Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Are College Students Emphasizing the Right Employment Skills?

We hear a lot about what skills are needed within the workplace from the perspective of the employer but we do not often hear about student perspectives. Research helps highlight how undergraduate and graduate students view the necessary skills to be successful in the workplace. It is surprising to find that both undergraduate and graduate students have some similarities but also some differences in their skill perception. 

Employers are regularly looking for a whole host of necessary skills from recent graduates. At 2006 survey entitled Are They Ready to Work found that employers valued work ethic, written and oral communication, teamwork / collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and ethics /social responsibility. With over 400 employer participants the survey can be seen as a strong benchmark for recruiter needs.

A survey conducted by Ingbretsen (2009) helped to further lend support to the skills employers request from recent graduates. Such skills were communication skills, work ethic, teamwork, and analytical skills. Such employers desire to find employees that know how to work in groups and use their analytical skills to solve important organizational problems. 

What employers view as important isn’t necessarily what students feel is important. Understanding the differences in perceptions might help narrow the gap through further education and encouragement. If employers are requesting one thing and new employees are emphasizing another then there is bound to be some initial friction as graduates adjust to new work roles.

Research conducted by English, Manton, Sami and Dubey (2012) helped to shed light on the differences in opinion between undergraduate and graduate students between the characteristics needed in the workplace.  A total of 153 graduate students and 360 undergraduate students were surveyed on 26 characteristics needed to be successful in the workplace. All of the students were either from a Business Administration or MIS course at A&M University.


-Integrity and Honesty were ranked first for both graduate and undergraduates.

-Strong work ethic was ranked second for both graduate and undergraduates.

-Both graduate and undergraduate students focused more on intrinsic qualities that included integrity, good work ethic, listening skills, common sense, self motivated, positive work attitude, maturity, problem solving ability and critical thinking skills.

-Undergraduates ranked maturity and critical thinking skills as higher than graduate schools.

-Both graduates and undergraduates ranked a positive attitude as high.

-The lowest rankings for both graduate and undergraduate students was cultural fit, prior work experience, extracurricular activities, and knowledge of a second language.

-Both graduate and undergraduate students ranked writing skills lower than studies conducted by others.


The study helps to create greater understanding of how undergraduate beliefs adjust when entering into graduate students. This also emphasizes how employer’s perspectives may not be the same as new employees entering into the market. Even with a number of differences there are plenty of similarities that can be emphasized for shared perspectives. Colleges can also provide stronger emphasis on employer desired characteristics while employers can enhance employee expectations through their training programs limiting any negative effects of divergence of beliefs.

English, D., Manton, E., Sami A. & Dubey, A. (2012). A comparison of the views of college of business graduate and undergraduate students on qualities needed in the workplace. College Student Journal, 46 (2).

Ingbretsen, R. (2009, February 18). What employers really look for when hiring a college graduate. Retrieved from

The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and Society for Human Resource Management. Are they really ready to work? 21 Century Skills

Are College Students Emphasizing the Right Employment Skills

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