What are recruiters really looking for in a job applicant?

May 16, 2023 · 3 min read · By ASU Online
Recruiters face hiring challenges around finding candidates with the right technical abilities, interpersonal skills and real-life experience. A college degree can give you all of those attributes.

We all know that a recruiter is looking for someone who has the prerequisites listed on the job description. But that’s just a start; the bare minimum. Meeting those requirements makes you an eligible candidate who’s up for consideration, but that doesn’t mean you’ll stand out. So what exactly makes a candidate stand out? What are the key factors hiring managers look for?

We surveyed more than 2,000 recruiters and hiring managers who revealed there are several things they seek out in candidates, and there’s a challenge unifying many of them: They can’t find a candidate with the right education.

Here’s are the top qualifications recruiters are looking:


1. Education at the right university

As one hiring manager put it bluntly: “Most people who apply don’t have the needed degree.” Having a college degree tells recruiters a few things. For one, you have foundational knowledge of your field and have demonstrated an ability to apply that knowledge. Earning a degree also shows recruiters that you’re reliable and follow through on your commitments.

What’s better than getting a degree? Getting one at a highly regarded university. Not all college degrees are viewed equally. In our survey, 63% of hiring managers and recruiters said that where a person earned a degree was either important or very important in their assessment of a candidate.

As another hiring manager put it: The biggest hiring challenge is “finding the right fit for our company, such as solid qualifications from a reputable university.”

Choosing a reputable university is particularly important when attending college online, since plenty of for-profit online organizations offer programs with lower admission standards and quality of education. Reputable online programs, such as Arizona State University's online degrees, are accredited by a recognized institutional accrediting organization, have the same level of admission requirements as any in-person program and generally boast a not-for-profit status.


2. Soft skills

Recruiters also look for well-rounded individuals who have demonstrated an ability to work well with others, communicate effectively, think critically and solve problems. In other words, people with soft skills.

“Our biggest challenge is finding people that are outgoing and are sociable. People that have no issues starting a conversation with anyone and keeping their attention,” said one hiring manager.

With a college degree, you signal to hiring managers that you have the soft skills they’re looking for. No matter your area of study, the college experience can help you develop these imperative interpersonal traits through group assignments, presentations, the management of multiple responsibilities and participation in extracurricular activities. To that end, ASU has clubs and organizations for online students that can help build relationships, connections and a sense of community outside the classroom environment.


3. Experience and education

Our survey showed that the winning formula is having a degree and work experience. Pretty straightforward. But this means that even if a degree isn’t required for the position, it can help you stand out and land an interview.

“The biggest hiring challenge is finding candidates with a four-year degree who have years of experience,” one hiring manager revealed. Another manager said, “The biggest hiring challenge is people having the right education for the position.” Another adds: “Seeking well-educated people is the biggest challenge.”

In all, 83% of survey respondents said level of education was important or very important when deciding which candidates to interview.

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