Recent college graduates, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that fewer employers than ever care about entry-level candidates’ GPAs—so all those exam and assignment grades that had you camping out in the library are worth less than you may have thought.
The good news is that fewer employers than ever care about entry-level candidates’ GPAs—so the actual knowledge and skills you gained from your education and other experiences matter way more than the numbers on your transcript.
According to a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 37% of employers intend on screening recent grad applicants by GPA—down from a recent high of 73.3% just a few years ago.
As a recent grad, you’re probably more aware than anybody that grades aren’t necessarily a reflection of how much you learned in school or what you’re capable of in a work environment. This shift “signals a recognition that screening by GPA may weaken efforts to build an inclusive workforce as it can put students who are balancing school with work and other responsibilities at a disadvantage in the job market,” NACE executive director Shawn VanDerziel said in a press release.
So what are employers looking for in recent grads? The skills and abilities that you’ll actually use in the workplace.
6 top skills employers are looking for in new grads
Here are the attributes that the most employers ranked as very/extremely important for the 2022-2023 recruiting year:
- Problem-solving skills (61.4% of employers said this was very or extremely important): Employers want workers who can identify issues and come up with solutions. Regardless of what your major was, you likely had to evaluate different aspects of an issue or question, decide on possible methods for finding an answer or drawing a conclusion, execute on one of these methods, and back up your decisions—all vital components of problem-solving.
- Ability to work in a team (61%): Those group projects were good for something. You can also use team sports and other group extracurriculars to demonstrate your ability to work well with others.
- Strong work ethic (52.4%): You just finished college, and you may have managed part-time jobs and/or extracurriculars on top of that. So you know how to work hard and get things done. (Read more about how to demonstrate soft skills—like work ethic—in your job search.)
- Analytical/quantitative skills (50.4%): These are the skills that help you find, evaluate, and synthesize information to make decisions and/or solve problems. For example, in college you may have had to analyze data for science or business courses, or you may have had to choose the right sources and incorporate them into a research project or paper.
- Communication skills (50%): Communication skills encapsulates any way you might share or receive information from others. In college you participated in class discussions, put together presentations, sent emails, and submitted written assignments like papers and lab reports.
Bonus tips for showing off your skills as a recent grad
- Figure out what a specific company wants by closely reading the job description they’ve posted. Then, tailor your resume and other application materials to emphasize the skills you have that matter most for this job.
- Leverage internships and part-time jobs. These experiences show that you have the professional skills necessary to thrive in a full-time role. In fact, the NACE report found that relevant internship experience is the top deciding factor when there are two equally qualified recent grads competing for a position.
- Don’t restrict experience to paid work. Volunteer experience, extracurricular activities, projects, and coursework are all ways you could have acquired and used the skills employers are looking for. So mention that fundraising event you organized for a local hospital or the project that sent you out into the field to observe wildlife behavior.
- Don’t skip the cover letter. Cover letters can be hard to write, but even when they’re optional, they’re almost always worth it. You can use your cover letter to give specific examples of when you’ve used the skills an employer is looking for and connect your education and past experience to the entry-level role you want.
- Prepare for your interview. Be ready to answer common interview questions and prep a few stories that show how you’ve used skills and demonstrated qualities employers are looking for.