13 Skills Employers Look For In College Graduates


The day of graduation is so exciting! You bask in the celebration of your most recent accomplishment with family, friends and classmates as you shake hands with mentors and professors that have gotten you to this moment. 

And then, as the celebrations come and go, it’s expected you get a real job. Though you might have thought that your degree was the key to unlocking professional success, there are still very specific skills that employers are looking for in recent college graduates that may or may not have been attained in the classroom.

Employers are looking for career readiness and for recent college graduates that have the ability to successfully transition into the workplace. Read on to learn the top 13 skills employers are searching for in college graduates and exactly how to master them. 

Willingness to Learn

College graduates should understand that they will have gaps in their understanding and that is okay. Instead, they should come to an interview with a base level of knowledge, but also with a willingness to learn and a willingness to make mistakes. Hiring people who want to learn and who are teachable is more valuable than hiring someone who thinks they know it all. I want a recent graduate who wants to be a sponge and soak up all of the knowledge the company has to offer. You don’t have to know it all, but you do have to be willing to learn.

Max Hansen, Y Scouts

Positive Attitude

A positive attitude is key, especially during a time of such widespread uncertainty. I am always looking for applicants who are willing to work hard and remain positive even throughout daily challenges and fluctuations. I am always impressed by those who go above and beyond what is required, and will do so with a smile on their face.

Monica Eaton-Cardone, Chargebacks911

Comprehension of Computer Science

We look for a solid comprehension of computer science and a genuine interest in our company and products. The same guidelines we use are valuable to any industry. There are various ways we can find evidence of these qualities, like degrees and certifications. We also look for evidence in extracurricular activities. Does the candidate have any work experience in the field? Did they join any clubs or organizations that furthered their skills? Have they provided any projects they’ve worked on?

Francesca Yardley, Threads

Eagerness to Develop Skills

We look for people who are eager to learn and excited to develop their skills. While experience and credentials certainly help, skills can be learned. We want people who actively want to continue growing and will be a part of our mission through their interpersonal and transferable skills. Things like problem-solving and leadership go a long way when it comes to entry-level positions.

Henry Babich, Stomadent Dental Lab 

Attention to Detail

It’s important to identify the skills (not experiences) required to succeed in the role upfront, prioritize those skills, and then design an evaluation system around it. For example, our firm values candidates with structured problem solving skills, and attention to detail. Thus, we look for evidence of that in a resume, and then ask candidates to demonstrate those skills in a variety of assessments during the interview process. Evaluations are then scored and weighted, which helps us identify the strongest candidates in an objective, evidence-based approach.

Ken Kanara, ECA

Initiative to be a Self Starter

All employers want to hire proactive and ambitious new grads. As a Career Coach, I guide college graduates to create a resume that communicates their initiative and their ability to be a self-starter. This can be demonstrated through volunteer work, internships and holding positions of leadership in school clubs. Initiative can also include taking on extra responsibilities or going above and beyond what is required of them in their employment during college.  

Mary Onorato, Career Development and Transition Coach

Openness to Accept Feedback

Curiosity will serve new team members well as they learn to navigate new systems and relationships. Many business leaders look to new grads to charge the business with fresh energy and ideas. Willingness to accept feedback is essential because no matter how smart we are, or what we learned in school, we can and should always be open to improving and acknowledge that we can do better! Feedback from others serves as a data point for what we can focus on to build our success.

Niki Ramirez, HR Answers

Persistence and Resilience

Persistence and resilience are my top two skills that I seek in a candidate. They can’t be found on a resume, or a LinkedIn profile, so I have a lot of conversations with college grads. I learn what makes them tick, and what motivates them. When I hear their grin on the other line of the phone, I know I did my job well.

Deborah Bubis, Recruiter and Sourcer

Knowing When and How to Ask Questions

I want to see graduates who can problem solve and be creative. It isn’t about having all the answers right now, rather that they are able to take what knowledge they currently have, and leverage that along with research to figure out how to get things done. Finally, I look for evidence that they know how and when to ask questions, including asking for help, in order to accomplish the tasks at hand.

Nicole Spracale, Coaching and Consulting

Team-Player Attitude

Managers/HR professionals hiring recent grads are looking for interpersonal skills and a constructive attitude that indicates a team player. While every company’s culture is different, most are grounded in team values. My most effective hiring manager hires those who have played a competitive team sport or activity either in college or high school. It should come as no surprise that the groups he oversees are the top-performing groups across our organization.

Ron Kubitz, Forms+Services

Maturity to Follow Through With Commitments

The three primary things I look for in a college graduate are the ability and hunger to learn, the humility to listen and take advice, and the maturity to follow through on their commitments. What they have learned in college is only a part of the equation. It is my experience that these attitudes will determine their altitude.

Philip Botha, Culture Advantage

“I Do Whatever Needs to Be Done” Attitude

At small companies, there are rarely separate people, let alone separate departments, to handle every task. There might be a bookkeeper and there will be an overall leader, but many tasks are done by whoever can do them. An “I do whatever needs to be done regardless of job title” attitude goes a long way in an interview. I’ve found many new graduates want to be used exclusively in the area they trained for, and would be better served going to a large company. Small companies can better employ flexible employees, so flexibility is something I look for in applicants.

Matthew Lee, Learning & Development Leader

Listen Hard, Change Fast

Recent college graduates need to demonstrate the ability to listen hard, and change fast. Too many candidates coming out of university life tend to listen lightly, and change slowly. There’s a lot to learn in the professional world coming out of school. The graduates who recognize that they are entering the workforce with a lot to learn have a lot of growth potential. Brett Farmiloe, Terkel

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