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  • Key Factors When Choosing Between Equal Candidates for Jobs, Internships/Co-ops

    May 17, 2021 | By Kevin Gray

    Candidate Selection
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    TAGS: candidate selection, trends and predictions, surveys, spotlight

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    What is the difference in the attributes employers seek when deciding between two qualified candidates for a full-time job and for an internship or co-op? The key is in the experience students have gained at different points in their career exploration.

    Employers responding to NACE’s Job Outlook 2021 Spring Update indicate that internship experience—both with the hiring organization and within its industry—are the most influential factors they consider when deciding between two otherwise equally qualified job candidates. (See Figure 1.)

    Of course, not all students seeking internships and co-ops have had previous experiential education assignments, so the focus changes for employers. NACE’s 2021 Internship & Co-op Survey Report notes that when deciding between equally qualified candidates for internship and co-ops, employers are seeking students who hold or have held leadership positions and those in majors that match the employer’s needs. 

    Major is also very influential for employers deciding between two equally qualified candidates for a full-time job, and participation in extracurricular activities is an important factor for candidates competing for both full-time jobs and internships and co-ops.

    Although a high GPA remains somewhat influential for employers seeking full-time hires and interns and co-ops, it is no longer a major consideration. This aligns with the trend of fewer employers using GPA as a screening tool. In fact, use of GPA screening has hit an all-time low: Just 56.6% of responding employers are using GPA to screen college graduates from the Class of 2021. In terms of using GPA to decide between equally qualified candidates for internships and co-ops, less than half (44.4%) will do so.

    These top differentiators directly tie into career readiness. For example, leadership—the top factor employers seek in candidates for internships and co-ops—is one of the eight NACE Career Readiness Competencies. In addition, the primary differentiator for full-time jobs—internships—is one of the ways students can demonstrate their grasp of the career readiness competencies. NACE has tied sample behaviors that have been validated through research undertaken in partnership with SkillSurvey to its career readiness competencies.

    Figure 1: Influence of attributes for candidates for full-time jobs

    Attribute 2021 Average Influence Rating*
    Has completed an internship with your organization 4.5
    Has internship experience in your industry 4.3
    Major 3.8
    Has held leadership position 3.6
    Has general work experience 3.6
    Has been involved in extracurricular activities (clubs, sports, student government, etc.) 3.4
    High GPA (3.0 or above) 3.2
    Has no work experience 3.2
    Has done volunteer work 2.8
    School attended 2.5
    Is fluent in a foreign language 2.1
    Has studied abroad 1.8
    Other 3.9
    Source: Job Outlook 2021 Spring Update, National Association of Colleges and Employers. *5-point scale, where 1=No influence at all, 2=Not much influence, 3=Somewhat of an influence, 4=Very much influence, and 5=Extreme influence


    Figure 2: Deciding factor between two equal candidates for internships and co-ops,

    Attribute Percentage that deem attribute "very” to “extremely influential”
    Has held leadership position 65.0%
    Major 61.0%
    Has participated in extracurricular activities 59.1%
    High GPA 44.4%
    Has done volunteer work 35.9%
    School attended 11.3%
    Source: 2021 Internship & Co-Op Survey Report, National Association of Colleges and Employers
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