What Skills Do Employers Want from College Graduates?

Brandi Glass
October 18, 20225 min read
Graduate smiling with cap

Applying for a job as a recent college graduate can be an exciting but daunting experience. While you’re looking forward to entering the labor market and starting your career, you may wonder what you can include on your resume or how you’ll impress employers without previous work experience.

However, employers understand that as a recent college graduate, you won’t have the same professional background as more experienced staff members. Instead, they’ll look for key skills that will demonstrate your ability to learn on the job and adapt to a professional environment.

What Skills Do Employers Want from College Graduates?

Make sure you highlight these skills on your resume and in job interviews. They will help you stand out as a college graduate with plenty of promise.

Willingness to Learn

As a recent graduate, you’ll need to quickly pick things up on the job. From office etiquette to computer programs and industry best practices, there are plenty of things for you to learn.

Employers know that without the right attitude, you’ll struggle to keep up. When being interviewed, emphasize situations in which you’ve had to quickly learn new skills and processes.

Some recent college graduates think that studying for their degree already shows a willingness to learn. However, writing an essay or passing a test requires different skill sets from learning a new protocol. If possible, talk about a time you learned how to do something new rather than how well you did in your midterms.

Teamwork

Studying can be a solitary experience, so employers might wonder if you have the team skills necessary for the workplace. This is particularly important as an entry-level worker since you are likely to work with — and learn from — more experienced members of staff. Your new boss will want to know that adding you to a project will help other employees out rather than increase their workload or stress levels.

On your resume, draw attention to times when you achieved success as part of a team. If asked about this in the interview, stress how working collaboratively was key to this accomplishment. You might explain how you supported someone else on the team or how the rest of the team made great suggestions that improved your initial idea.

Professionalism

While some industries are more casual than others, many will still require you to wear a suit and greet clients with a handshake. But professionalism goes beyond the surface appearance: it’s also about being punctual, meeting deadlines and respecting other people’s time.

Fortunately, this is one of the easiest skills to demonstrate. By being well-prepared for your interview and arriving early, you can demonstrate that you’re ready for an office environment. A well-structured and carefully proofread resume is another way to create a positive first impression.

Of course, if you already have professional experience, you should also highlight that on your resume and in the interview. This might be in the form of an internship or a part-time job working at formal events.

Communication Skills

Employers know you can write essays, but what about emails? Zoom calls? Or meetings with clients?

Some college graduates assume communication skills are only important for marketing, sales and HR roles. However, communication skills are critical in the workplace. Every single role and department requires them, from IT to product development. They’ll ensure you have a positive relationship with team members and clients alike, plus they’ll help you avoid confusion around benchmarks, deliverables and more.

To demonstrate your strong communication skills, you can mention times when you had to deliver a difficult message, help people with limited English skills or literacy, or run a social media profile or student newsletter.

Responsiveness to Feedback

All new employees make mistakes, and this is especially true of college graduates who have limited experience in the corporate world. But hearing negative or even constructive feedback can be tough, while old habits are often hard to break.

Stand out from other applicants by showing potential employers that you have the positive attitude, humility and adaptability required to take feedback on board. If asked about this in an interview, you could talk about a time someone’s feedback helped you improve what you were doing. Explain how grateful you are for this experience and that, as a result, you always seek feedback when appropriate.

Problem-Solving Skills

Most jobs for college graduates require problem-solving and analytical skills. Unfortunately, many degrees don’t necessarily demonstrate that you can solve problems. This is particularly true for Humanities and Arts graduates.

Come to your interview prepared with some anecdotes of tricky situations that you had to find a solution to. Explain what made these problems so challenging, why your idea was innovative and how it successfully resolved the issue.

Strong Work Ethic

The stereotype of partying students who sleep late and write their essays at the last minute isn’t always fair. However, you should be prepared to combat this with some examples of your excellent work ethic.

You could mention balancing studies with your other commitments, such as part-time work, volunteering or extracurriculars. Alternatively, try talking about a project that was particularly important to you and how you went the extra mile on it.

Attention to Detail

Careless mistakes can cost employers client accounts, so they’ll want to know that you are a diligent candidate. In addition to discussing times when you had to pay meticulous attention to details, you could explain in interviews how you double-check important details to avoid errors. And since there’s nothing like hard proof to convince an employer, make sure your resume is free of typos and spelling mistakes.

Show Off Your Skills to Employers

From your resume through to the interview, you should emphasize the skills you’ve developed in your studies, extracurricular activities and part-time work.

Make sure you can back these skills up with evidence, ideally in the form of anecdotes, accomplishments and numbers. Maybe you have a compelling story of when you took feedback on board while training as a certified lifeguard. Or, perhaps you could share how a collaborative mind-mapping session doubled the money raised in your theater club’s fundraising drive.

When including skills on your resume, make sure to use keywords from the job description so your application isn’t automatically filtered out by an applicant tracking system. You should also pay close attention to your resume format and layout: mistakes here could be the reason you don’t get invited to an interview.

With a quality template, you can rest assured that your resume will be professional and machine-readable. Here at Rocket Resume, we have dozens of resume templates designed for college students and recent graduates. They’ll help you make the most of your experience and skill sets.

Moreover, our resume builder will guide you through customizing your chosen template. It will suggest the ideal structure as well as recruiter-approved phrasing for key skills. Build your resume in minutes so you can apply for jobs with confidence.