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  • Employers, Students Differ in Perception of Graduates’ “Career Readiness”

    BETHLEHEM, PA—How ready are new college graduates to make a successful transition into the workplace? Students entering the job market and potential employers have very different perceptions about the “career readiness” of new college graduates, according to research by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).  

    Using eight competencies that NACE has identified as constituting “career readiness,” employers and graduating seniors were asked to indicate how proficient new graduates were in each. For the most part, employers were less likely to view new college graduates as proficient in these competencies than were the students themselves. (See Figure 1.) This can be problematic because it suggests that employers see skills gaps in key areas where college students don’t believe gaps exist.

    In particular, employers and graduating seniors differed greatly when it came to new graduate proficiency in professionalism/work ethic, oral/written communications, and leadership. The biggest gap was in the professionalism competency: Nearly 90 percent of seniors believe they are proficient, but less than half of employers agree with that assessment.

    The greatest agreement between the two groups was around new graduates’ ability to work in teams. More than three-quarters of employers said new graduates were proficient, compared to 85 percent of the students.

    Only in terms of the technology-related competency were employers more likely than their student counterparts to view new graduates as proficient. Nearly 66 percent of employers rated new graduates as proficient in digital technology—the ability to leverage technologies to solve problems, complete tasks, and accomplish goals—compared to just under 60 percent of graduating seniors.

    Figure 1: Employer vs. Student Perception of Proficiency in Career Readiness Competencies, by Percentage of Respondents

    Competency % of Employers That Rated Recent Grads Proficient* % of Students Who Considered Themselves Proficient**
    Professionalism/Work Ethic 42.5% 89.4%
    Oral/Written Communications 41.6% 79.4%
    Critical Thinking/Problem Solving 55.8% 79.9%
    Teamwork/Collaboration 77.0% 85.1%
    Leadership 33.0% 70.5%
    Digital Technology 65.8% 59.9%
    Career Management 17.3% 40.9%
    Global/Intercultural Fluency 20.7% 34.9%
    Source: Job Outlook 2018 (N=201 employing organizations) and The Class of 2017 Student Survey Report (N=4,213 graduating seniors), National Association of Colleges and Employers

    *The percentages corresponding to “rated proficient” represent, among all responding employers, the percentage who, on a 5-point scale, rated recent graduates either “very” (4) or “extremely” (5) proficient in the respective competency.

    **The percentages corresponding to "considered proficient" represent, among all responding graduating seniors from the Class of 2017, the percentage who, on a 5-point scale, considered himself/herself either "very" (4) or "extremely" (5) proficient in the respective competency.

    About NACE’s Career Readiness Definition and Competencies: NACE defines career readiness as “the attainment and demonstration of requisite competencies that broadly prepare college graduates for a successful transition into the workplace.” For more information about NACE’s career readiness competencies, see

    About NACE: Since 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has been the leading source of information about the employment of college graduates. For more information, visit NACE maintains a virtual press room for the media.