Student Success: What employers are looking for.

By: Kimberly Elias

Through the Supporting Student Success research study, we have explored how various stakeholders define student success and how organizational structures can support or hinder those definitions. While there are varying interpretations of ‘student success,’ getting a job is surely an element of most students’ definition. Our role as student affairs and staff practitioners is to support students in their academic pursuits, while encouraging students to engage in meaningful opportunities beyond the classroom—which will support their success during and after their studies. To support our students in their pursuit of a career, it is useful to have an understanding of the labour market and what employers are looking for in the hiring process. Do employers look at grades? Do employers value co-curricular experiences? This post will highlight some results from my master’s thesis titled, “Employer perceptions of co-curricular engagement and the Co-Curricular Record in the hiring process.” I conducted a survey with employers from the University of Toronto Career Centre database and received responses from 110 employers from various industries. Employers were asked to reflect on current hiring practices, including the skills they look for, and their perceived value of the new Co-Curricular Record program. So what do employers value?

1. Skills, skills, skills Both the academic literature and my research highlights the importance of core skills, and employers use the resume and interview to discern whether or not candidates have those skills. In my survey, employers were asked to select the competencies/skills they look for in the hiring process. The top five competencies (in order) included: communication, professionalism, teamwork, critical thinking, and collaboration. Competencies When I analyzed responses across five industry groupings based on the National Occupation Classification, the top three selected competencies from the aggregate level were also in the top five across all industry groupings—communication, professionalism, teamwork. Other literature supports the value of these skills, where other studies have found communication, work ethic, teamwork, and leadership among the top desirable skills (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2008; Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc., 2006; Canadian Council of Chief Executives, 2014). This suggests that regardless of the industry, there are core skills that employers look for in the hiring process.

2. Educational credentials…but not really grades Employers were asked to identify the importance of various factors in the hiring process. While all factors were considered important by some employers, when ranked by importance, previous work experience was at the top followed by educational degree, references’ feedback, academic subject focus, extracurricular participation, grades, awards/official recognition. Factors One can assume that a level of knowledge and skills has been developed through academic credentials, and so employers do value the educational degree in hiring. However, GPA plays a limited role. In this study, it was ranked 6/7 factors, and the literature suggests that GPA is often not asked for in hiring, and if it is, it may be used as an initial screening tool rather than a deciding factor (Causer, 2009; Hutchinson & Brefka, 1997; University Wire, 2014).

3. Co-curricular experiences!? In student affairs, we often preach the value of a well-rounded education, and how engagement in co-curricular opportunities can influence the student experience, development, and success. In my survey, I used the term “extracurricular” rather than co-curricular, since that is the language more prevalent in labour market research. While nearly half of employers (49%) identified extracurricular participation as very important or important in the hiring process, it was ranked fifth out of seven factors, while previous work experience was ranked first. This suggests that employers may not necessarily see extracurricular experiences as a primary indicator for developing the core skills that they look for in hiring. Yet we know through student development theories that co-curricular engagement can help students develop core skills such as communication, leadership, and teamwork. This is where the Co-Curricular Record (CCR) can come into play. In my survey, employers were provided with a definition of what “co-curricular” means, along with a description and sample of the CCR. Employers were then asked a series of pointed questions about their perceived value of the CCR. When asked how likely they are to review the CCR, 77% of respondents said they would be very likely or likely to review a CCR if it is attached to an application, and 73% if it is brought to an interview. The gap between the value employers placed on extracurricular participation (49%) to their likelihood of using a CCR (73-77%) suggests that employers may not inherently understand the value of these experiences, and it is important to provide information about how co-curricular experiences can foster the development of desirable core skills. Since the CCR produces an official record of involvement, this demonstrates institutional recognition of the value of these experiences. At an institutional level, the CCR should be promoted to employers as a means to demonstrate the value and importance of co-curricular experiences in developing skills. Whether students submit a CCR, or use it as a preparation tool to help them write their resume or prepare for an interview, the CCR is a visible initiative that can help elevate the value of these experiences. CCR sample What you can do

  1. Encourage engagement: Whether or not your institution has a Co-Curricular Record, there are a myriad of experiences beyond that classroom that you can encourage students to participate in that will help them develop core skills.
  2. Facilitate reflection: Once students participate in these opportunities, it is important to help students reflect on their experiences and the skills that they developed. In the media, we hear concerns about a “job skills gap”. In my survey, when I asked employers to rate the ability of students/recent graduates to describe the competencies/skills they developed outside the classroom, 4% of employers selected excellent, 35% very good, 49% satisfactory, and 12% needs improvement. This highlights that we can help students improve their ability to articulate relevant skills. If a student is an Orientation Co-Chair and cannot articulate the value of that experience on their resume or in an interview, and if an employer does not know what it means to be a Co-Chair, then the value of that experience is lost in the process and the assumption is that the candidate does not possess the necessary skills. Again, whether or not your institution has a CCR, you can help students think through their experiences, so that they can describe the value.
  3. Join the movement: If your institution has a CCR, is in the process of developing one, or thinking about developing one—this recommendation is for you. A Canadian CCR Professionals Network has formed, and I encourage you to join. The network has 150 professionals across the country, and is intended to provide a space for open communication and dialogue through a listserv, workspace, and regional and national meet-ups. To join, email


Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE). (2014, January). Preliminary survey report: the skills needs of major Canadian employers. Retrieved from

Causer, C. (2009). G.P.Eh? Grading the attributes that set candidates apart. IEEE Potentials, 28(3), 17-18. Doi: 10.1109/MPOT.2009.932462.

Elias, K. (2014). Employer Perceptions of Co-Curricular Engagement and the Co-Curricular Record in the Hiring Process. Unpublished master’s thesis, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. (2013). Welcome to the National Occupational Classification 2011. Retrieved from

Hutchinson K.L., Brefka D.S. (1997). Personnel administrators’ preferences for resume content: Ten years after. Business Communication Quarterly, 60, 67-75.

National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). (2008). Experiential Education Survey. Retrieved from

Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. (on behalf of The Association of American Colleges and Universities). (2006, December 28). How should colleges prepare students to succeed in today’s global economy? Retrieved from

University Wire. (2014, Jan. 9). GPA isn’t everything when it comes to finding careers. Retrieved from


One thought on “Student Success: What employers are looking for.

  1. Hi Tricia,

    Hope all is well!! Would I be able to repost this blog on my website?


    Dr. Sarai Koo

    CEO and Founder *Helping Students Succeed in School, College and Life* Mailing Address: 13337 South Street #574, Cerritos, CA 90703 Program Address: 14305 Morgan Street, Baldwin Park, CA 91706 (310) 487-1228

    [image: Transforming People to Live Quality Lives] Project SPICES, President Transforming People to Live Quality Lives Mailing Address: 13337 South Street #574, Cerritos, CA 90703 (213) 718-9676

    On Mon, Feb 9, 2015 at 6:53 AM, Supporting Student Success wrote:

    > Supporting Student Success posted: “By: Kimberly Elias Through the > Supporting Student Success research study, we have explored how various > stakeholders define student success and how organizational structures can > support or hinder those definitions. While there are varying > interpretation”

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