7 Things Employers Want from New Grads

Facebook accounts that aren’t embarrassing and at least two internships top the list.

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Here’s more good news for the class of 2012: Almost nine in 10 employers say they will hire more graduates this year than last year, according to a survey of 225 employers by Millennial Branding, a generation Y research and consulting firm. But the survey results also come with a warning for new grads. Employers say they’ve been disappointed with the lack of preparation among potential hires during job interviews, and many report that they run background checks on Facebook and other social media sites.

For 2012 grads intent on landing their dream job, here are seven key things that employers want:

1. Facebook accounts that don’t embarrass anyone.

Perhaps it should be obvious by now, but there’s a good chance that anyone who hires you will run a Web search on you first. That search could pull up various social media accounts, from Facebook to Twitter to personal blogs. Depending on your privacy settings, that means a potential boss could see photos of you from last Saturday night’s party, or the bikini pictures from your last beach trip. One in three employers said they use social networks to conduct background checks on job candidates, and 40 percent of those that do said they specifically check Facebook.

Of course, there are ways to keep your online image professional without swearing off social media altogether. Facebook users can ramp up their privacy settings; some people go so far as to use alternate spellings of their last names or initials to make it impossible to search for them.

2. Entrepreneurial experience.

One in three employers said they are looking for entrepreneurial experience in their potential hires, something that college grads can get by stepping outside the typical retail clerk jobs or internship networks. By launching their own side businesses or setting up a shop online, college students can teach themselves about entrepreneurship—and increase their value to potential employers in the process.

3. Leadership experience.

Even among their youngest workers, employers value leadership experience. About half of those surveyed said that they look to hire people who have held leadership positions in on-campus organizations, which could mean anything from heading up a three-person chess club to being president of the student government. For employers, such experience suggests that job candidates know how to work with people and get stuff done.

4. Internship experience.

Internships get a bad rap—who wants to work hard for little or no pay? But employers say it’s the ticket to a better job after graduation. In fact, nine in 10 employers said they look for students to have one or two internships before graduating, and that those internships should be at least three months each to provide enough experience. That means graduates should consider putting in at least six months at the intern grind before landing their first “real” job.

5. Basic knowledge of the job.

Anyone walking into a job interview should probably have a basic grasp of what the job entails, how the company works, and what it might be like to work there. Standard career advice suggests that job candidates should have a handful of questions to ask their potential employers to help demonstrate their knowledge of the way the company works. But four in 10 employers said they are turned off by “how unprepared students are in interviews,” suggesting that many recent grads don’t do enough homework before their interviews.

6. Communication skills.

A whopping 98 percent of employers surveyed said they consider communication skills to be essential. According to Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, that means “the ability to write, compose emails, give presentations in front of others, and being able to have conversations with those across generations.”

He adds that many employers believe hard skills, such as how to use a particular software program, can be easily learned, while soft skills, such as communication, need to be developed. “It takes time to master the art of communication, especially when young people are so dependent on technology instead of real-life communication,” says Schawbel. The ability to coordinate with others is closely related; 92 percent of employers said they also consider it important.

7. A good attitude.

It sounds so simple and obvious: Job candidates should strive to come across as enthusiastic and friendly, and always follow-up with a thank-you note. But one in four employers surveyed said they are turned off by candidates’ “bad attitude.” How hard can it be to fake a positive attitude, if only for the duration of the job interview?

Perhaps soon-to-be grads have spent too much time behind a screen and falter when it comes to person-to-person contact. Six in 10 employers conduct in-person or phone interviews for the first round, and most have two rounds of interviews, which can take up to two months to complete. That means job candidates have to find a way to maintain their enthusiasm across multiple interactions, or they risk coming off as duds. And no one wants to hire someone who doesn’t seem eager to work with them.

Do you have any advice for new grads seeking jobs?

Twitter: @alphaconsumer