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Skills employers look for in college graduates

Highlight these abilities to help yourself land a job.

Skills employers look for in college graduates

Soft skills can take you far in the workplace.

Another day, another data set for new college grads who are about to enter the workforce.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2018 survey, there exists a handful of significant skills that employers are seeking from new college grads.

Unfortunately, last year only 44% of college seniors felt very prepared for their careers, according to a survey of more than 5,000 students by McGraw-Hill (as of the writing of this article, the 2018 report has not yet been published). Now, this isn’t necessarily a negative for you job-seeking college grads out there; it’s an opportunity to hone your skill set and show that you actually do have what it takes.

Below you’ll find the skills hiring managers say need to be part of the college grad repertoire. So if you’re on the hunt for an entry-level job, read on to learn what these skills are and how to master them.

Ability to work in a team

Unlike your career as a student, where you're really the only one who can make or break your success, the workplace depends on teams of people to get the job done. No surprise that 82.9% of hiring managers want to know you can work well with lots of different personalities. You'll need to learn how to delegate, take direction, value differences of opinion, and play to your and your co-workers' strengths and weaknesses. It goes without saying that nobody likes the employee who wants to hog the spotlight. Be sure to point out your co-workers' contributions to projects.

Critical thinking/problem-solving

This year, there was a tie for first place, as 82.9% of managers want to see new college graduates tout excellent problem-solving skills. Many hiring managers use behavioral interview questions—phrases such as "tell me about a time when" or "give me an example of"—to assess a job candidate’s critical-thinking ability. Thus, you’ll want to prepare anecdotes that paint you as a problem solver.

Granted, “it’s tough giving employers examples when you don’t have work experience yet,” says Los Angeles-based career coach Nancy Karas.

So you may not have a ton of work experience, but that doesn’t mean you have no experience whatsoever. After all, you must have experienced something in college. Guess what: That still counts.

“Think about times where you were proactive, innovative, or highly responsive to a challenge,” like that time you helped solve a customer complaint while working at the campus coffee shop, Karas says. Even better: Show that you took the initiative to identify a problem and then solved it.

Writing proficiency

The survey found that 80.3% of managers feel writing proficiency is the most desirable hard skill among recent college graduates. Submitting a well-crafted cover letter is crucial, but there are some other unconventional ways to highlight your writing chops.

If you volunteered to be the scribe for a group project in college, for example, include that on your resume, advises Dawn Bugni, a professional resume writer in Atkinson, North Carolina. Depending on the nature of the industry—marketing, communications or journalism to name a few—you might also bring writing samples with you to job interviews.


It’s a tall order: 72.6% of hiring managers want potential hires with great leadership skills. Believe it or not, there are ways you can show possible employers that you have leadership potential before you even enter the workforce.

If you held a leadership role in college (e.g., president of the French club), highlight it on your resume. If you emerged as the informal leader on a group project, talk about the experience during the job interview. Also, get letters of recommendation former internship managers that speak to your leadership skills.

Strong work ethic

You need to be committed to your job responsibilities and understand that doing your job is more than just means to a paycheck—after all, a company stands for something beyond business and so should you. That's why 68.4% of hiring managers want to see new hires demonstrate a strong work ethic. Show up on time, be engaged in your work, and act with integrity.

Highlight your skills on your resume

Now that you know which attributes to highlight in order to turn heads, you'll want to feature them prominently on your resume, in addition to your quantifiable achievements. Need help with that? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. Let Monster's experts show you how you can use your resume to signal to hiring managers that you've got what they're looking for.

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