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Match your skills to what employers want

Resources ► Match your skills to what employers want

When you created your 1st Gig profile, you were asked to choose from a list of personal attributes and provide a brief, real-life example that demonstrates how each attribute applies to you. This is really important information because employers are always looking for specific attributes, and part of the matching process involves connecting students with specific attributes with employers who are looking for those attributes.

But in addition to that, you should know that there are some attributes that most employers are going to consider as important—even if they don’t list them in every job posting. These critical attributes, often called competencies, should be featured in your 1st Gig profile and your LinkedIn profile, but you will also want to include them as appropriate in cover letters, resumes, application forms, and job interviews.

You can’t, and wouldn’t want to, try to include every one of your attributes in every part of your application, so it’s helpful to know which attributes are most important to employers. Fortunately, there are many sources that can provide you with information about the skills and attributes that employers are looking for in recent college graduates. Here I’ll list information from some of the sources that I’ve found to be most reliable. If you would like more details, visit the websites listed in the Sources section at the end of this article.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)

NACE conducts surveys and works with employers from across the country to understand and share information about the competencies that employers think are most important for “career readiness,” which they define as “the attainment and demonstration of requisite competencies that broadly prepare college graduates for a successful transition into the workplace.” Think carefully about the seven competencies listed here and identify situations or experiences from your own life that would help you demonstrate that you’ve developed them:

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  • Oral/Written Communications
  • Teamwork/Collaboration
  • Information Technology Application
  • Leadership
  • Professionalism/Work Ethic
  • Career Management

In addition, NACE conducts a Job Outlook survey each year to determine the specific skills that employers look for when hiring new college graduates. Based on the 2016 survey, the attributes that employers are looking for are listed below in order of importance.

  1. Leadership
  2. Ability to work in a team
  3. Communication skills (written)
  4. Problem-solving skills
  5. Communication skills (oral)
  6. Strong work ethic
  7. Initiative
  8. Analytical/quantitative skills
  9. Flexibility/Adaptability
  10. Technical skills
  11. Interpersonal skills (relates well to others)
  12. Computer Skills
  13. Detail oriented
  14. Organizational ability
  15. Friendly/outgoing personality
  16. Strategic planning skills
  17. Creativity
  18. Tactfulness
  19. Entrepreneurial skills/risk taker

Quintessential Careers

For nearly two decades, Quintessential Careers has been doing research to help people learn job-seeking skills and make sound career decisions.

Skills most important to employers

  • Communication Skills (listening, oral, written)
  • Analytical/Research Skills
  • Computer/Technical Literacy
  • Flexibility/Adaptability
  • Interpersonal Abilities
  • Leadership/Management Skills
  • Multicultural Sensitivity/Awareness
  • Planning/Organizing
  • Problem Solving/Reasoning/Creativity
  • Teamwork

Personal values employers seek in employees

  • Honesty/Integrity/Morality
  • Adaptability/Flexibility
  • Dedication/Hard-Working/Work Ethic/Tenacity
  • Dependability/Reliability/Responsibility 
  • Loyalty
  • Positive Attitude/Motivation/Energy/Passion
  • Professionalism
  • Self-Confidence 
  • Self-Motivated/Ability to Work With Little or No Supervision
  • Willingness to Learn

Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)

The AAC&U was founded in 1915 to support and promote the ideal of a liberal education for all students. The organization conducts research and produces programs to encourage educational improvement and reform. The have identified the following skills as important to career success.

  1. The ability to work well in teams
  2. The ability to use science and technology in the workplace
  3. The ability to write and speak well
  4. The ability to think clearly about complex problems
  5. The ability to analyze a problem to develop workable solutions
  6. An understanding of the global context in which work is now done
  7. The ability to be creative and innovative in solving problems
  8. The ability to apply knowledge and skills in new settings
  9. The ability to understand numbers and statistics
  10. A strong sense of ethics and integrity


Association of American Colleges and Universities. "Top Ten Things Employers Look for in New College Graduates."
National Association of Colleges and Employers. Career Readiness Fact Sheet.
National Association of Colleges and Employers. Job Outlook 2016.
Quintessential Careers. “What Do Employers Really Want? Top Skills and Values Employers Seek from Job-Seekers.”