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Jul 2, 2015

As the rate of technological adoption grows, the nature of work across all industries is becoming increasingly complex and difficult to predict.

The results of this accelerating rate of change — including globalization, innovation and changes in economic cycles — have a sweeping impact on the nature of work, and managers are starting to factor all of this into the criteria they use to hire new employees.

This means big changes in how Millennials should prepare for their careers.

In an effort to better understand how managers are evaluating Millennials who apply for jobs at their organizations, Instructure recently polled more than 750 managers all over the country to ask what they value most in entry-level employees. The results reveal that managers want employees who can adapt to rapid change, solve problems on the fly and be teachable at every phase of their career.

In short, they care most about the raw materials you offer as an employee, not the finished product.

Attributes first

For most of the post-Industrial Revolution workforce era, managers have put top billing on hard skills as the key differentiator when hiring entry-level employees. However, the results of this study suggest a stark paradigm shift is happening.

According to the data, managers ranked soft skills like work ethic and attitude as the most important consideration when hiring entry-level employees, coming in well ahead of academic success and even experience. At first, we interpreted this as a reflection of the growing service economy, but a deeper analysis reveals another story.

When we asked managers what factors are most important to career success — not simply what they look for in hiring — managers rank industry knowledge and technical skill on par with core attributes. This suggests that in order to succeed at work, employers want Millennials who can demonstrate a well-rounded capacity and interest in continual learning because the skills they need to do their job now may be vastly different than the ones they need in 5-10 years.

This is the new litmus test for Millennials and others entering the workforce for the first time: Can they prove their mettle as industrious, committed and creative problem-solvers?

While this seems like a nuanced shift from what managers have cared most about in the past, it’s significant because it will require a fundamentally different mindset for job-seekers who will need to prove what they’re made of before employers will trust what they can do.

Employers as educators

This means life-long learning is no longer a quaint platitude, but a necessity for career survival, and organizations are taking a more active and deliberate role in educating their employees. In fact, 79 percent of managers reported a candidate’s prestigious schooling was the least important consideration when hiring.

On the surface, this seems to indicate a devaluation of traditional education, but again a deeper dive reveals the opposite is true.

The underlying problem-solving capabilities learned during a college education may be more relevant than ever as a means of developing the critical thinking and analytical skills managers prioritized in our survey.

But there’s a growing consensus that once this foundation is in place, skill development must be part of ongoing learning programs at work — programs that go beyond onboarding and position the organization as a lifelong learning resource for its employees.

Winning the job interview

Managers’ attributes-first mentality manifests as early as the job interview, where many prospective employees are struggling to make a believable case for why they should be hired, particularly if they come across as too casual, which can be perceived as disinterested. In fact, maybe the interview is being devalued altogether.

According to the study, only 4 percent of managers said how well a candidate performed during an interview was the most important consideration to make when hiring. This may surprise many Millennials who have been told over and over how important their interviewing skills are as they prepare to enter the workforce.

The takeaway here is that managers aren’t likely to be wooed by tech-savvy, social media-minded Millennials unless they see core substance to back it up.

This skeptical attitude likely stems from a growing discontent among managers who’ve been burned by underperforming employees who can sometimes appear unwilling to apply the necessary effort to support the team or even simply show up on time consistently.

Doing what it takes

Only 8 percent of managers reported that entry-level employees are very prepared to immediately contribute to their organization, partially due to the perception that expectations for advancement don’t match the willingness to contribute.

To win the job interview, and ultimately flourish in the modern workplace, Millennials have to exude confidence without ego, a kind of pragmatic competence that suggests a willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed, and the ability to be teachable and grow over time.

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