What hiring managers look for in recent college grads

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If you spent or borrowed lots of money to go to a top-name college because it would give you a leg up in the job market, America's hiring managers have some bad news for you. Nearly two-thirds say it doesn't matter where a job candidate went to college.

A new survey from Millennial Branding and Beyond.com surveyed 281 hiring managers at companies of all sizes as well as 3,000 job seekers of all ages to see how well the two groups' understanding of what it takes to get a job match up. For those still in college or just graduating, the answer is "not very well."

Here are the three things hiring managers found most important when hiring recent college grads:

  1. Cultural fit (43 percent)
  2. Relevant courses (20 percent)
  3. Internships (13 percent)

And the three things those 20 and under believed the most important:

  1. Internship experience (25 percent)
  2. GPA (17 percent)
  3. Leadership positions in on-campus groups (17 percent)

While cultural fit isn't necessarily something that can be prepared for, it is telling that relevant course work came in fifth on the students' list. The students' No. 2, GPA, was dead last on the hiring managers' list with only 1.79 percent thinking it was important.

Knowing technology is also far less important for new graduates than they might think. Here are the top skills hiring managers are looking for in a recent college graduate (listed in order of importance)

  1. Positive attitude
  2. Communication skills
  3. Ability to work in a team
  4. Ability to adapt to change
  5. Goal-oriented
  6. Strategic thinking and analytical skills
  7. Computer skills

Communication skills and strategic and analytic thinking are key parts of a liberal arts degree, so you'd think those majors would be doing well in the work force. Unfortunately, despite these needs, liberal arts majors are the least likely to land a job. Only 2 percent of companies say they're actively recruiting those graduates, compared to 27 percent for engineering and computer information systems graduates and 18 percent for business grads. Lots of job seekers seem to know this: 49 percent of all generations believe there are "no jobs" out there for those with a liberal arts degree.

And although hiring managers put a lot of weight on having had an internship -- 58 percent said students should have at least two -- don't expect to get a job where you had your internship. Nearly half of hiring managers said they don't hire interns for full-time positions. And while 37.5 percent said they do, it's fairly rare, happening for less than 16 percent of their interns.

Other results from the study:

  • If you want to stand out in the recruitment process, know a lot about the company you're interviewing with and have a positive attitude. Hiring managers say their biggest problems with candidates are that they're unprepared for the interview and have a lousy attitude.
  • Hiring managers are more positive about how colleges are preparing students than job seekers are: 72 percent say colleges are doing an OK, but not great, job of preparing students for work. Only 66 percent of students felt the same way, and for those between the ages of 21 and 50, it dropped to 44 percent.
  • The hiring managers also feel that if students aren't prepared, a lot of the blame rests with the companies. More than 60 percent said their talent needs have changed over the past two years, but 54 percent said their companies haven't communicated those changes to the student marketplace.
  • Job boards matter, but Facebook doesn't: 45 percent of hiring managers said they find candidates via online job sites like Monster.com. However don't worry too much about all that stupid stuff you did in college. Nearly three-quarters said they don't use social networks for background checks.
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    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, CSO, and Boston Magazine.