A new study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) shows that for new college graduates in this tight economy, becoming the perfect job candidate is a tall order.
“Today’s employers have an extensive list of attributes, skills, and qualities they look for in their job candidates,” says Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director. “And that’s assuming that the candidate meets the employer’s basic criteria—including having the requisite major, course work, and GPA.” Nearly 70 percent of employers taking part in NACE’s Job Outlook 2009 study said they screen candidates by GPA (grade point average).
“For most, the cutoff is 3.0—or a ‘B’ average,” says Mackes. “If a student passes that hurdle, then the employer takes a look at other attributes.”
Among the skills, attributes, and qualities employers prize most are communication skills, a strong work ethic, ability to work in a team, and initiative.
“These are the type of skills and qualities that will help a new hire succeed as an employee and contribute to the organization,” says Mackes.
Employers also emphasize leadership experience. Asked to compare two otherwise equally qualified candidates, employers chose the one who had held a leadership position over the candidate who simply was involved in extracurricular activities.
Employers also expressed a preference for candidates with relevant work experience. “More than three-quarters of employers told us they prefer to hire candidates with relevant work experience,” says Mackes. “In this case, we’re talking about new college graduates who have taken part in internships or cooperative education assignments.”
The long list of wished-for candidate abilities and qualities is nothing new, says Mackes.
“We’ve been asking employers to describe their ‘ideal’ candidate for more than 10 years, and these same attributes are consistently identified as valued by employers,” she says. “But, in times like these when job opportunities are tight, it is perhaps even more important for job candidates to understand what employers want and find ways to demonstrate those qualities.”
About Job Outlook 2009: The Job Outlook 2009 Survey was conducted mid-August through October 3, 2008. The survey was sent to 1,199 employer organizations that hold NACE membership; 231, or 19.3 percent, responded. Of those responding, 54.1 percent are service sector employers; 41.1 percent are manufacturers; and 4.8 percent are government/nonprofit employers. By geographic location, 30.3 percent are from the Midwest; 28.1 percent are from the West; 24.2 percent are from Northeast; and 17.3 percent are from the Southeast.
NACE provides periodic updates on the job market and demand for new college graduates throughout the academic year. In early February, NACE will release results of its Salary Survey report, which will provide a first look at starting salary offers for new college graduates from the Class of 2009. NACE expects to release an update on hiring projections for the Class of 2009 in late winter/early spring.
About NACE: Since 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has been the leading source of information about the college job market. NACE maintains a virtual press room for the media. NACE is headquartered in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.