Recent or soon-to-be college graduates can learn a thing or two from the newly released Job Outlook 2015 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Why? Because the report, which surveys its employer members on a wide range of issues including what they look for in new hires and their plans for future growth, uses real data to produce truthful and reliable information on the job market for new grads in 2015 and beyond.
The results not only bring light to the hiring intentions of big and small businesses around the country, but they also provide useful tips that new grads can use to stand out as they begin their search for a new job or career. Employers surveyed indicated that they plan to increase hiring of new college graduates an average of 8.3 percent in 2015. That's certainly good news, but only for workers who have the skills and attributes employers are looking for.
Fortunately, the report sheds light on that issue too. What are employers looking for in new candidates as they ramp up hiring in 2015, and what kind of college courses can a prospective student take to acquire them? We looked at what the NACE report discovered and talked to hiring and recruitment experts to get their take on this set of high-value skills.
Almost 78 percent of employers who participated in the NACE's Job Outlook report listed leadership as one of the most important qualities they look for in new candidates, even when hiring for non-management positions. According to Jane Sunley, hiring expert and author of It's Never OK to Kiss the Interviewer, seeking out candidates who can lead makes sense-no matter the job.
"Leader or not, every individual should acquire basic leadership skills such as being outcome focused and organized, team working, assertiveness from the day they join an organization," Sunley said. "As businesses move away from command and control management to more self-sufficient working, it makes sense to demonstrate that you're the sort of person who can thrive independently and be essential within a team."
Future grads looking to beef up their leadership skills could do so by taking a course in leadership, management, or administration.
Ability to work in a team
Although leadership remains an in-demand quality in 2015, employers also want workers who can function as part of a team. The fact is, modern workplaces are more dynamic and multi-facted than ever, requiring collaboration and cooperation with different groups or departments all working toward a common goal.
If you only function solo, you might be out of luck, said Sunley. "You can have an impressive list of qualifications though if you're unable to work cohesively and harmoniously with colleagues many businesses simply won't hire you." So how do you prove it?
Employers looking for evidence of your ability to work in a team might be impressed if you've taken courses in communication, business, or other specific courses that emphasize teamwork.
Written communication skills
More than 73 percent of employers surveyed ranked written communication skills high on the list of must-have abilities for 2015. Why?
Because the advent of texting and instant messaging have left students with fewer professional communication skills and a much more casual writing style, said Erik Bowitz, hiring and resume expert from Resume Genius. "Retaining formal written communication skills will separate the professional from unprofessional in 2015," he explained. In other words, employers want workers who won't reply to them with "K," or a sideways smiley.
Graduates who want to put their written communication skills on display should make sure their resume is flawless, Bowitz said. Meanwhile, displaying courses in creative writing, English and communication prominently on your resume can't hurt either.
Out of those surveyed, more than 70 percent of employers admitted to seeking out candidates with strong problem-solving skills. According to Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR and author of "Hiring Right: A Business Blueprint for Lower Turnover and Higher Profits," that's because employers have learned to steer clear of workers who constantly need one form of help or another.
"Companies don't have the resources, nor the luxury of time, to employ people who cannot think for themselves," he said. "Asking for direction is okay, but don't ask me to solve your problem for you."
So how does one prove they're a good problem-solver? According to the experts, courses in advanced math, engineering, or business can show prospective employers you have experience thinking through issues on your own.
Strong work ethic
Of course, all employers want new hires to have a strong work ethic, but what does that really mean? In Kelley's eyes, a strong work ethic refers to the ability and willingness to put in the hours, to go the extra mile, and to meet a deadline with top-quality work. "Employers simply can't afford to hire people who must be coddled, who are only willing to work 9-5, who allow personal desires to get in the way," he said. And it makes sense why.
"Candidates must prove to hiring managers that their 'work ethic' will meet the company's needs," Kelley said. This could be accomplished in a number of ways, including letting potential employers know about the projects you've completed, and potentially earning an advanced degree such as an Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Project Management.
Analytical and quantitative skills
According to Bowitz, 2015 will be a more data driven than 2014, just as 2014 was more data driven than 2013. "Having the ability to process and turn this data into knowledge will be an increasingly in-demand skill in 2015," he said.
That ability requires analytical and quantitative mastery, in addition to the ability to sum up a situation, explore the facts, consider the options and make sound recommendations. Courses in engineering, statistics and advanced math can easily help you showcase these skills.
Technical skills can be one of the most important requirements for any new job, which is why 67.5 percent of employers surveyed put them near the top of the list. No matter the field, workers who hope to get hired need to prove that they have practical on-the-job experience, as well as the specific skills to get the job done.
Proving one has the technical skills potential employers are looking for may not be an easy feat, but completing an internship before graduation is one way to demonstrate real-world experience. College courses in a specific field will definitely help too, especially if they are easily put on a resume.
Verbal communication skills
Becoming a successful employee with any company requires the ability to communicate effectively with co-workers, supervisors and clients. Likewise, an inability to communicate with others can make work life much more complicated than it needs to be-both for you and the people you work with. That's likely why 67 percent of employers surveyed listed verbal communication as a skill they are looking for in new hires next year.
Fortunately, showing you have what it takes can be relatively easy. College courses in communication, public relations, or business show that you can communicate with others with ease. Meanwhile, candidates lucky enough to get an interview can always put their communication skills on display there as well.
Graduating from college is a major accomplishment that shouldn't be taken lightly. However, that achievement isn't complete until you can parlay the skills that come with that new degree into a meaningful career. That's why college graduates should be doing everything they can to align themselves with job they really want; going the extra mile, taking additional courses, or completing an internship. Employers have spoken out about what they want in new hires. Now it's up to you to make sure you have it.
If you're looking for more information on ways to get the skills you need to pursue a rewarding career in 2015, check out the listings below, or use the search tool on the right to get matched to a school that fits your needs.
"Job Outlook 2015," National Association of Colleges and Employers, November 2014
Interview with Jane Sunley, conducted by Holly Johnson
Interview with Erik Bowitz, conducted by Holly Johnson
Interview with Pat Kelley, conducted by Holly Johnson