Career Readiness Competencies: Employer Survey Results

In December 2014, the NACE Career Readiness Committee surveyed 606 representatives from organizations that hire through a university relations and recruiting effort.

Results from the survey served as an initial vetting of seven competency areas underpinning "career readiness." (Note the competencies themselves were identified through two main sources.*)

Respondent Pool

By type of organization, respondents represented for-profit, private organizations (49.2 percent); for-profit, publicly held firms (20.8 percent); government agencies (15.3 percent); and nonprofit organizations (14.6 percent). By size, respondents represented employers large and small, with the largest concentrations at both ends of the spectrum: 24 percent 1 – 50 employees (24 percent); 51 – 100 employees (9.8 percent); 101 – 250 employees (9.8 percent); 251 – 500 employees (7.6 percent); 501 – 1,000 employees (6.9 percent); 1,001 – 5,000 employees (13.8 percent); 5,001 – 10,000 employees (8.3 percent); and more than 10,000 employees (19.6 percent).

Nearly 20 industries were represented in the respondent pool, but the greatest concentrations were in professional services consulting (includes accounting, engineering, law, computers, and advertising), with 21.5 percent of the pool; education (13 percent); organizations classified as "other manufacturing" (11.9 percent); and government organizations (8 percent).

Essential Career Readiness Competencies

Respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which they view the seven competencies as essential to new college hire success when considering new college graduate candidates for their workplaces.

Overall, "professional/work ethic" topped the list, with nearly all respondents identifying this competency as either "absolutely essential" or "essential." However, as Figure 1 indicates, four of the seven competencies were identified as such by 90 percent or more respondents.

Figure 1: Career readiness competencies identified as absolutely essential/essential, by percent of respondents

Professionalism/Work Ethic
Percent of Respondents97.5 percent
Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
Percent of Respondents96.3 percent
Oral/Written Communications
Percent of Respondents91.6 percent
Percent of Respondents90 percent
Information Technology Application
Percent of Respondents72 percent
Percent of Respondents55.9 percent
Career Management
Percent of Respondents45 percent
Competency Percent of Respondents
Professionalism/Work Ethic 97.5 percent
Critical Thinking/Problem Solving 96.3 percent
Oral/Written Communications 91.6 percent
Teamwork/Collaboration 90 percent
Information Technology Application 72 percent
Leadership 55.9 percent
Career Management 45 percent

Employer Comments and Recommendations

Respondents were asked to comment on the specific competencies and provide general comments regarding the issue of career readiness competency.

In commenting on specific competencies, most respondents reiterated the value of the competency.

While fewer than 10 percent provided general feedback, their comments provide recommendations for how students prepare for entry into the world of work and illustrate the value organizations place on specific attributes and skills. Comments fall into three categories: higher education and preparation; competitive advantage; and on the job.

Higher education and preparation: Respondents cited the need for students to gain hands-on, real-world experience during college to prepare for work after college, pointed to internships as the best way to gain this experience, and recommended that colleges and universities build internships into their curriculum or make participation in an internship a requirement.

Competitive advantage: While respondents recognize that new college graduates continue to develop their skills and abilities as they become seasoned professionals, they noted that those candidates who can demonstrate and articulate their career readiness enjoy a competitive advantage over their less-ready counterparts in landing an initial job after graduation. Once on board, they will also move up in the organization more quickly than those who don't have the same level of competency.

It is important to note that respondents also emphasized the importance of candidate focus: Respondents reported that candidates who had a clear sense of their career aspirations, direction, and goals have a distinct advantage over other candidates. This combination—competency and direction—are key for new college graduates.

On the job: Many of this survey's respondents acknowledged that it is normal for new college hires to evolve as they gain work experience and recommended that new hires can speed and strengthen this growth process by seeking out professional development opportunities and mentors—and engaging with those mentors frequently. An added benefit: New hires that pursue such actions are perceived as flexible, responsive, and willing to learn—and match employers' desire for people who are "ready to work, ready to learn, and ready to perform."

* The seven competencies were identified through and adapted, with permission, from two main sources: 1) "List of Skills," Are They Really Ready to Work, 2006, by Linda Barrington, Jill Casner-Lotto, and Mary Wright in collaboration with Partnership for 21st Century Skill, Corporate Voices for Working Families and the Society for Human Resource Management, and The Conference Board, Inc., 2006; and 2) NACE's annual Job Outlook survey, which includes a section that probes the skills employers seek in new college graduate job candidates; the survey has resulted in multiple years of data indicating which skills employers seek.