What Do Students Need to Succeed - Depends on Who You Ask



By Stuart Esrock, Ph.D.

A new research study indicates that students, graduates, and employers think there are a wide variety of skills and characteristics that need to be developed and refined before graduation.  Dr. Tylor Behrens of St. Mary’s University conducted the study, asking each group what skills are necessary for success in the workplace and answers ranged from confidence, teamwork and ability to manage stress to patience, networking, and goal driven.  But one characteristic was repeatedly emphasized by each group.  

Behrens interviewed 152 students who were recently offered a job, asking which personal qualities were necessary to make a successful transition from college to the work world. The top three responses for this group were:

  1. Effective writing and communication skills
  2. Leadership skills
  3. Time management skills

Behrens surveyed 159 recent grads who were hired in entry-level jobs.  Most agreed that their college degree helped them greatly in attaining the technical knowledge and training needed for a career. Their top three tips to current students about the most important skills:

  1. Communicate effectively
  2. Manage your time well
  3. Focus on customer service

Finally, responses were received from 166 hiring managers, representing small start-up to Fortune 500 corporations, who were asked, “What personal qualities do you look for in hiring a college student and what other characteristics should one possess in order to succeed?  The top three here again point toward communication skills:

  1. Personable
  2. Upbeat  
  3. Not intimidated to ask questions

Beyond the common thread of communication, however, Behrens notes that looking at what current and past students and employers think is needed for success differ substantially.  Behrens said, “The reasons the answers differed are because the skills needed at one phase of the "career-success formula" are quite a bit different from those at another stage. For example, the skills a student must possess to secure a job offer from an employer might differ greatly when it comes time for that student to perform on the job 12 months later.” Behrens calls these “situational” skills.

Behrens concludes that student success in life and career is based on their ability to master soft skills, transferable skills, interpersonal skills, and these situational skills. His work was recently published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.