The Number One Thing Employers are Looking For in New College Grads

Wouldn’t it be great if you could enter into the mind of a hiring manager and see what they’re looking for in the hiring process? With this information, you could tailor your college life to meet their requirements and easily land a great job immediately after you graduate.

Fortunately, you don’t have to guess at the most important thing that employers are looking for in new college grads. With just a little bit of common sense and deductive logic, you can figure out the number one thing companies want in a new employee.

First, let’s go over three common factors many students think are important.

Good Grades

Sadly, if you’re a straight-A student, good grades are not the biggest factor. Don’t get me wrong, grades matter. A student with a 3.5 GPA probably has a better chance of getting hired than the 3.0 student.

But don’t put too much stock in your GPA. Employers are impressed with good grades but they know that they don’t automatically mean you will be a great worker.

Studies have shown that GPA is not really a good indicator for future success in the workplace. In fact, many of the top leaders in the marketplace were not great students.

Some hiring managers will even pause with caution if they see someone with a super high GPA (3.8 or more). They may assume that the person is a braniac robot who doesn’t have social skills and spent most of college in the dorm studying.

This is not a good perception since getting along with others is crucial for organizations.

So, are these students getting punished for being too smart? Not quite. If they can show evidence of being able to work with others, then their good grades becomes a great asset.

That brings us to a second common factor.

Extracurricular Activities

Some students believe that their extracurricular activities will help them land a good position.

It’s great for those super smart braniacs to show that they can work well in a team. But do you really think that employers are going to hire you because you were captain of the debate team or played lead tuba in the marching band?

Don’t misunderstand me. Your extracurricular activities can influence hiring managers a little but focusing too much on them is not a good idea.


A third common factor is references or recommendations. Some students think that if they can get the right people to vouch for them, they will be in a good position to land a good job.

References are evidence that you are a good person and would make a good employee.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with them. The best companies will check them to vet you. But they also know that you are hand picking them to make yourself look good.

You won’t pick the professor you butted heads with. No, you’ll pick the professor who thinks you’re a great person.

Therefore, companies won’t put as much stock in them as you might imagine.

So what is the most important thing to have? Drum roll please.


Now you’re probably thinking, “Experience? Really? But I’m in college. I’m studying to become a [insert profession here]. How can they expect me to have experience? They need to hire me so that I can have experience (sigh).”

Yes, it’s the old catch-22. Companies want experience but you can’t get any until they hire you.

But before we solve this conundrum, let’s consider why experience is the most crucial factor for landing a good job right out of college.

First, having experience shows that you can get along with co-workers (not just students) in your field of study.

Second, companies are very impressed that you were able to take the initiative, think creatively, and put in the effort to land a relevant position before graduation.

Third, you will have a great reference that you didn’t have before – a boss from the workplace in your field. This is the best reference to have because it’s the most relevant one.

Fourth, most hiring managers believe that past performance is the best indicator for future performance.

Finally, let’s face it, college life is in a whole different universe from the 9 to 5 world. Take it from someone who’s spent six years in college and six years in the workforce. They are worlds apart.

If you have experience, then employers know that you’ve experienced first-hand the vast difference between school life and work life. You’ll be much more ready to help a company than someone without experience.

Also, having experience will make your resume stand out from the crowd since the vast majority of new college grads do not have relevant experience.

How to Get Experience While in College

This topic deserves its own article but I’ll give some quick tips to get your mind thinking about how to get experience while in college.

Internships are main method to beef up your resume.

Some companies will visit colleges to recruit interns. These internship spots are usually very competitive.

But you can increase your chances of getting one of the spots by getting to know the professors and past interns. The companies will ask them to recommend students for the internship program.

And of course, keep your grades high especially in the classes of your major.

Don’t look down on unpaid internships. Sure, you can make more money being a waiter in the summer, but you don’t want to work that job after graduation because your resume is missing relevant experience.

Craigslist and other online job boards are places where you might be able to find relevant jobs and internships in your field.

Work your network. Ask friends and family for leads. Ask your professors if they know of any businesses that might be interested in your skills.

Offer local small businesses your help. Again, if they can’t pay you, offer to work for free.

Finally, you don’t have to work full-time or even 20 hours a week. Something as low as 5-10 hours a week can make a big impact to hiring managers.

So, what are you waiting for? Get some experience before you graduate and you’ll find that it will be easy to get a good job after you graduate.

This is a guest post by Dee Barizo. He graduated with a Bachelor’s in Accounting back in 2002. He operates The Best Degrees, an online degree site.

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  1. accountants in worcester's Gravatar Comment by accountants in worcester on March 21st, 2010 at 3:53 am

    This article gives a quick tips to get your mind thinking about how to get experience while in college.If you follow this references you’ll find that it will be easy to get a good job after you graduate.Keep it up.

  2. Tolli's Gravatar Comment by Tolli on March 27th, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    “Studies have shown that GPA is not really a good indicator for future success in the workplace.” I’ve been wondering for a long time if there have been studies that try to correlate GPA with work performance. I would love to read those studies. Do you have a link to the studies?

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