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Top Skills for Job Candidates

New college graduates looking to crack the still-tight job market need to hone their verbal communication skills, say employers taking part in a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). 

Among employers taking part in NACE’s Job Outlook 2011 survey, verbal communication skills topped the list of “soft” skills they seek in new college graduates looking to join their organizations. (See Figure 1.) 

That’s not surprising, according to Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director. 

“Employers consistently place communication skills at the top of the list of key skills,” Mackes says.  

Following verbal communication skills in terms of importance were a strong work ethic, teamwork skills, analytical skills, and initiative—skills that “employers see as critical in today’s workplace,” says Mackes.  

Interestingly, when asked how satisfied they were that new college graduates could deliver on key skills, employer response was mixed. They reported being “very satisfied” with the teamwork and analytical skills of new college graduates, but verbal communication skills, initiative, and a strong work ethic all fell below that level, with ratings hovering between “somewhat satisfied” and “very satisfied.” 

Even if candidates can deliver on those top five skills, employers have a fairly substantial list of other skills they deem as important and other attributes they seek, says Mackes.

“In fact, employers rated nine other skills/qualities as ‘very important’ to ‘extremely important,’ and most cited GPA requirements and a preference for new graduates with internship or other relevant work experience,” she says.  

While a strong work ethic or top-notch communication skills are unlikely to mitigate a dismal GPA or lack of experience, such skills are important in a tight job market.  

“Among candidates with similar qualifications, the candidate who can offer the employer more of those important soft skills has an edge,” notes Mackes. 

Figure 1: Employers Rank Top 5 Candidate Skills/Qualities  

  1. Verbal Communication Skills
  2. Strong Work Ethic
  3. Teamwork Skills
  4. Analytical Skills
  5. Initiative

Source: Job Outlook 2011, National Association of Colleges and Employers. 


About Job Outlook 2011: Each year, through the Job Outlook survey, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys its employer members about their hiring plans and other employment-related issues in order to project the job market for new college graduates for the current class and to assess a variety of conditions that may influence that market. 

Data for Job Outlook 2011 were collected from NACE employer members from mid-August through October 15, 2010. A total of 172 surveys were returned—a 20.7 percent response rate. Of those responding, 12.8 percent of respondents were from the West, 29.7 percent were from the Midwest, 25.6 percent were from the Northeast, and 32 percent were from the Southeast. 

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Last Updated: Sunday, August 25, 2013
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