About 1.8 million college students are graduating this year and they'll be entering the best job market for new grads since before the recession. College hiring, for example, is expectedto be up 9.6% over last year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
And it gets better. These new job seekers have all the skills employers want: an understanding of information technology, social media and the ability to be innovative problem solvers. From a business perspective, all signs point to this group being the smartest and savviest in the workforce today.
Yet despite that, recent college grads might still miss out on landing that perfect job, because they haven't yet mastered one critical skill: simple business etiquette.
It might seem old school, but no matter how competitive a candidate you are, if you don't know how to shake hands, make eye contact or dress for an interview, it will certainly be difficult to make it past the first round. And this is true despite dramatic changes in recruiting over the last decade.
While the hard skills employers want have evolved over time--and as I mentioned, this group has those--the demand for fluency in basic interpersonal skills and business etiquette has remained constant. In fact the top five skills employers say they value most in new hires, according to NACE's Job Outlook 2015 survey, are what we consider "soft skills"--professional behavior, appropriate dress, the ability to collaborate with coworkers, write well and communicate effectively face-to-face. Communication skills are of particular concern to employers. In a study this year from the Association of American Colleges & Universities, 85% of employers said effective communication skills are "very important" to them when they hire.
For new grads, this could be especially problematic because of their heavy reliance on texting, instant messaging, emails and Snapchat for communicating. While mobile devices may be efficient, you can't learn how to read nonverbal emotional cues from a screen. Research from UCLA last year reinforced that when a study found that children who stopped using their smart phones and other digital devices became much better at reading human emotions than kids who spent hours a day looking at a screen.
Basic business etiquette, like a firm handshake, eye contact and the ability to politely listen and pay attention to what's being said, are crucial workplace skills. And keep in mind that organizational hierarchies are still alive and well in corporate America. Even if you work in a relatively casual environment you should be respectful of everyone, and especially those senior to you. If you need to speak with someone higher-up, for example, don't ask them to call you, instead set up an appointment to speak or meet with them at their convenience.
From a recruiter's standpoint, the best candidates from the 2015 pool of new grads will possess a combination of hard and soft skills. Potential employers may learn about you virtually--from your resume, social footprint and digital portfolio--but the proof of your professionalism and job-readiness is based in reality. It comes when you connect, person-to-person, with those doing the hiring.