Recruiters and Students Have Differing Perceptions of New Grads’ Proficiency in Competencies

January 16, 2024 | By Kevin Gray

Career Readiness Competencies
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TAGS: branding and marketing, candidate selection, competencies, nace insights, student attitudes, surveys, talent acquisition, trends and predictions,

Although new college graduates looking to enter the workforce and employers hiring these graduates agree on which competencies are most important for job candidates to hone, their perception of student proficiency in them differs widely, according to NACE research.

Graduating seniors taking part in the 2023 Student Survey ranked communication, critical thinking, and teamwork as the three most important competencies for a job candidate to be considered career ready. Likewise, in NACE’s Job Outlook 2024 survey, employers positioned the same three career readiness competencies at the top of their list. (See Figure 1.)

However, the two groups disagree about what new graduates are best at and how proficient new grads actually are. (See Figure 2.)

Asked to rate their level of proficiency in NACE’s eight career readiness competencies, new graduates consider themselves most proficient in teamwork, professionalism, and critical thinking. On the other hand, employers rated new graduates highest in technology, teamwork, and equity and inclusion.

There is a clear disconnect between how students and employers perceive students’ development of these competencies. Sometimes, the gap is quite large, as in the case of professionalism, where 84.6% of students and just 50% of employers perceive students to be “very or extremely” proficient in this competency.

This general disconnect may occur because many students don’t understand the connection between the knowledge and experience they gained in college and the competencies, and, therefore, cannot effectively articulate this to employers on their resumes or during interviews.

To address this, career centers have implemented initiatives and programming and NACE offers resources—such as sample behaviors—that help students understand how their classroom work, internships, and other experiences have helped them build and strengthen their career readiness competencies.

Data for the 2023 Student Survey Report were collected from March 15, 2023 to May 19, 2023. In all, 18,966 bachelor degree students responded from 204 four-year colleges and universities. Of those, 2,307 were Class of 2023 graduating seniors. Data for the Job Outlook 2024 survey were collected from August 2, 2023, through September 18, 2023. Of the 255 total respondents, 180 were NACE employer members, representing 20.3% of eligible member respondents. The Job Outlook 2024 survey was also distributed to nonmember companies, from which an additional 75 responses were received. NACE members can access the Job Outlook 2024 report in MyNACE.

Figure 1

Figure 2

blank default headshot of a user Kevin Gray is an associate editor at NACE. He can be reached at