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Dreaming of a Big Paycheck? Know What Skills Employers Look For

If you can’t live without spell check, aren’t sure of the difference between a salad and dinner fork or have a difficult time carrying on a meaningful conversation, then it’s important to get your head on straight before marching into the job world.

“You really have the edge if you’re able to write well or communicate well verbally,” said Amy Glass, a corporate trainer with Brody Communications Ltd. “Since we’re all so dependent on technology, it’s getting worse and worse.”

Spelling, speaking and good manners aren’t the only skills that will be imperative for college graduates who are looking for jobs in the coming years, said Glass. The Pennsylvania-based company she works for teaches skills like business etiquette and team building to large corporations.

Glass said flexibility is one characteristic all employers will be looking for in coming years. Graduates need to be adaptable in different job and social situations to succeed. This is important because many larger companies are now starting off their employees in rotating positions, for example two years in sales and then two years in marketing.

The ability to converse on a global scale is another important ingredient for success.

“People need to look out of the American spectrum and into other parts of the world,” said Glass. “That’s why it’s so important to be involved in a variety of activities at the college level.”

NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, ranks the top qualities/skills employers look for in order of importance. The top five are as follows:

1) Communication skills

2) Honesty/integrity

3) Teamwork

4) Interpersonal skills

5) Motivation/initiative

But when talking about future trends in the job market, college graduates might be thinking of something else besides qualifying skills: the paycheck.

Graduates who hold degrees in business are seeing some increase in their salary offers, according to an April report by NACE. Starting salary offers for those in the technical field are continuing to fall, as they have for the past several years.

NACE’s Spring 2003 Salary Survey shows that business administration graduates received the highest overall increase of 3.7 percent. On average, these majors earned $36,515 to start off. Accounting majors average beginning job offers of $41,360 for those in public and private accounting positions. However, bigger paychecks are more likely for grads in areas of consulting and financial analysis. These fields, on average, were offered $45,680 for consulting and $45,761 for financial analysis.

For the past six years, starting job offers to computer science majors have dropped. Now, these majors will earn an average of $46,536 out of college, a 7.6 percent decrease from a few years ago when this major was in high demand.

As a whole, most liberal arts graduates receive starting offers of $29,543, according to the NACE study. Sales, management trainee and teaching positions are some of the most common jobs for these grads.

Other than a few specific areas such as accounting and nursing, most employers are looking for specific skills mentioned above, rather than specific majors, according to Jane Schildroth, director of career and education programming at the University of Iowa Career Center.

Schildroth and her staff say the top five places employers find new hires are company’s internship programs, co-op programs, on-campus interviews, employee referrals, and career fairs.

Even with all the necessary knowledge in the world about what to do in order to land that great job, the fact still lingers: the job market is not booming at the moment. Although some predictions say that hiring will improve in 2004, no one really knows for sure. The whole theory is sort of like gazing into a crystal ball, according to the career center staff.

The impact of the war on hiring is still unknown because of the complicated connections with the economy as a whole, career center officials say.

“We’ve also told students for years that the job they may have someday may not have been invented yet,” Schildroth said.

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