With more than 14 million Americans looking for work, hiring managers at top U.S. companies claim they are unable to find qualified job candidates. Even more striking is that there are more than three million open positions in the marketplace today.

How is that possible?

As a member of the Career Advisory Board, presented by DeVry University, we sought to investigate this discrepancy by conducting a national online survey called the Job Preparedness Indicator with Harris Interactive, September 6-12, 2011. Through this research, we identified where the gaps exist between qualifications that are valued by employers compared to the skills the current pool of candidates say they have. Armed with this information, we are able to provide helpful advice to applicants desperately seeking employment and help to close the critical skills gap.

The Job Preparedness Indicator

The Job Preparedness Indicator assessed the value of key skills across entry-, mid- and senior-level positions by determining which attributes employers consider most important but are rarely seen in candidates.

After surveying nearly 550 hiring managers at top U.S. companies and more than 730 job seekers, the study revealed a striking gap between which skills hiring managers value in a candidate and how job seekers describe their own skills.

The research found that 56 percent of job seekers are confident they know which qualifications are required for employment, yet only 14 percent of hiring managers say job seekers demonstrate the skills their company looks for in potential employees.

Getting on the same page as hiring managers

Interestingly, our research shows that the actual gap may be smaller than people think – as some of the impedance between hiring managers and job seekers is potentially due not necessarily to incompetence, but to misperceptions about what criteria is most important to the other party.

There were several key findings that brought to light where the skill discrepancies exist and which attributes are most valued, including:

  • Hiring managers reported among the most important skills at the managerial level – strategic perspective, global outlook and business acumen – are highly valued but rarely seen in candidates.
  • Nearly eight out of 10 hiring managers, or 79 percent, are “extremely” or “very likely” to hire an inexperienced but eager entry-level candidate. Basically, enthusiasm and willingness to learn are what hiring managers want at this level, with the expectation that a lack of experience will be countered by rapid on-the-job learning and a long term commitment.
  • Only nine percent of hiring managers reported they would be “extremely” or “very likely” to hire a managerial candidate who lacked the necessary skills but appeared eager to learn those skills on the job. However, just 30 percent of job seekers ranked prior experience as the top factor in leading to a desirable job. Hiring managers clearly desire experience at this level and may not have the patience to ramp up lesser qualified candidates. Unfortunately, it appears that a large percentage of candidates don’t realize this.
  • Hiring managers place the highest value on the following skills across all job levels: strategic perspective, high integrity, global outlook, strong base work ethic/dependable and accountability.

Homing in on skills with the widest gap

The Career Advisory Board recommends gaining valuable experience, improving core workplace skills and leveraging the results of the Job Preparedness Indicator to serve as a guide to help assess strengths and identify weaknesses.

The following strategies can increase job seekers’ marketability among hiring managers:

  • Use the information from the Job Preparedness Indicator report to gain a better understanding of what hiring managers are looking for in candidates at the level you are seeking. The report clearly shows a discrepancy between hiring manager and job seeker expectations, so try to understand that what you think is important, or unimportant, may actually not be the case.
  • Before diving into a job search, take a step back and think about the job and how your qualifications meet the specific needs of the position. Don’t forget to illustrate quantifiable results.
  • Take ownership of your development by looking for opportunities to improve your core competencies and learn those skill sets that are valued by employers.

If you are unemployed:

  1. Seek an internship or volunteer opportunities to gain real-world experience and expand your network.
  2. Demonstrate your proficiency in newly-acquired skills to your prospective employer and explain how they can be transferred to the workplace.

If you are employed:

  1. Take advantage of corporate training programs to improve communication skills and problem-solving abilities.
  2. Pursue stretch assignments that will challenge you to demonstrate your readiness to step into a role that goes beyond the one you are currently in.
  3. Develop a personal brand. As Dan Schawbel encourages his readership to do, job seekers should develop a strong, memorable personal brand, capturing hiring managers’ attention on social networking sites such as LinkedIn.
  4. Seek mentorship. These types of relationships help you build a foundation and set the pace for your career. Mentors can help you learn about a realistic career path and what it takes to succeed.

The Job Preparedness Indicator research sheds light on crucial information: which skills and traits job seekers must focus on to increase their marketability among hiring managers. Ultimately, employers and job seekers should be able to use our findings to better calibrate each other’s expectations and practices, which could have a material impact on employment.


Dan Kasun is the senior director of developer and platform evangelism for U.S. Public Sector at Microsoft. Kasun and his teams are responsible for evangelizing how new technologies can be applied in the government and education industries, providing readiness and guidance to developers, and working directly with agencies, organizations and partners to help ensure success for solutions built on the Microsoft platform. In addition, his organization works with schools, faculty, and students to build enthusiasm and competency for Computer Science education and technical career development.

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