This past year I have sat on advisory boards with company recruiters, took part in hiring webinars, and just recently had the chance to join a workshop discussing the gap between company needs and the workforce – mostly focusing on new graduates. While each company or field will be looking for different expertise, I found one key trend that is in constant high demand by all of these groups and constant low supply. When employers were asked what was this top priority they were looking at during the hiring process, it was not specific technical skills or work experience as you might expect. The secret ingredient they were seeking was candidates with strong work ethic and soft skills. 

Both The Center for Work Ethic Development and Education Advisory Board have produced material from employer research that a whopping 80-90% of business leaders feel that graduates are unprepared to succeed in their new roles.

So am I saying these technical skills and work experience were not important? No is the quick, short answer. These are extremely important but many candidates will have these specific attributes. You will need to stand out by expressing in an interview your strong work ethic and soft skills from past experiences and showcase these on the job to move up into leadership or management roles. Technical skills can be taught – having soft skills can help recruiters envision you within a company.

This is great news, right? The majority of us all have strong soft skills that employers are looking for and should not be an issue – except for if you followed above, 80-90% of theses employers are not impressed when it comes to work ethic for hiring, but still about that same percentage of new graduates actually feel as if they do indeed hold these qualities.

What are employers looking for when they say “work ethic”?

  • Have a positive mentality and attitude – your coworkers will appreciate this and your managers will demand it. By no means do you need to walk through the halls with an awkward, frozen smile on your face waving at every coworker but avoid being the office naysayer.
  • Be on time. All the time. Every time.
  • Know the situation – always look and act professionally. Sweatpants and tennis shoes are not a traditional uniform for organizations. While companies will vary in acceptable attire, it is always a good idea to look at what your coworkers and direct supervisors are wearing to make your adjustments. Avoid inappropriate conversations, constant slacking off, and playing hooky.

  • Take initiative on projects and help out where you see an opportunity. Promotions happen for those that go the extra mile and are seen as “go-getters” versus those waiting quietly for their next assignment.
  • Take ownership in your work through the good and bad. Make sure to always be accountable for your actions within the workplace.
  • Be coachable and willing to make changes as your organization progresses towards new goals.
  • Appreciate your coworkers and let them know when they have been helpful – doing so continues to create an environment of successful individuals thus a successful organization.

Sure these are simple on the surface, but it is important to make sure each day they are implemented. We must ask ourselves if we were managing an employee with similar work ethic that we were displaying, would we promote that individual?