This Is What Really Matters to Potential Employers


Over 22 million Americans are currently enrolled in colleges or universities. Every year the numbers grow as college becomes more accessible thanks to online schooling and the prevalence of community colleges and satellite campuses.  During the 2015-16 school year 1.8 million bachelor’s degrees and 802,000 master’s degrees were awarded. Since only about 25% of the American job market currently requires a degree, competition for entry-level positions is fierce. Only 70% of college graduates in the labor force have year-round, full-time jobs. But the graduates that do have full-time employment earn more than twice as much per year on average as their peers who only have a high school diploma. The degree is worth the time and energy that you put into it but you must also prepare for the job market. Today’s employers want more than a degree. They want leaders, thinkers, collaborators, and innovators. Here are nine things employers want:

  • Leadership skills – people who can work well in teams, in person and via electronics
  • Ability to collaborate – especially with people different from themselves
  • Oral communication skills – able to effectively speak with people in and out of the organization
  • Ability to plan and prioritize – able to organize work efficiently and meet deadlines
  • Ability to think critically –   active thinkers capable of solving complex problems independently
  • Ability to process data – obtain and analyze information effectively
  • Written communication skills – ability to write and edit clear memos and reports
  • Computer skills – able to work in a fully digital world
  • Winning personality – tactfulness, friendliness, able to influence others

The good news is these are universal skills that you can learn by studying any major, participating in a variety of activities, and working at any part-time job. The key is to effectively communicate to future employers that you have these skills through your resume, cover letter, and the interview process. It doesn’t matter if you studied history or business, sociology or Russian, you have the skills you need to look good to a future employer. Think of a time when you lead a group project in class. Describe how you had to plan, manage your team, prioritize and present. Did you have an internship? If so, even better, you can provide real-world examples of critical thinking or persuasive communication. You should also spell out specific responsibilities you’ve had at previous jobs and be specific. Future employers like to see a history of actual work. If you were a lifeguard at the YMCA then say you supervised 125 swimmers in the pool and supervised 3 junior lifeguards. Discuss how you communicated problems at the pool with the YMCA staff and collaborated with the swimming instructors to ensure a safe environment for all swimmers. Your summer lifeguarding job would easily demonstrate not only a strong work ethic and reliability but leadership skills, communication skills, the ability to prioritize and collaborate, and a winning personality to a future employer if presented effectively.

Only 70% of college graduates in the labor force have year-round, full-time jobs.

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Leadership does not have to happen in the workplace to teach you skills that employers want. Do you conduct the school orchestra? Put that on your resume. Are you the treasurer of a sorority with 150 members paying 1000 each per year? That means you manage a $150,000 budget. Put that on your resume. Are you on the swim team? That means you have trained for at least 15 hours a week for the last 16 years.  Put it on your resume. Did you coordinate the school-wide blood drive? Put it on your resume. Are you the president of the Chess Club? Put it on your resume? Are you a black belt in karate and teach self-defense classes at a battered women’s shelter? Put it on your resume.

While you are doing all of these amazing things and building up your resume, remember that you are building an online image as well. Be sure that the images that you post on social media sites show you doing the types of things you want future hiring managers to see you doing later. Your online profile is permanent. Even deleted images can be unearthed if someone really wants to find them. Excellent candidates have lost jobs over tasteless or offensive remarks on social media.

Burning Glass Technologies, a job market research firm, recently published a study where they analyzed 25 million online job postings from more than 40,000 employers. They identified that more and more employers are seeking soft skills. These are basic skills like writing, communicating, and organization. The ability to be an active listener and to clearly explain technical concepts to others is an especially sought-after skill in today’s marketplace. Not everyone graduates from college with strong soft skills, if you fall into that category then you can fix it. Read some books, do some online tutorials, take a public speaking class, take a technical or creative writing class, and practice your interview skills. Then be sure to showcase your soft skills when you apply for jobs.

Hart Research Associates conducted a survey focusing on the skills needed to succeed in the workforce. They discovered that employers value written and oral communication, leadership, decision-making, and critical thinking. Critical thinking is the ability to synthesize data, self-monitor, and self-correct while engaging in open-minded thinking that leads to action or understanding. The research indicates that though these things are very important to employers, students and job seekers do not realize their value. Students tend to rate foreign language skills and diversity awareness much higher on the surveys than communication, leadership, decision making, and critical thinking so that means they are emphasizing those traits on their resumes. Since these are not the things employers are looking for the job seekers and employers are not matching up. Modern resumes need to reflect what modern employers want!


The Millennial generation also has a stereotype to overcome when seeking a job. They are perceived as the Me, Me, Me Generation. They are often called entitled, narcissistic, lazy, and technology addicted in the press. People say that Millennials can’t write because they grew up texting and can’t perform simple math in their heads because of their reliance on computers.  If you are a Millennial and you are entering the workforce, you will need to work extra hard to rise above the stereotype and stand out from your peers. One of the best ways to do this is by showing a history of actual work or an internship. It is much easier to showcase your leadership and critical thinking skills when you have real-world experiences to talk about.

Only 10% of college students currently do internships, yet internships dramatically increase your likelihood of getting a job. In fact, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, all the most important things to employers hiring new graduates were experiences outside of academics: internships, jobs, volunteering, and extracurricular. Your GPA is the last thing they look at and the reputation of your college hardly matters at all. If an internship isn’t feasible then maybe a job or volunteer opportunity closely related to your chosen profession is doable. For example, future lawyers can volunteer with the Americorps in their legal aid division. Future scientists can do grunt work in labs and future business men can start out in mailrooms. Every job looks good on a resume, related to your future career or not, if you think about how you made decisions, lead others, communicated effectively, thought critically, and planned strategically while you were there.

Only 10% on college students currently do internships, yet internships dramatically increase your likelihood of getting a job. In fact according to the Chronicle of Higher Education all the most important things to employers hiring new graduates were experiences outside of academics: internships, jobs, volunteering, and extracurricular.


College is a stepping stone to a successful career. The goal is to graduate and to get an emotionally and financially satisfying job. Along with choosing the right classes and picking the right major, you need to plan ahead in order to look good to future employers. Make space in your calendar to volunteer. Don’t just give an hour here and there so that you can say that you did it, find something that you really feel passionate about and get heavily involved. See it as an opportunity to do some good in the world and a chance to write about leadership and organizational skills on your resume. Get a job, a job where you learn things and earn money. The money that you earn will be a nice benefit but the chance to put real-world experience on your resume will be invaluable. It will make you stand out from the other recent graduates. It will show that you can prioritize – school and work, get along with others and show up on time. If you have the opportunity to do an internship, take it! Internships are worth their weight in gold. Like scholarships, they are worth searching for, traveling to, and competing to get. You are gaining real-world experience in your field, networking with professionals, proving yourself to potential references, and setting yourself up for success. Statistically speaking internships are the very best thing you can do for yourself besides graduating to insure a full-time job.

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