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Employers Want These Traits in Entry-Level Hires

Honing a skill and being tech-forward are just a couple traits that will help you break in

If you’re new to the job market and seeking your first “real” job, you’re probably wondering: What exactly do employers want in entry-level hires?

That’s probably especially true if you’re just getting out of college; those years on campus probably filled you with book knowledge and plenty of high hopes for the future, but very little idea of what abilities the people you’ll be working for want you to have.

Here’s a crash course on what employers desire in new grads, and how you can give it to them, straight from Jeffrey J. Selingo’s hot-off-the-presses book There Is Life After College.

1. Be a ‘Learning Animal’

Unlike the task-based routines of your college career, such as due dates and tests, the working world is a lot more unstructured with “competing priorities and decisions that need to be made on the fly,” writes Selingo. Employers are looking for candidates who are flexible about how they learn, who have ideas and who actually get stuff done.

“We need people who are creative, curious, whose brains are wired to constantly ask what’s next,” says a Hollywood executive that Selingo quotes. “What we need are learning animals.”

2. Master One Skill

Although in the past employers may have sought out well-rounded jacks-of-all-trades, Selingo reports employers are now searching for candidates who have truly mastered one skill.

“We want to see that they have a passion,” says Adam Ward, Pinterest’s head of recruiting, in a quote in Selingo’s book, “and they show proficiency and go deep in it.”

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3. Be Digitally Active

Even though you’re considered a “tech native,” employers want more than just the passive appreciation of tech and data from new candidates. Rather than simply understanding the what behind machines and programs, it’s important you understand the how and why.

This means learning some basic coding and having an understanding of data and analytics. Learning programming today is similar to learning a second language last century, write Selingo: “You might not become proficient enough to move overseas, but you could get by if you traveled to a particular country.”

4. Embrace Ambiguity

As you break into the workforce, you’ll quickly learn that the tasks you’re given may not be as clearly defined as an assignment in a class. Employers seek out candidates who can navigate the areas in between work tasks, taking on things that weren’t asked of them in order to get the job done.

“Excelling at any job is about doing the things you weren’t asked to do,” says Mary Egan, founder of Seattle–based startup Gatheredtable in a quote in Selingo’s book. “The more you can do to clear off your boss’s plate and free up his or her days, the more valuable you become to the organization.”

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