Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

What skills do employers want from students and new grads?

During this time of year, many seniors will be pondering what they will be doing after graduation in April/May. As for juniors, they might be asked what internship opportunities they are interested in pursuing next summer. These reflections could raise a bit of anxiety if students have not put much thought into their career development or post-college pursuits. Thinking about these next steps is crucial to effective life-planning and decision-making.

When considering life after college, it is important to know the skills and attributes employers are looking for from today’s college graduates. At the University of Redlands, students develop a rich variety of valued skills throughout their academic and extracurricular experiences. Many of these skills are identified through surveys of employers and recruiters as being essential in the workplace.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys recruiters from across the country annually to measure the job outlook for new grads during the coming year. In each Job Outlook report, NACE shares the career readiness competencies that employers find essential to the success of an employee. Over the past few years, the same four competencies have consistently been chosen as the most essential (see the full list of NACE Career Readiness Competencies):

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving. The most sought-after competency by recruiters, critical thinking/problem solving includes the ability to exercise sound reasoning to analyze issues, make decisions, and overcome problems, as well as to obtain, interpret, and use knowledge, facts, and data in this process; this may require originality and inventiveness. Employers surveyed indicated they believed only 55.8 percent of new graduates were very to extremely proficient in this area. 
  • Professionalism/Work Ethic. This area includes demonstrating personal accountability and effective work habits, e.g., punctuality, working productively with others, time/workload management, and understanding the impact of non-verbal communication on professional work image. This competency also includes demonstrating integrity and ethical behavior, acting responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind, and learning from mistakes. Employers surveyed gave only 42.5 percent of new graduates high marks in professionalism/work ethic. 
  • Oral/Written Communications. This includes articulating thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in written and oral forms to persons inside and outside of the organization, including public speaking skills, ability to express ideas to others, and capacity to write/edit memos, letters, and complex technical reports clearly and effectively. Employers indicated only 41.6 percent of new graduates were very to extremely proficient in this area.
  • Teamwork/Collaboration. This includes building collaborative relationships with colleagues and customers representing diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, religions, lifestyles, and viewpoints, as well as the ability to work within a team structure and negotiate and manage conflict. Those surveyed said 77 percent of new graduates were quite proficient in this area.

The low proficiency levels for three out of the four competency areas above (Oral/Written Communications, Professionalism/Work Ethic, and Critical Thinking/Problem Solving), represent a skills gap. While troubling, the gap does accentuate the competitive advantage many students could have if they develop and market these skills to employers effectively.

Knowing what employers are looking for, students can continue to make intentional decisions around their career development throughout their time in higher education and in their initial job search. In the Office of Professional Development, we consistently work with students to identify skills, experiences, and activities that effectively market their value proposition to potential employers. 

For University of Redlands students and alumni interested in discussing their career goals and development with us, feel free to visit the U of R Professional Development website to schedule an appointment with one of our career counselors. We look forward to working with you!