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  • The Competency Gap: Recruiters and Students Differ in Their Perceptions of New Grad Proficiency

    BETHLEHEM, PA—Although employers and college students agree on the most important competencies students need to develop to successfully enter the workforce, they are divided on the proficiency of new college graduates in these key areas, according to research conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

    Employers responding to a recent NACE survey deemed critical thinking, communication, and teamwork the most important competencies for students to be considered “career ready.” Students, responding to a separate survey, identified the same three competencies as most important.

    However, in terms of graduates’ level of proficiency in the competencies, employers and college students expressed very different opinions.

    “The employer perception doesn’t align with how college students perceive their own proficiency in the eight career readiness competencies,” says Shawn VanDerziel, NACE executive director. “In nearly all of the competencies, college students believe they are more proficient—in some cases, by a significant margin—than do their potential employers.”

    For example, nearly 80% of students rated themselves as very or extremely proficient in critical thinking; in comparison, just 56% of employers agreed with that assessment. (See Figure 1.)

    Interestingly, there was one competency where employers had a higher opinion of students’ proficiency than did the students: technology.

    Given the gap in perceptions, college students who can demonstrate their proficiency in key areas can stand out in the job market, says VanDerziel.

    “An internship is one means of demonstrating competence, but students should examine other types of experiences and activities for evidence they can offer to potential employers,” he says. “Just saying you work well in a team isn’t enough: You need to be able to back that up with concrete examples.”

    Figure 1
    Source: Job Outlook 2022 (employer data) and 2021 Student Survey (student data), National Association of Colleges and Employers.
    The percentages indicating “proficiency” represent percent of respondents that provided a rating of 4 (very proficient) or 5 (extremely proficient) on a five-point scale.

    About NACE research: Employer responses were drawn from the Job Outlook 2022 survey. The survey is a forecast of hiring intentions of employers as they relate to new college graduates. Data for the Job Outlook 2022 survey were collected from August 18, 2021, through October 1, 2021. Of the 157 total respondents, 116 were NACE employer members, representing 15.7% of eligible member respondents. The survey was also distributed to nonmember companies from which an additional 41 responses were received. 

    Student responses were drawn from the 2021 Student Survey. Each year, NACE surveys college students nationwide about their experiences, behaviors, attitudes, and preferences as related to career development, the job search, and employment. The 2021 Student Survey was conducted February 17, 2021, to May 14, 2021, through college career centers that hold membership in NACE. More than 15,000 students at the bachelor’s degree level and above responded, including 2,339 graduating seniors. Results presented here are based on responses from graduating seniors.

    About NACE: Established in 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is the only professional association in the United States that connects more than 9,800 college career services professionals, more than 3,300 university relations and recruiting professionals, and more than 300 business solution providers that serve this community.

    NACE is the premier source of market research on career readiness and employment of recent college graduates. NACE forecasts hiring and trends in the job market; tracks salaries, recruiting and hiring practices, and student attitudes and outcomes; and identifies best practices and benchmarks.

    NACE offers its members unparalleled research, networking and professional development opportunities, guidance on standards and ethics, and advocacy on key issues. For more information, visit NACE maintains a virtual press room for the media.