What kind of experience do employers look for in recent graduates?

Heather KrasnaHeather Krasna
Author, Speaker, and Public Service Career Expert
Every employer is different, but in general, most employers seek at least one relevant internship experience or other related work experience prior to graduation in their new, entry-level hires. Other experience, such as leadership roles in student activities or sports, volunteer work, or less-relevant summer or part-time jobs, can also add value. For certain, more competitive industries, such as marketing, media/journalism, or the arts, multiple relevant internships may be necessary to be considered well qualified for a position. Students can gain relevant work and internship experience by leveraging the career center at their campus, conducting outreach through contacts and connections on Linkedin (visit Linkedin for special tips for college students), or even doing cold-calls to employers of interest.

The experience employers appreciate the most is work experience in the industry and job function most related to what they are recruiting for, and they also value experience that demonstrates your ability to add value to the bottom line. Employers also seek experience that demonstrates that you can both be part of a team, as well as take on a leadership role. In addition, just holding any sort of regular job demonstrates certain skills all employers need: timeliness, professionalism, and work ethic.

Christine FaderChristine Fader
Career Counselor, Author, and Editor 
The good news is that most employers don’t expect recent graduates to have lots of relevant paid experience.  However, many students under-value the experience they DO have.  It is very normal for students to have a variety of non-related work experiences but you may not always be aware that these contribute valuable transferrable skills (such as communication, leadership, conflict management, etc) to your first job after graduation—even if they’re not in a related field.  Employers also like to see non-paid experiences that highlight your ability to balance work and school and develop related interests and skills.  These non-paid experiences could include relevant extra-curricular activities (student clubs, sports, government etc), volunteer work and related courses during your degree.  Even though you weren’t paid to acquire these skills, employers value them because they indicate your basic knowledge and interest in a topic and reassure the employer about your ability to get up to speed more quickly once you’re hired.   

There is not one type of experience that potential employers look for in recent graduates. Still, all employers are looking for some combination of the same characteristics: substantive knowledge, intellect, and leadership. Fortunately these skills can be demonstrated in various ways.

Donald K. ShermanDonald K. Sherman
Attorney, Author, Founder
Somebody Does That?!
If you are truly interested in a particular career, then it’s likely you have already pursued that interest in your academic study or in summer internships. While grades are certainly one metric employers use to determine intellect, it can also be demonstrated through written work about a given field or by asking incisive questions in an interview. Finally, leadership manifests itself in many ways, including by taking initiative in extracurricular activities, challenging yourself inside and outside the classroom. Ultimately, employers are looking for individuals with a range of experiences that reflect their interests and expertise. It is your ability to convey in a résumé, cover letter, and interview how those experiences will benefit them.

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