Top Skills Employers Seek in College Graduates

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As new college graduates begin to enter the workforce, hiring managers will be expecting them to have developed a certain skill set. To prepare for any job interview, it is important to know the top skills that will make you an ideal candidate.

Whether you earn your college degree online or in a classroom setting, it is crucial to be aware of these attributes and decision influencers to best position yourself for success in the future. In this Bold blog, we will cover what attributes employers seek, and the influence of attributes on a final hiring decision.

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What Are the Skills Employers Seek from an Ideal Candidate?

There are a number of vital skills employers are looking for when considering candidates to hire. Knowing what those skills are can help recent college graduates in their professional development.

According to a variety of research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), and a variety of private surveys completed on the subject, we have compiled a list of the attributes most vital to candidates as they apply for jobs within their specialty or area of emphasis.

We will cover the top 19 skills in order of importance, starting with the most important attributes employers look for when making a hiring decision.

While you're here, take a look at these jobs to get while in college!

Leadership Skills

The attribute with the biggest influence on an employer's decision when looking at a possible candidate is leadership. CEOs and leaders around the world have attempted to articulate what leadership means to them and their respective organizations. Suffice it to say, it is highly important to take the time to understand the totality of leadership and begin making strides towards improving your leadership skills.

Leadership skills can be developed over time with a focus on personal growth, taking initiative, voraciously reading, learning to ask better questions, improving your communication skills, enhancing decision-making capabilities, and learning to be a more effective listener.

Ability to Work in a Team

The next most important attribute right behind leadership is the ability to work on a team. The teamwork skills rolled into this attribute are centered around the P21 4 Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. As you develop each attribute to become a more effective team member, you will open up a world of opportunities to lead groups and projects.

Written Communication Skills

Developing solid written communication skills comes from years of practice and a dedication to growing your ability to communicate effectively with a wide variety of people in a variety of formats. As with most types of communication, it is not only how you say it but also what is said.

Honing your craft and being an effective communicator is not a singular event; but rather, a process of improving your set of communication skills over time. Writing an effective letter, memo, or email is comprised of understanding your audience, proper format, composition, style, structure, grammar, and editing.

a job candidate in the middle of an interview

Verbal Communication Skills

Being efficient in oral communication is a lifelong skill. Improving your verbal communication skills starts with an acute awareness of your non-verbal communication. If you begin a conversation with an open, affirming non-verbal communication approach, the other person will be more receptive and engaged in what you have to say.

Other important features of oral communication are to speak with empathy and confidence, vary tonality, and always pause before responding.

Problem-Solving Skills & Critical-Thinking Skills

Growing your problem-solving skills takes time to develop as your knowledge base and worldview will ebb and flow over time. Developing a system for critical thinking may include: problem identification, gathering information, generating solutions, choosing a solution, and evaluating the results.

Specific skills to work on may include improving your analytic ability, persistence, logical reasoning, initiative, and lateral thinking.

Strong Work Ethic

Building a strong work ethic is the next most important attribute employers seek when considering a candidate. Maya Angelou once quipped, "nothing will work unless you do," and it's an appropriate statement as you work to be a better-balanced, more disciplined professional.

Analytic and Quantitative Skills

Developing strong analytic and quantitative skills is a habit of mind to apply data to solve a wide range of problems. Quantitative skills emphasize information with a specific context to better interpret real-world problems while an adjacent field like mathematics often grapples with generalized abstractions. Spend time learning more about analytic and quantitative disciplines to improve your current skill set today.

Technical Skills

Developing a set of robust technical skills is vital in today's workforce. The need for technical skills permeates every industry, from education to healthcare, with ever-growing importance in the workplace.

How to best improve your technical skills comes in the form of reading technical books, immersing yourself in technical classes, and learning new skills (coding, computer hardware, software applications, games).

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Initiative

In Reed W. Larson's research article on youth development, he cites initiative as a core aspect of positive youth development. Initiative can be formed and shaped through school activities, sports, clubs, and volunteering, when intrinsic motivation, focus, and persistence coalesce.

Computer Skills

As with technical skills, great knowledge of computers is essential to thriving in the 21st Century. In fact, we have heard from many students that have elected to take additional courses to improve and enhance their computer skills during or after college.

By maintaining a lifelong learning mindset and remaining curious about the world around you, adding new skills will be an interesting process instead of a chore. A world of options exists from top-rated Carnegie Mellon University to your local community college, along with a variety of online tools like Coursera.

Flexibility and Adaptability

In order to be more flexible, we need to work on stretching ourselves. Examples may include stretching our goals, stepping out of our comfort zone, having confidence in the future, investing in the pending change, and working to overcome irrational fears. Learning to adapt to change is a vital life skill that employers will look for in any industry and any position.

Interpersonal Skills

The key to improving your interpersonal skills is to imagine how you would like to be treated by others. Interpersonal skills can be improved and enhanced through repetition, exposure, and analysis by coaching, leading, mentoring, negotiating, collaborating, and relationship building.

Employers crave quality team members who have the know-how to get the work done along with the ability to positively interact with others in a group setting.

Detail Orientation

In order to work on becoming more detail-oriented, you will need to establish a system to efficiently analyze information, stay organized, manage your time better, and double-check your work before being published. You'll tend to notice things that others might not, which leads to quality work.

Organization Skills

Being more organized in work or in life is a desirable skill with immediate results. To begin working on your organization skills, try using a time-planning system then prioritize your activities by writing them down and attacking the most important items first. Scheduling your day in advance will allow you to plan early, better manage your time, be more productive, and leave more time for discretionary activities.

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Strategic Planning Skills

Strategic planning is the process that encompasses the way people view, think, and create a future. Enhancing your strategic planning skills in the workplace is an important skill to develop from the executive level of the organization to your first-line managers.

Invest in your strategic planning skills and those people around you in an effort to expand your horizons and lay the foundation for the many iterations of strategic planning sessions to come.

Amiable and Outgoing Personality

Employers consider amiability as a valuable personal characteristic to enhance the culture of an organization and help teammates gel with one another. Having an outgoing personality shows a genuine interest in other people plus a level of warmth and curiosity that people gravitate towards.

Other benefits of being amiable may include leadership opportunities, improved interpersonal interactions, and more rapid advancement opportunities.

Entrepreneurial Skills

The spirit of an entrepreneur is about possessing disciplined courage. The gumption to take risks coupled with a thoughtful analysis of a situation is required prior to making an important decision. Bringing that sort of moxie to the workplace has true benefit to an organization, large or small, but must be tempered with a degree of objectivity.

Diplomacy

Being a person with tact and diplomacy in the workplace means they possess restraint, can effectively articulate a situation, and work to build bridges between people and groups. Professionals with a high degree of diplomacy are often great listeners, empathetic, and polite yet often assertive. Working to improve your tact and diplomacy is an important life skill laudable for any professional.

Creativity

The final attribute employers find to be a valuable differentiator is creativity. The Institute of Education Sciences has dozens of ideas on how to improve your creativity or learn more from this video lecture with creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson.

Taking an existing idea and improving upon it or synthesizing disparate information to arrive at a novel solution takes a high degree of creativity. Where do you find creative inspiration?

For more information about careers post college, check out this blog discussing a review of the Jobtest.org Career Test!

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What Attributes Impact an Employer's Hiring Decision the Most?

When an employer is faced with a series of job candidates that have very similar attributes, the following list was cited as important qualifiers by employers when making a final decision. The following candidate attributes are listed in order of importance starting with the most impactful attribute:

  1. The candidate has held a Leadership Position. The more leadership opportunities you have during your time at college, the better equipped you will be in the workforce. This attribute permeates every industry and every job type imaginable. Leadership matters!
  2. College Major. If you have a major in Psychology and you are applying for a Real Estate Project Manager job, you are less likely to be offered the position without other compensating factors.
  3. GPA. Your GPA is a reflection of your strong work ethic and mental horsepower over time. Employers consider this an indicator of future success within their organization.
  4. Extracurricular Activities. A solid set of extracurricular activities display a high degree of involvement and is often a well-rounded candidate. If your extracurricular activities are a bit light, consider investing your time in quality programs to add heft to your resume.
  5. School Attended. Employers will consider your college experience in its totality, including the school you attend. Understand this can be a determining factor when all other factors from other candidates are similar.
  6. Volunteer Work. Invest in your community by volunteering. A passion for helping others is an important reflection of your character.
  7. Fluency in other Languages. The world is a venerable melting pot and having multiple languages in your toolbox can tip the scales in your favor during the interview process.
  8. Studied Abroad. A sense of adventure and self-confidence are valuable traits to employers. Make sure to highlight your time overseas if you had the opportunity to study abroad during your college tenure.

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