From the Director’s Desk – What Employers Look for in New College Graduates

I’m about to make students excited and possibly get my academic colleagues upset. Ready? A student’s GPA doesn’t matter when it comes to landing a job. Alright, settle down. That might be a little too simplistic. A better way to put it would be to say that the exact GPA number isn’t as important to an employer as it is to a student. It’s not that employers don’t care about GPA; they just understand that it is not necessarily representative of the abilities of a potential employee.

What are important to employers are the work-related competencies possessed by new college graduates. Coincidentally, the competencies that push a student to a high GPA are identical to the qualities that an employer looks for in a new college graduate.

Now that students realize they still need to study for class, let’s take a look at what employers do value in a new entry level hire. Here is a Top 10 list compiled by a recent national poll:

  1. 1. The ability to work well in teams—especially with people different from yourself
  2. 2. An understanding of science and technology and how these subjects are used in real-world settings
  3. 3. The ability to write and speak well
  4. 4. The ability to think clearly about complex problems
  5. 5. The ability to analyze a problem to develop workable solutions
  6. 6. An understanding of global context in which work is now done
  7. 7. The ability to be creative and innovative in solving problems
  8. 8. The ability to apply knowledge and skills in new settings
  9. 9. The ability to understand numbers and statistics
  10. 10. A strong sense of ethics and integrity

As you can see, nowhere on this list is a designation of a particular GPA or even a particular course of study. What employers are truly seeking in new college graduates are a set of “soft skills” that are hard to teach and need to be continually cultivated over time. The advantage to recent college graduates is that education, and specifically higher education, is a fantastic place to cultivate these skills. However, these soft skills are not necessarily represented by a GPA. They are the outcomes of a combination of experiences that education can provide: engagement, intellectual curiosity, motivation, introspection, and the benefit of being part of a community of learners.

If you look at the above list, there is no one class or major that instills all those qualities in a student. Yet, every class and every major plays a role. The best places to build those competencies are through experiential-based opportunities such as internships, research, studying abroad and service learning courses, where academic study comes to life. Students can also actively develop these soft skills through their involvement in leadership roles, student organizations, Greek life, work experiences, community service, and membership in professional and/or academic associations. In short, the entire academic experience that exists inside and outside of the classroom is the perfect recipe for developing the characteristics that employers highly value in new college graduates.

The message then to students is to expand their engagement and their effort to include experiential-based endeavors. Clearly, academic study is a vital ingredient to building all the qualities listed above. But it is by itself not enough. Employers are clamoring for individuals that can understand others, work creatively, solve problems, and are able to place their experiences into a global context.

Consider this: If you were at a job interview and the employer asked you to prove your competency in each of the 10 items listed above, how would you respond?

Use the time you are allotted here at the university to find the answer to that question.

Matt Caporale

Executive Director
UNH Career Development Center



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