Three Ways New Grads Can Impress Employers

By Alex Chediak Published on June 9, 2017

Let’s start with the good news: 2017 seems to be a good year for college hiring. A forecast from the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicates that employers expect to hire about 6% more graduates than last year. And starting salaries are up to about $50,000 — the highest in at least a decade.

Now for the bad news: A 2017 survey conducted by ICIMS Inc. found that almost one in three entry-level applications received are not qualified. And a 2016 survey conducted by PayScale and Future Workplace found that only 50% of hiring managers think that new employees are well prepared for the work force. With the job market getting stronger, this is a growing problem: Firms need to hire, but they’d prefer better candidates.

1. Pay Attention to How You Present Yourself

What seems to be the problem? Some of it is presentation. About 60% of recruiters said that candidates should become more familiar with the company or industry prior to the interview. A similar percentage think candidates fail to ask questions that are relevant to the position, such as day-to-day responsibilities. A whopping 74% of entry-level applicants fail to send a simple post-interview thank-you note. (Yes, that is still done. In my opinion, the best way to do a thank-you note is not just to express appreciation for their time but to briefly summarize what you bring to the table. This lets you showcase written communication skills. But don’t overdo it; if you’re pushy, it can backfire.)

2. Get as Much Work Experience as You Can

Presentation issues are fixable with a bit of training. But how about core competency issues? Relevant work experience is increasingly important to employers. Consistent with what I tell my students, 70% of recruiters said that internship experience is more valuable than a graduate’s GPA. In fact, two out of three employers say it takes two or three internships to be considered a top candidate for a job. That may sound like a high bar, but the average number of internships that candidates have is two. Four out of five students have at least one. This is a call for students to get busy using their summers in meaningful ways, starting from their earliest college days. A lot of people think you have to be a rising senior before you can land an internship — but that’s simply not true.

Why so much emphasis on work experience? Aside from this ICIMS Inc. survey, there seems to be a growing consensus that traditional college alone cannot produce the professionalism expectations that employers now expect. If you think about it, going to class and getting good grades is mostly a solo activity. It requires some intelligence and intrapersonal character – self-control, the ability to delay gratification. Succeeding in the work force requires interpersonal character — a positive attitude, the ability to speak clearly, social intelligence, flexibility, a desire to help the team. A GPA simply can’t measure these traits.

3. Pursue an Education, Not Just Credentials

What about hard skills? Employers want those too. The number one complaint is that new graduates lack critical thinking skills. The dictionary definition of critical thinking is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” In short, employers want to know if candidates can break down a problem and come up with a viable solution (perhaps one that can be tested). What should students do to develop critical thinking skills? Take challenging classes, ones with lots of reading, writing or problem solving requirements. And then spend lots of time studying. There’s really no short cut. What you major in isn’t the issue. Working at it rigorously is. Take the hard classes from the hard professors — the ones some students avoid because they don’t want to risk a hit to their GPA. They’re doing it wrong: Pursue an education, not just a credential.

Whatever your major, by communicating professionally during and after interviews, by pursuing work-related experiences with increasing challenge, and by working hard at the learning process, you’re more likely find employers eager for your services.

 

Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor at California Baptist University and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).

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