What Employers are Looking for in New College Graduates

Hand with marker writing: What Have You Learned?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) completed a survey of what employers are looking for in new college graduates this past September and published an article on their website on January 16, 2024 that highlighted their findings.

Those findings, although surprising in some details, were consistent with  another trend we reported last month (January 14th, 2024)of the significant drop in the college degree requirement for new hires. That trend really began in 2023 when 55% of surveyed businesses reported that they dropped the college degree requirement that year, and they expected the decline would continue throughout2024.

While the NACE survey looked at only college graduates and what employers were looking for in them, both studies agreed on many of the attributes. employers wanted to see in their candidates other than a college degree.

It is interesting that the NACE survey, although dealing with all college graduates, was less concerned about how well they performed in college (Grade averages) rather than other specific skills and attributes.

For example, since NACE does this type of survey every year, there has been a marked reduction, over time, in the number of employers who used Grade Point Averages (GPA) for screening applicants, i.e., 70% in 2017 to only 37% in 2023.

Considering all the data in the survey, this means that they considered college grades less important than 14 of the 20 screening attributes they were looking for, beginning with, Problem Solving Skills (88.7%), Ability to Work with a Team (78.9%), Communication Skills (72.7%), Strong Work Ethic (%71.6), (Flexibility/Adaptability (70.1%)etc..

So, these top five were considered almost twice as important as Grade Point Average (GPA) that a student earned in college. The results of these two studies, i.e., the percentage of businesses not requiring a college degree for entry level, and the fairly low percentage of employers that even considered GPA as an important attribute compared to 14 other abilities. This seems like an extraordinary shift in what businesses consider the most important criteria for hiring decisions. Let’s take a look at the 14 criteria that employers felt were more important than how well someone performed in college, i.e., GPA.

  • Problem Solving Ability.
  • Ability to work in a Team.
  • Communication Skills (Written)
  • Strong Work Ethic
  • Flexibility
  • Communications (Verbal)
  • Technical Skills
  • Analytic Skills
  • Initiative
  • Detail Oriented
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Computer Skills
  • Leadership
  • Organizational Skills

When you look at these 14 attributes, and especially taken together, a candidate who had a good share of them and even for a future executive, I think we all would agree that for most entry level jobs you would have the criteria for a very good candidate.

These results were for the NACE study that was only dealing with college graduates. The question needs to be asked, if an applicant scored well in the above 14 attributes, would you really care if he or she went to college or not?

I would say, no. So, here we can see the reasoning for the new trend reported in the other article of dropping the college graduate requirement completely.

What both articles seem to be saying is that if a candidate has certain attributes, relevant skills and experience, the college requirement can either be not necessary at all or, if college is necessary and completed, the candidate cannot depend on his degree alone, but needs to bring to the table a group of relevant skills and personal assets no matter where he developed them.

So, the assets, skills, and experience count more with employers than a college degree and many employers have already begun not to require a degree at all, and the trend for that standard is increasing.

The effect of these trends has caused fifteen 4-year colleges in the U.S. to close in 2023. There have also been a few mergers and acquisitions.

But these trends will be good for students who can save a lot of money and debt. If they focus on acquiring skills and add maybe a 2-year community college, still focusing on acquiring specific and useful skills, they could be well on their way to a good career.

Parents would do well to make note of these trends and ensure that their children start early in developing specific skills. Computer skills could be the start of writing and communication skills. Keeping a journal has many benefits and young people seem to be attracted to that activity naturally. Parents can also encourage their schools not to forget the teaching of specific skills.

In any case, I was happy to find out that there was a very real solution for young people to avoid the “debt prison” that many have ended up in just to get an education. Good news!

As always, stay safe and continue to pray for Ukraine, Russia, Israel, and Gaza.