7 Core Competencies Shape Career Readiness for College Graduates

Many college students – and their parents – mistakenly think that obtaining a college degree automatically leads to a good job and a successful career. However, graduates who are not “career ready” will find it more difficult to obtain employment and thrive in the workplace. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recently released […]

BY Terri Williams

7 Core Competencies Shape Career Readiness for College Graduates

Many college students – and their parents – mistakenly think that obtaining a college degree automatically leads to a good job and a successful career. However, graduates who are not “career ready” will find it more difficult to obtain employment and thrive in the workplace.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recently released a fact sheet defining 7 core competencies that form career readiness:

  1. Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  2. Oral/Written Communications
  3. Teamwork/Collaboration
  4. Information Technology Application
  5. Leadership
  6. Professionalism/Work Ethic
  7. Career Management

GoodCall assembled a team of experts to explain the importance of each competency and also suggest ways to develop them.

Most resumes list accomplishments, college courses, and jobs and responsibilities that don’t apply to the candidate’s long-term career goals, according to J. Lance Reese, COO of the LIMU Company in Lake Mary, Florida. “ I read between the lines in these resumes – are they giving me an obituary of responsibilities and duties?  Or are they telling me what they can do for me and my company?” Reese’s comments are indicative of the dilemma employers face when deciding on candidates, and why these core competencies are so important.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking and problem solving skills are necessary components of workplace success, according to Rod Adams, U.S. recruiting leader at PricewaterhouseCooper.  “Reflection, analysis and planning all drive achievement, innovation and deep understanding, which are instrumental to success,” says Adams. “Problem solving skills are necessary at all levels – whether you’re a millennial right out of college or the CEO of a company.”

Oral and written communication

Some people mistakenly think that strong communication skills are only vital for employees who write proposals and conduct presentations, but Adams says these skills are necessary for all employees. “It is important to cultivate a clear communication style that not only gets your ideas and messages across, but also helps you connect and convince other people,” says Adams. “Communicating with authenticity allows you to be engaged and engaging.”

Adams adds that strong communication is not about memorization. “It is about knowing your message so thoroughly that you can easily and confidently share your ideas so others will walk away with a clear, cohesive, and consistent understanding of who you are and what you have to offer.”

And Lauren Griffin, senior vice president of Adecco Staffing USA explains that regardless of the industry, the growth of cross-office collaboration and social media tools increases the need to communicate effectively. “It’s also critical that you be aware of non-verbal communication conveyed through body language and facial expressions. As you seek to make a good impression with a new employer, try to exude enthusiasm even if you are given a difficult task.”     


This is one of the skills that may be as important as technical ability or work history. “Even if you are capable of handling the workload, your interpersonal skills – like the ability to be a team player, build strong relationships, and effectively manage conflict – or the lack thereof, could make or break a hiring manager’s decision as they determine which candidate is the right fit,” warns Griffin.  When applying for a job, Griffin says to make sure your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile highlight the ability to work well with others.

IT application

“The world is changing around us—and fast; businesses are feeling the unprecedented impact of rapid demographic changes, economic shifts, increasing resource scarcity, urbanization, and technology breakthroughs,” says Adams. And as a result, he says that companies want employees with skills in data analytics and information management because this data helps to drive innovation and lead change.


Leadership is often confused with management, but according to Reese, the two have nothing in common. “Anyone can be a leader, regardless of position,” says Reese.

“I’m looking for a resume that reflects the exhibition of leadership skills, independent of whether the candidate ever managed people.”

And Adams adds, “Leadership skills prove that you learn from your experiences, take the time to develop your personal approach to work, lead others to be the best they can be, act with integrity and uphold professional standards at all times.”

Professionalism/work ethic

Our experts had the most comments about this competency. Aaron Michel, co-founder and CEO at PathSource, says, “These skills cannot be overvalued in the job market. For recent college graduates who are trying to prove themselves, what they do doesn’t necessarily impress as much as how they do it.” Michel says just being on time and behaving responsibly can leave a strong impression.

Taking the initiative is also an important part of this competency. Griffin says employers are looking for reliable self-starters who can do the job right the first time. “Managers have their own responsibilities to attend to and cannot micromanage an employee’s every move.”

And Adams warns candidates to remember that they’re building their personal brand. “It’s always a good idea to make sure that your social media persona reflects you appropriately, so research yourself on the web to see what can be found about you.” He advises taking action to correct anything that could negatively impact a candidate’s reputation.

Adams also advises candidates to use tools like LinkedIn to build their credibility and visibility within their professional network. “Branding is a journey, not a destination – and each interaction is an opportunity to build your brand. Make sure to be clear on what you want to be known for and be compelling in how you share your story with others,” says Adams.

Career management

Career management may be an unfamiliar term to many people, and since Michel’s company, PathSource, is a career exploration company, we asked him to explain this often overlooked skill set. “Many young professionals believe that if they just work hard, they’ll organically advance in their career, but the truth is that graduates need to be able to define their career path and recognize opportunities that can help them achieve their personal goals,” says Michel. He notes this involves taking advantage of opportunities to learn from professionals that they admire.

Michel also advises college students to engage in career exploration early to make sure they’re on the right career path, and then nurture and develop their careers to continue growing professionally.

How to gain core competencies

College students are in the perfect environment to develop many of these seven competencies. “No matter your passion—sports, academics, volunteerism, etc. — you can absolutely find an outlet for expanding your leadership responsibilities and fine tuning your teamwork, critical thinking, communication, and other skills,” says Tonya Lain, regional vice president of Adecco Staffing USA.

For example, she says that most college students are involved in some type of extracurricular club or activity. “However, those job applicants that stand out to employers will be those who are both committed to a particular club or activity for multiple years, and pursued leadership titles within that organization,” says Lain. She explains that this type of involvement tells employers that the student would be willing to commit to, and grow with, their company.

“Greek organizations, student government, theater troupes, and sports teams are obvious examples of groups that can provide an opportunity to develop a variety of skills,” says Lain. However, she realizes that not everyone will have the time and/or money to devote to these types of organizations, and recommends that students join groups that fit their schedule and budget.

“For example, if you love tennis, but can’t commit to the Varsity team, consider joining or starting a club tennis team that meets casually once a week. Or perhaps, you love the idea of being part of a social organization, but would prefer not to pay dues.” Lain says that there are other types of on-campus organizations that can provide the same type of teambuilding, leadership, communication, and critical thinking skills as a Greek organization without the cost or time commitment.

And Lain says that students who work part-time are also gaining valuable skills. “Showing that you juggled school and work, and took on financial responsibility, shows not only leadership but also maturity and skillful time management,” says Lain.