There are a number of vital skills employers look for when considering candidates to hire. Whether you earn your college degree in a classroom setting or online, it is crucial to be aware of these attributes and decision influencers to best position yourself for success in the future. We will cover two primary components in this article: attributes employers seek and influence of attributes on a final hiring decision.
What are the attributes employers look for from an ideal candidate?
According to research from academic organizations, including the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), and a variety of private surveys completed on the subject, we have compiled a list of the attributes most vital to candidates as they apply for jobs within their specialty or area of emphasis. We will cover the top 19 factors in order of importance, starting with the most important attributes employers look for when making a hiring decision.
Leadership. The attribute with the biggest influence on an employer’s decision when looking at a possible candidate is leadership. CEO’s and leaders around the world have attempted to articulate what leadership means to them and their respective organizations. Suffice it to say, it is highly important to take the time to understand the totality of leadership and begin making strides towards improving your leadership skills. Leadership skills can be developed over time with a focus on personal growth, taking initiative, voraciously reading, learning to ask better questions, improving your communication skills, enhancing decision making capabilities, and learning to be a more effective listener.
Ability to effectively work in a team. The next most important attribute right behind leadership is the ability to work on a team. The skills rolled into this attribute are centered around the P21 4 C’s: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. As you develop each attribute to become a more effective team member, you will open up a world of opportunities to lead groups and projects.
Written communication skills. Developing solid written communication skills comes from years of practice and a dedication to growing your ability to effectively communication with a wide variety of people in a variety of formats. As with most types of communication, it is not only how you say it but also what is said. Honing your craft and being an effective communicator is not a singular event; but rather, a process of improving your set of communication skills over time. Writing an effective letter, memo, or email is comprised of understanding your audience, proper format, composition, style, structure, grammar, and editing.
Problem solving skills. Growing your problem solving skills takes time to develop as your knowledge-base and world-view will ebb and flow over time. Developing a system for analyzing a problem may include: problem identification, gathering information, generating solutions, choosing a solution, and evaluating the results. Specific skills to work on may include improving your analytic ability, persistence, logical reasoning, initiative, and lateral thinking.
Strong work ethic. Building a strong work ethic is the next most important attribute employers seek when considering a candidate. Maya Angelou once quipped, “nothing will work unless you do,” and it's an appropriate statement as you work to be a better balanced, more disciplined professional. Saint Leo University has developed a succinct, informative blog post to help you improve your work ethic today.
Analytic and quantitative skills. Developing strong analytic and quantitative skills is a habit of mind to apply data to solve a wide range of problems. Quantitative skills emphasize information with a specific context to better interpret real-world problems, while an adjacent field like mathematics often grapples with generalized abstractions. Spend time learning more about analytic and quantitative disciplines to improve your current skill set today.
Technical skills. Developing a set of robust technical skills is vital in today’s workforce. The need for technical skills permeates every industry from education to healthcare with an ever-growing importance in the workplace. How to best improve your technical skills comes in the form of reading technical books, immersing yourself in technical classes, and learning new skills (coding, computer hardware, software applications, games).
Verbal communication skills. Improving your verbal communication skills is a lifelong skill that starts with an acute awareness of your non-verbal communication. If you begin a conversation with an open, affirming non-verbal communication approach the other person will be more receptive and engaged in what you have to say. Other important features of improving your verbal communication is to speak with empathy, confidence, vary tonality, and to always pause before responding.
Initiative. In Reed W. Larson’s research article on youth development, he cites initiative as a core aspect of positive youth development. Initiative can be formed and shaped through school activities, sports, clubs, volunteering when intrinsic motivation, focus, and persistence coalesce. For additional ideas on how to increase your level of initiative at work or school, take a moment to read this article.
Computer skills. As with technical skills, a great knowledge of computers is essential to thrive in the 21st Century. In fact, we have heard from many students that have elected to take additional courses to improve and enhance their computer skills during or after college. By maintaining a lifelong learning mindset and remaining curious about the world around you, adding new skills will be an interesting process instead of a chore. A world of options exists from top-rated Carnegie Mellon University to your local community college along with a variety of online tools.
Flexibility and adaptability. In order to be more flexible, we need to work on stretching ourselves. Examples may include stretching our goals, stepping out of our comfort zone, having confidence in the future, investing in the pending change, and working to overcome irrational fears. Learning to adapt to change is a vital life skill that employers will look for in any industry and any position. The United States Coast Guard has a great training module on flexibility and adaptability that is sure to stretch anyone.
Interpersonal skills. Author Allison Kay simply states the key to improve your interpersonal skills is to imagine how you would like to be treated by others. Interpersonal skills can be improved and enhanced through repetition, exposure, and analysis by coaching, leading, mentoring, negotiating, collaborating, and relationship building. Employers crave quality team members who have the know-how to get the work done along with the ability to positively interact with others in a group setting.
Detail orientation. In order to work on becoming more detail oriented, you will need to establish a system to efficiently analyze information, stay organized, manage your time better, and double-check your work before being published. Inc. Magazine published an interesting article on what detail-oriented people notice. Are you one of them?
Organization skills. Being more organized in work or in life is a desirable skill with immediate results. To begin working on your organization skills, try using a time-planning system then prioritize your activities by writing them down and attacking the most important items first. Scheduling your day in advance will allow you to plan early, better manage your time, be more productive, and leave more time for discretionary activities.
Strategic planning skills. Strategic planning is the process that encompasses the way people view, think, and create a future. Enhancing your strategic planning skills in the workplace is an important skill to develop from the executive level of the organization to your first-line managers. Invest in your strategic planning skills and those people around you in an effort to expand your horizons and lay the foundation for the many iterations of strategic planning sessions to come.
Amiable and outgoing personality. Employers consider amiability as a valuable personal characteristic to enhance the culture of an organization and help teammates gel with one another. Having an outgoing personality shows a genuine interest in other people plus a level of warmth and curiosity that people gravitate towards. Other benefits of being amiable may include leadership opportunities, improved interpersonal interactions, and more rapid advancement opportunities.
Entrepreneurial skills. The spirit of an entrepreneur is about possessing a disciplined courage. The gumption to take risks coupled with a thoughtful analysis of a situation is requisite prior to making an important decision. Bringing that sort of moxie to the workplace has true benefit to an organization, large or small, but must be tempered with a degree of objectivity.
Diplomacy. Being a person with tact and diplomacy in the workplace means you possess restraint, can effectively articulate a situation, and work to build bridges between people and groups. Professionals with a high degree of diplomacy are often great listeners, empathetic, and polite yet often assertive. Working to improve your tact and diplomacy is an important life skill laudable for any professional.
Creativity. The final attribute employers find to be a valuable differentiator is creativity. Dozens of ideas on how to improve your creativity can be found in video with Sir Ken Robinson. Taking an existing idea and improving upon it or synthesizing disparate information to arrive at a novel solution takes a high degree of creativity. Where do you find creative inspiration?
What influence of attributes have the most impact an employer’s hiring decision?
When an employer is faced with a series of candidates that have very similar attributes, the following list was cited as important qualifiers by employers when making a final decision. The following candidate attributes are listed in order of importance starting with the most impactful attribute:
Candidate has held a leadership position. The more leadership opportunities you have during your time at college, the better equipped you will be in the workforce. This attribute permeates every industry and every job type imaginable. Leadership matters!
College major. If you have a major in Psychology and you are applying for a Real Estate Project Manager job, you are less likely to be offered the position without other compensating factors.
Your GPA is a reflection of you work ethic and mental horsepower over time. Employers consider this an indicator of future success within their organization.
Extracurricular activities. A solid set of extracurricular activities display a high degree of involvement and often a well-rounded candidate. If your extracurricular activities are a bit light, consider investing your time in quality programs to add heft to your resume.
School attended. Employers will consider your college experience in its totality including the school you attend. Understand this can be a determining factor when all other factors from other candidates are similar.
Volunteer work. Invest in your community by volunteering. A passion for helping others is an important reflection of your character.
Fluency in other languages. The world is a veritable melting pot and having multiple languages in your toolbox can tip the scales in your favor during the interview process.
Studied abroad. A sense of adventure and self-confidence are valuable traits to employers. Make sure to highlight your time overseas if you had the opportunity to study abroad during your college tenure.
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