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What do employers look for in recent college graduates?

Student Career Placement Consultant


The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducts a survey of employers each year to learn what they want to see on college graduates’ resumes. That survey provides a wealth of information that can be useful to students as they apply for jobs. In this post I’m going to summarize the top five attributes revealed by the most recent survey.

The two attributes that interested employers the most are two sides of the same coin: Leadership (80.1%) and Ability to work in a team (78.9%). How do you demonstrate on your resume or application that you have these traits? Your leadership and teamwork skills are most likely to be on display in one of two places: your extracurricular activities (including sports) or courses that required you to complete team projects. Details about positions you’ve held in your activities (elected offices such as president or treasurer of a club, appointed roles such as chair of a committee in your fraternity or sorority) should include specific accomplishments. For example, you can talk about new initiatives that you created for your campus organization, the amount of money your committee raised for a local charity, or the way you organized your team for a class project. Descriptions of the roles you played when you weren’t the leader are just as important, since they demonstrate that you work well with others, so think of examples that can clearly show both of these attributes. And don’t forget to include them on your 1stGig profile!

Problem-solving skills (70.2%) are easier to demonstrate in an interview than on your application materials, so you may need to think carefully about what you have accomplished that can show employers that you have this ability. If you have the opportunity to write a cover letter, you could devote a paragraph to a specific problem and how you solved it. Examples could include specifics about how you manage your time, how you worked with a difficult team, how you dealt with a personal issue such as a health problem within your family, or how you paid for your education. These are just examples to get you started thinking about what you may have done that can exemplify your problem-solving skills. Also, be aware that if you are granted an interview, you’re likely to be asked behavioral questions, many of which are designed specifically to get you to discuss your problem-solving skills. (You can read more about how to answer behavioral interview questions in the Resources section of this site.)

For many years, communication skills have shown up among the top five attributes that employers are looking for, and this year was no different. Strong writing skills were important to 70.2% of the respondents, and strong speaking skills were important to 68.9% of them. What this means for you is that your written application materials need to reflect your writing skills by being as perfect as you can make them. (See the Resources section of this site for suggestions on how to perfect those application materials.) It’s a bit more difficult to demonstrate strong speaking skills on a resume, but you can list any public speaking classes you may have taken or describe activities you were involved in that required public speaking. If your campus offers you the opportunity to join a chapter of Toastmasters International, take advantage of that as it will show employers that you recognize the importance of improving your speaking skills.

There are many other attributes that are important to employers, and I will describe more of them in a future post. 


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