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What do employers look for in recent college graduates? (part 2)

Student Career Placement Consultant

In last week’s post, I wrote about five of the top attributes that employers look for when reviewing applications from recent college graduates, as reported on the 2016 NACE survey. I will continue that discussion here by describing some additional attributes that more than 50% of the employers identified as important on that survey and suggesting ways you can demonstrate these traits in the application process.

Sixth on the list was a “Strong work ethic” (68.9%), and if you’re applying for your first full-time job, you may wonder how you can demonstrate this trait. However, if you think about what that phrase means, you should be able to come up with activities or accomplishments to write or talk about during the application process. A strong work ethic involves having a sense of commitment to the organization, taking responsibility for completing assignments on time to the best of your ability, cooperating with others, and being productive. Your educational and extra-curricular activities can be a good source of examples for these traits, as well as any part-time jobs, internships, or volunteer work that you have completed.

The seventh most important trait identified by employers was “initiative” (65.8%). Any time that you have gone above and beyond what was required of you, you were showing initiative. You can also think about times when you came up with a new way to do something (such as earn money for a local charity or recruit new members for a club), were quick to adopt or implement a new idea, or figured out a way to help pay for your education (such as applying for little-known scholarships or finding lots of part-time jobs).

“Analytical/quantitative skills” are desirable attributes for 62.7% of employers, which is a significant percentage. Courses that you have taken (and done well in) in math, statistics, logic, philosophy, or any other course that required analyses can be useful ways to show that you have skills in this area.

Ninth on the list of attributes employers seek is “Flexibility/adaptability” (60.9%), and some research suggests that this trait is going to become even more important in the future. The ability to think quickly when faced with a sudden change in plans, undertake new challenges on short notice, keep calm in the face of difficulties, and plan ahead for alternative possibilities all demonstrate this trait.

Rounding out the top ten is “technical skills” (59.6%). Its relatively low rank may be surprising to many of you, as we see so much emphasis on technical skills in many life situations. However, what I think is really important is your willingness to learn new technical skills, not already having them. Every organization is likely to use software differently—either using different applications within the programs or using entirely different programs—and the expectation is that you will need to learn new technical skills with every position. So what is really important here is to include a section on your resume that identifies “technical skills” that you already possess so that you can demonstrate your ability to learn technical skills. And don’t forget that not all technical skills involve technology—knowing one or more foreign languages also demonstrates technical skills!


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