Why Employers Think New Grads Don’t Have Skills, and How They Can Find Ones Who Do

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With attracting and retaining talent as the top internal concern of CEOs today (Conference Board), they would be well advised to consider hiring new grads. More than 42 million students graduate from universities and colleges worldwide each year (UNESCO, 2016), and they’re ready to take on the world, with 87% feeling extremely or mostly prepared for full-time work (PayScale, 2016).

But not all managers agree: only half believe new grads are ready, claiming they lack essential skills like communication and critical thinking (PayScale, 2016). True or not, this perception may cause employers to overlook a significant source of talent.

Why is there such a disconnect between employers and new grads? Do new grads really lack essential skills? And what can employers do differently to source the talent they so desperately need?

The Evidence

A common assumption is that you need work experience to develop skills, and because many new grads have less work experience than other job seekers, employers assume they also lack skills. However, skills can be developed through a variety of non-work experiences, from volunteering to sports to class projects, and the evidence shows that the majority of new grads do in fact have the skills employers need.

An analysis of Korn Ferry’s global talent assessment data shows that new grads have the same level of proficiency as senior managers across a range of job skills, and in some areas have even higher proficiency. Compared to senior managers, new grads were found to have the following proficiency levels (Korn Ferry, 2017; N=42,754):

So if new grads do have the skills, why do employers still think they don’t?

It turns out there’s a pretty clear reason: inflated job requirements. A whopping 61% of entry-level job postings require three or more years of experience (TalentWorks, 2018). That’s right: three or more years for entry-level jobs!

This puts students in an impossible position, well captured by this meme:

Jokes aside, this seemingly absurd practice actually makes sense when you put it into context. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, unemployment went up, which increased the supply of available workers. So employers got pickier about talent and raised minimum job requirements (Mondestino et al.).

This has led many researchers and economists to conclude that the “skills gap” actually isn’t due to a shortage of skilled workers; instead, it’s due to the level of unemployment and inflated job requirements (Economic Policy Institute). In other words, if employers find it hard to discover skilled graduates, it’s more likely because they already have jobs – or employers are looking for candidates who don’t exist.

So what can organizations do to source those skilled graduates?

The Solution

At McLean & Company, I recently conducted a research project on how to address exactly this challenge. Here are some simple, yet impactful, tactics employers can implement today:

  1. Get clear on the qualifications needed for entry-level jobs. Make sure minimum qualifications are actually minimum. Rather than list all of the skills needed for a job, focus on the skills that are critical to success within the first six months, and train the rest on the job.
  2. Target sourcing to specific groups with the skills you need. Not all top talent goes to core schools, and you don’t necessarily need top talent – just the right talent. Once you’re clear on what skills you need, do research to discover where you can find students with those skills, from the schools they attend and the programs they’re enrolled in to the clubs they’re a part of. Then reach them where they are with audience-specific sourcing methods that go beyond career fairs.
  3. Tailor your candidate experience. Many students are new to the job market and don’t showcase their skills in the same way that more seasoned job seekers do. Tailor assessment and selection methods to better identify students’ abilities.

For more information on this research, see McLean & Company’s blueprint, Build a Customized Campus Recruitment Program, or contact jcampbell@mcleanco.com.

By Rudolf du Toit

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