1.2 Professional Characteristics: The Employers’ Perspective

Rachel Dolechek

It is important to develop professional characteristics as you pursue your educational goals before your first (or next) career move. These characteristics are defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) as core competencies for career readiness.  There are eight NACE core competencies developed by employers to create a shared understanding and common vocabulary between academia and industry (National Association of Colleges and Employers, n.d.). The NACE core competencies framework is utilized by many Career Services offices, including Fort Hays State University Career Services, as a foundation for preparing students for the requirements in the workplace.

Table 1.1: Career Ready Competencies Defined by NACE

(National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2021)

Competency Definition
Career & Self-Development Proactively develop oneself and one’s career through continual personal and professional learning, awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses, navigation of career opportunities, and networking to build relationships within and without one’s organization.
Communication Clearly and effectively exchange information, ideas, facts, and perspectives with persons inside and outside of an organization.
Critical Thinking Identify and respond to needs based on an understanding of situational context and logical analysis of relevant information.
Equity & Inclusion Demonstrate the awareness, attitude, knowledge, and skills required to equitably engage and include people from different local and global cultures. Engage in anti-racist practices that actively challenge the systems, structures, and policies of racism.
Leadership Recognize and capitalize on personal and team strengths to achieve organizational goals.
Professionalism Knowing work environments differ greatly, understand and demonstrate effective work habits, and act in the interest of the larger community and workplace.
Teamwork Build and maintain collaborative relationships to work effectively toward common goals while appreciating diverse viewpoints and shared responsibilities.
Technology Understand and leverage technologies ethically to enhance efficiencies, complete tasks, and accomplish goals.

(National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2021)

You may be thinking you are proficient or even excelling in some or all of the eight competencies presented in Table 1.1. From the employer’s perspective, there is still room for improvement with new graduates for each competency. In 2019, employers reported graduates to be least proficient in the areas that employers believed to be the most important (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2019). The greatest gaps in need versus proficiency were in the professionalism, communication, and critical thinking competencies, as represented in Table 1.2.

Table 1.2: Need vs. Proficiency

(National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2019)

Competency Percent of Employers Considered Essential Percent of Employers Who Deem Graduates as Proficient
Professionalism 95.1% 46.5%
Communication 93.2% 49%
Critical Thinking 99.0% 60.4%

The professionalism competency had the highest skills gap with a 48.6 percentage points difference. Why might graduates fall short in achieving proficiency with the professionalism competency in the eyes of the employer? The professionalism competency is difficult because it requires consistently achieving high standards and includes a variety of behaviors (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2021; MindTools, n.d.), such as:

  •       Acting equitably with integrity and accountability
  •       Being punctual, present, and prepared
  •       Working productively with others
  •       Managing time effectively to accomplish organizational goals and meet deadlines
  •       Showing attention to detail
  •       Having a professional work image and a positive personal brand

You now may understand what professionalism is and how important this competency is from an employer’s perspective. Take time to develop all eight NACE core competencies during your college experience. You can improve your proficiency in the professionalism competency by reviewing your social media accounts through the eyes of an employer. Perhaps complete a mock interview, internship, or experiential learning activity in class to gain experience with the professionalism competency.


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Introduction to Professional Development Copyright © 2022 by Rachel Dolechek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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