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Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning Skills Employers Seek

Skills Employers Seek in College Graduates

Information on the skills and abilities that employers are looking for in college graduates  is available from two large surveys. The first is based on data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). As their website states, NACE “connects campus recruiting and career services professionals, provides best practices, trends, research, professional development, and conferences.”

On college and university campuses NACE members are often found working in career services (e.g., at WSU’s Center for Advising and Career Development), and facilitating events and job fairs that bring potential employers to campus. Employer members responding to NACE’s Job Outlook 2012 survey rated the top 10 job candidate skills/qualities (Table 1).

Table 1. Job Outlook 2012, National Association of Colleges and Employers

Ability to work in a team structure4.60
Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization4.59
Ability to make decisions and solve problems4.49
Ability to obtain and process information4.46
Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work4.45
Ability to analyze quantitative data4.23
Technical knowledge related to the job4.23
Proficiency with computer software programs4.04
Ability to create and/or edit written reports3.65
Ability to sell or influence others3.51
*5-point scale, where 1=not important, 2=not very important, 3=somewhat important, 4=very important, 5=extremely important; Survey conducted 3 Aug-23 Sept 2011 among NACE employer members (N=244 respondents, or 26.8%).


The second set of survey data is derived from the 2006 report, Are They Really Ready To Work? Published by a consortium of four organizations as an “in-depth study of the corporate perspective on the readiness of new entrants into the U.S. workforce,” the survey’s respondents represent over 400 employers and a combined workforce of over two million employees in manufacturing, business and professional services, financial and insurance services, health care, trade and entertainment companies. Respondents were asked to rank the importance of various areas of basic knowledge and applied skills (Table 2).

Table 2. Consortium Survey Data (2006): Four-Year College Graduates

RankApplied SkillPercent Rating
1Oral Communications95.4%
3Professionalism/Work Ethic93.8%
4Written Communications93.1%
5Critical Thinking/Problem Solving92.1%
6Ethics/Social Responsibility85.6%
8Information Technology Application81.0%
10Lifelong Learning/Self Direction78.3%
Basic skills rank ordered by percent rating as "very important".


Table 3 (below) aligns the “top 10” skills that respondents (employers) in both the NACE and Consortium surveys seek in college graduates. As shown, employers in both surveys largely agree on “success” skills for new workforce entrants with college degrees.

Table 3. Alignment of "Top 10" Skills for College Graduates

Applied SkillNACEConsortium
Oral communication21
Decisions & problem solving; critical thinking35
Information procurement & processing45
Plan, organize, prioritize work; work ethic53
Quantitative data analysis65
Technical job-related knowledge7
Computer software proficiency & application88
Written communication94
Ethics & social responsibility6
Leadership; Innovation; Lifelong learning7, 9, 10
Sell or influence others10

Attributes Employers Find in College Graduates

In the Consortium survey, employers also evaluated the readiness of new baccalaureate entrants into the workforce as deficient, adequate, or excellent. The graph below (Figure 1) depicts the percent of respondents reporting “deficiencies” in college graduates for each of the skills identified.

Figure 1. Consortium Readiness Report on Deficiencies of College Grads

Figure 1 depicting the percent of respondents reporting “deficiencies” in college graduates for each of the skills identified

Additional Resources

Are They Really Ready to Work? Employer’s Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce. (Casner-Lotto & Barrington, 2006).
To generate this report, more than 400 employers from a consortium of businesses nationwide responded to a survey that addressed the preparedness of college graduates for jobs in the real world. Respondents cited deficiencies in baccalaureates’ skills in teamwork, critical thinking, and other critical areas.