Job Outlook Study Reveals the Top 10 Skills Employers Want in College Grads

Posted By Terri Williams on June 16, 2015 at 12:29 pm
Job Outlook Study Reveals the Top 10 Skills Employers Want in College Grads

While academic knowledge is important, it’s not the only thing that employers use to screen and select job candidates. According to the Job Outlook 2015 study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), an applicant’s soft skills are also a determining factor.

Does this mean that students with poor grades and excellent soft skills have an advantage? Not at all. According to the report, many employers still screen candidates by GPA and have a 3.0 GPA cutoff.

However, a good GPA in and of itself may not be enough to land that dream job. For candidates that make the GPA cut, employers are also scanning resumes for evidence of certain skills and attributes.

When it comes to hiring new college graduates, the following 10 skills and qualities were ranked as most important to employers:

1. The ability to work in a team structure

2. The ability to make decisions and solve problems

3. The ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization

4. The ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work

5. The ability to obtain and process information

6. The ability to analyze quantitative data

7. Technical knowledge related to job

8. Proficiency with computer software programs

9. The ability to create and/or edit written reports

10. The ability to sell or influence others

Many of the skills employers look for are reflections of an employee’s emotional intelligence, according to Frances O. Thomas, a Fort Myers, Florida-based national certified counselor and the author of “You’re Not the Boss of Me: Empowerment Strategies for an Imperfect Workplace.”

Thomas explains, “Well-developed intrapersonal intelligence – understanding one’s own feelings – allows employees to manage time more effectively, for example, by knowing when they have the most energy to accomplish tasks.” On the other hand, Thomas says that interpersonal intelligence – understanding the feelings of others – is the keystone to teamwork and communication.

Based on her comments, GoodCall divided the top 10 skills into four broad categories and asked 10 experts to share their thoughts on each:


Sarah Burrows, Director of the Internship Program and Assistant Professor of Communications at Lasell College in Newtown, Mass., says teamwork sounds like a simple concept, but that may not always be the case. “If someone is ambitious and wants to get the job done well, they may not be that patient or collegial with team members who have a different work style or learning style.” She says that teamwork requires patience, empathy, and the willingness to put the team before the individual, and the project before one’s individual wants and needs.

Analytical decision making/problem solving

Employers want to hire graduates that are resourceful and don’t need to be helped along every step of the way, says Erik Episcopo, a career adviser and hiring manager at “This is not to say that companies are no longer willing to 
train entry-level employees, but the ability to solve a problem with little 
instruction is incredibly valuable as it helps the employer save time and 
money in the long run.”

And Dr. Don Mroz, President of Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut says being able to brainstorm shows an employer you are constantly working on new and innovative ways to better yourself and the work you produce. “Being able to find creative solutions to problems not only reflects your ability to be flexible, but also your effectiveness in handling situations under pressure.”

Oral and written communication

Your identity, your values, and your approach to work are all evident in the way you communicate. According to Brian Braudis, a Philadelphia-based executive coach and president of The Braudis Group Consultants, “College graduates who have the ability to communicate with clarity and conciseness demonstrate skill and attitude with how they carry themselves – posture and other non-verbal skills and attention to detail with delivery of their message.”

Establishing your brand and reputation is also tied to your communication skills. Ronald Kaufman, a Los Angeles-based executive coach, says “We’re always creating an impression in ourselves and others – it’s either going to be positive or negative, rarely in-between.” He says that learning how to communicate through the use of effective wording, sequencing of ideas, and body language – including tone of voice – is vitally important.

Every job will require graduates to interact with others in some way, whether it is with colleagues, clients, or the general public. “You need refined communication skills to help you convey information as you intend and as the company intends,” says Val Matta, vice president of business development at CareerShift in Jacksonville, FL. “As an employee, you are the face of the brand, and how you deliver a message affects how the target audience views that brand.”

Selling and influence

Salesmanship isn’t just for those who work in the sales industry. According to Brittany King, founder of Houston-based College to Career, “From a team member trying to convince the other members to adopt a strategy for executing on a deliverable, to a manager motivating employees to deliver stellar customer service, selling is a way of life.” As such, King says that sales shouldn’t be perceived as something that is used to manipulate or take advantage of people. “Rather, it should be used as a tool that better helps us carry out our jobs with excellence. Employers are not only open to individuals who posses solid sales skills, but they view individuals with sales skills as having a unique advantage.”

Work ethic

Although this skill was not on the list, Michael Mercer, PhD, a Chicago-based industrial psychologist who trains managers how to hire applicants, says that work ethic is another important trait that employers want. “Work ethic is showing up at work, showing up before the start of your scheduled
 work day, putting in at least a day’s work for a day’s pay, doing your work 
in a conscientious and thorough manner, and getting along with your boss and 
co-workers so you can get even more work done.”

Regardless of major, employers want new hires who can work well on teams, communicate well, and solve problems. “The good news for grads is that no matter what you have studied in school, whether it is sociology or physics, you will have had to learn skills like communicating, problem solving, working in teams, and critical thinking skills,” concludes Jennifer Lee Magas, an English professor at Fairfield University. “The trick is to effectively demonstrate that you have those skills through your cover letter, résumé and interview.”


Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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