Employers Think Students Lack in Key Characteristics


By Stuart Esrock, Ph.D.

Students need to be working on some key traits that, according to employers, are lacking. That’s a key takeaway from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and their 2022 job outlook study.

NACE surveyed employers of all sizes from across the country about “career readiness competencies,” the importance of these attributes, and what they believe to be the level of student proficiency for each competency.  The study indicates that students should pay special attention to improving their critical thinking, communication skills, and professionalism, the three attributes with the widest gaps between employer perceptions of importance and student proficiency.

The vast majority of employers responding to the survey rated critical thinking and communication as “very” to “extremely important” (See Figure 1 below).  But only a little more than half of the respondents rated recent graduates either “very proficient” or “extremely proficient” in these competencies. (See Figure 2 below). The professionalism competency also showed a substantial gap between employer perceptions of importance and proficiency.

An assistant director/career coach at the UofL University Career Center, Mallory Newby, suggests that students begin their efforts to improve in these areas first with a healthy dose of self-reflection.  “We use various tools such as assessments (Strong Interest Inventory, Focus II, MBTI) to help students discover not only interests but also their innate preferences such as work style, learning environment, leadership style, and team orientation.  This helps students to not only discover more about who they are but also gives them the knowledge to share that information with their supervisors and peers. In addition, it will naturally help students to confidently navigate internship experiences and opportunities for improvement of critical thinking, communication skills, and professionalism.”

The NACE job outlook survey is a forecast of the hiring intentions of employers as they relate to new college graduates. Data from 157 respondents were collected from August 18, 2021, through October 1, 2021.  Full results of employer perceptions regarding the gaps between importance and proficiency are contained in the tables below.