Many employers today feel that recent college graduates are falling short in their preparedness to join the workforce. The qualities that result in job success are becoming harder and harder to find in college graduates, according to many findings from education research authorities.

“Over half of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed,” says Josh Jarrett, CPO and co-founder of Koru, a job placement program for students out of college looking to enter the work force. The new start-up program, which has over 25 college partners and locations in Seattle, Boston and San Francisco, focuses on immersive learning programs that allow students to translate academic skills into professional use and bridge the school to labor market gap.

Fifty-eight percent of students said college should adequately prepare them for a career, according to McGraw-Hill Education’s 2015 Student Workforce Readiness Survey. However, only 20% of students at the time of graduation felt very prepared to join the workforce. According to a recent Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) study which surveyed over 400 private and non-profit organizations, less than two in five employers rate college students as well prepared (8 or above on a scale of 10). Fewer than three in 10 think that recent college grads are proficient in applying knowledge and skills in real-world settings or areas such as critical thinking and communication.

However, there is good news for today’s graduates. Another recent survey, by theNational Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), found that employers are planning to hire 9.6% more college grads this year than they did from the class of 2014. With this uptick in hiring, what can college grads do to improve their chances?

Many of the recent surveys have suggested that there are fewer than a dozen essential sets of skills which help. Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based leading labor market analytics firm, found that liberal arts and non-professional degree graduates in particular are having the most trouble finding employment opportunities after college.

In its report, they identified eight workplace-focused technical skills that are “in high-demand among employers” and which drastically improve labor market prospects, especially for liberal arts grads. These skills are marketing, sales, business, social media, graphic design, data analysis, computer programming and IT networking.

The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to learn them in a classroom. Nearly all can be developed during broader college experiences, such as extracurriulars, or can be learned through internships, explains Matt Sigelman, the firm’s CEO. “Simply by accruing even one of these you roughly double the amount of job opportunities available.” Similarly, Koru identifies seven of its own ‘competencies’ that help distinguish students – grit, rigor, impact, polish, teamwork, ownership and curiosity.

Some of today’s most in-demand employers look for a variety of skills. Large companies such as Goldman Sachs and J. Walter Thompson both cited that instead of hiring students with Ivy League diplomas, there is an emphasis on hiring self-driven individuals who show “an entrepreneurial spirit,” according to a Goldman Sachs spokesperson. Successful hires at JWT are “innovative problem-solvers” and “have awareness to other people and cultures,” says Stacey Klein, head of human resources at J. Walter Thompson North America.

Among some of the other key qualities listed by employers were teamwork, adaptability, and communication. A university recruiter at Microsoft, Anthony Rotoli, highlights potential candidates who are “willing to take risks” and “offer a fresh perspective.” Many of Microsoft’s college hires need to be “self-motivated and excited about technology” to succeed. In the NACE survey, 160 employers nation-wide responded with the specific skills they look for:

Reprinted with permission of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder.

The NACE survey also examined employers’ hiring expectations by major. At the top of the list is engineering, with 72.1% of respondents looking for graduates in that field. Unsurprisingly, business (68.2%) and computer sciences (57.8%) are also successful majors in the job market. At the bottom of the list ranks health sciences, education and agriculture. Only 11% of employers were interested in hiring humanities majors, and 10% for the social sciences.

Despite this lack of enthusiasm to hire humanities students right after graduation, “Liberal education is better preparation for the global economy and the complicated world we live in precisely because it prepares students to be adaptable,” argues Carol Quillen, president of Davidson College.

With regard to the so-called debate’ between the liberal arts and STEM subjects – the real winners are liberal arts graduates with internship experience,  says  SymplicityCEO Bill Gerety, which facilitates matchmaking between students at large partner colleges, such as NYU and Notre Dame, and big brand name partners, like Google. While STEM grads have more opportunities and higher pay in the short term, the “real-world experience and outside-the-classroom learning” of liberal arts students give them “a unique edge,” he says.

Overall, the AACU study found that as opposed to the major or skills sets, what most employers continue to highlight is having both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of skills as most crucial for recent college graduates to achieve career success.

Reprinted with permission from Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success. Copyright 2015 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

A resume with both of these ranges can prove to be crucial – employers placed the greatest values on demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that “cut across all majors.” Peter Cohen, group president of U.S. Education at McGraw-Hill Education, believes that today’s employers ultimately “need people that have skills that transcend the educational content they get.”

Source: Forbes

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