Skills employers look for in college graduates
Highlight these abilities to help yourself land a job.
Another day, another data set arguing that new college grads aren’t meeting employer needs in terms of skills.
According to a Payscale survey, there exists a significant skills gap between what employers want and the skills new college grads (don’t) possess.
For example, in the survey, 87% of college students said they feel “well prepared” for their first job, but only about half of hiring managers agreed.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a negative for you job-seeking college grads out there; it’s an opportunity to show that you actually do have what it takes.
Below you’ll find the five skills hiring managers say are not in 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.
The Payscale survey found that 44% of managers feel writing proficiency is the hard skill most lacking 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.
Overall, 60% of managers said this is the soft skill lacking the most among new college graduates. 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.
Attention to detail
This comes as a close second behind critical thinking skills, with 56% of hiring managers reporting that too few candidates possess attention to detail. Have a friend proofread your resume and cover letter for typos; Bugni says even a slight mistake (e.g., using “they’re” instead of “their”) can land your job application in the trash.
In fact, “you should proofread any correspondence you have with recruiters and hiring managers,” says Karas, so run emails to prospective employers through spell check or Grammarly’s free app before sending them. You could even hire a professional for resume help.
Moreover, your resume should include specific achievements that show you have a critical eye. If you worked as a lab assistant to a professor and spotted a small error that was throwing off a study’s results, for example, “that’s a transferable skill,” says Bugni.
Forty-six percent of hiring managers say candidates’ communication skills leave a lot to be desired. To ace your first impression, “make sure your cover letter is a clear, succinct and targeted message,” says Bugni. This will require you to do your research on the company—including reading its website, recent new stories, and social media feeds—and tailor your application to the specific organization.
Additionally, your communication skills are under a microscope during the job interview. Make sure you’re prepared by doing a mock interview with a friend, and focus on your posture, tone of voice and pacing.
Nervous? “Think of a job interview as a conversation instead of an interrogation,” says Karas.
It’s a tall order: 44% of hiring managers don’t see enough 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.