Skip to main content
canadian university report 2014: developing skills

A wall clock.

For new graduates seeking employment, the fall months mean one thing: the fall recruitment cycle. It's the time of year when 70 per cent of employers do their hiring. That means new graduates, eager to hatch their careers, are preparing accordingly; from polishing résumés to practising interview skills, there is a lot to be done.

But even after all the preparation and an expensive postsecondary degree, many new graduates find themselves without employment or working in a field that's unrelated to their program of study. So what gives?

A likely explanation is that many graduates simply don't know what employers are looking for in new hires. This leads to graduates going unnoticed – not necessarily because they're underqualified, but because their applications don't highlight the right traits or skills.

At TalentEgg, a Canadian online career resource for students and new graduates, we're dedicated to bridging this gap between employers and young applicants. To do so, and to find out exactly what employers are looking for in new graduates, we spoke with campus recruiters at the Royal Bank of Canada and Suncor Energy Inc., two Canadian organizations that hire large numbers of recent graduates every year.

According to these employers, and the latest campus recruitment research, the following four traits top the list:

Demonstrated on-campus involvement and leadership

During the hiring process, employers typically assess previous work experience to determine if a candidate has the right skills for a job. Because new graduates often lack professional experience, it can be difficult for employers to see whether they're prepared for the job.

Lisa Kramer, RBC's director of global campus recruiting, explains that new graduates can overcome this, and make transferable skills evident, by highlighting extracurricular involvement on their applications.

"New graduates who have participated in or lead activities on campus give themselves a competitive advantage compared to their peers. We're always on the lookout for transferable skills that relate to the role we're hiring for."

She also encourages new graduates to clearly explain to employers how their transferable skills relate to the job.

"I recently hired a new graduate for my team because she was active on campus, planning events and leading activities. She now plans and co-ordinates events for all of our summer and co-op students," Ms. Kramer says.

The right mix of soft skills

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' (NACE) 2012 Job Outlook Survey, the top five skills most valued by employers are all soft skills.

This means employers are looking beyond résumés to determine if candidates are the right "fit" for their organizations.

So what specific soft skills are employers looking for? At Suncor, teamwork takes the cake.

Lauren Larose, Suncor's HR marketing and communications adviser, says, "New grads who are not only knowledgeable about their areas of expertise but also about how they work are critical to maintaining a positive culture. Teamwork and collaboration are key."

Larose's sentiments echo the Job Outlook Survey, which found the most in-demand soft skill to be the ability to work in a team. The other four top soft skills were verbal communication skills, ability to problem-solve, ability to obtain and process information, and ability to organize and prioritize work.

Strong written and oral communication skills

From how you write your cover letter, to the language and tone you use in an interview, employers stress that strong communication skills are the key to creating a positive first impression. Kramer notes that for new graduates, demonstrating the ability to communicate professionally is a good place to start.

"Over the past several years with the increase in social media usage, I have seen a drastic decline in the written communication skills of recent graduates. Short forms and smiley faces may be appropriate for instant messages with friends, but they are not acceptable when writing e-mail communications in a work environment."

Kramer also says that being able to communicate professionally shows an employer that you can be trusted to represent the brand – an especially important trait if your job involves regular interaction with clients or the public.

An understanding of the employer and the industry

Employers need new graduates to be informed about the job, the employer and the industry as a whole.

The 2012 Campus Recruitment & Benchmark Survey Report found that the No.1 piece of advice given by employers to students and new graduate applicants is: "Do your research and know the employer."

At Suncor, staying on top of industry trends is part of the job. "Particularly in an industry that increasingly requires innovative solutions for the future, we need to know that a potential new graduate has thought about the industry and can come to the table with ideas – or at least a willingness to help support the development of new ideas from inside. Without a solid understanding of what the company and industry is all about, that's really hard to do," Larose explains. Kramer agrees, saying, "Simply put, there is no excuse for not doing your research when applying to job opportunities."

She also suggests a few ways for new graduates to stay informed. "Connect on Twitter, join industry groups on LinkedIn and view a company's website. If you don't, you can be sure other candidates are."

It's a two-way street

Ultimately, both employers stress there's no magic formula to landing your dream job, but tailoring your application to highlight the above four traits is a good place to start.

But most importantly, new graduates should approach the hiring process with the attitude that it's a two-way street.

"As much as companies review your skills to determine if you are the right candidate for the job, it's equally important to ensure as a candidate you do your research and determine if the company, industry and role are a fit for you," Kramer says.

Interact with The Globe