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Top Traits: the five behaviours employers want in their graduates today

Wednesday 27th January

Top Traits: the five behaviours employers want in their graduates today

Grads & the experience problem

Hiring graduates is just different, isn’t it? Only just starting out in their career, a graduate’s CV is hardly a window to the soul. Of course, it’s not their fault. But that lack of experience does make the recruiter’s life much tougher. And it begs a tricky question:

How to predict future performance, when you’ve got so little to go on?

Top employers, we’ve found, base their decisions on graduate’s behaviours instead. But there’s no manual to unpicking the mish-mash of human behaviour! So where do you start? What should you prioritise? And, crucially, why?

Well, we’ve been running the numbers. Based on our work with dozens of graduate employers and over 2m candidates, these are the five top traits graduate recruiters want, and why:

Learning agility

Employers will always appreciate fast learners. But the ability to quickly grasp and apply new concepts is especially important for grads – just because they’ve got so much to learn. This trait is called learning agility.

Consider your standard rotational grad scheme. It’s not just intended to teach grads about one job. More often, it’s an introduction to the whole business. If you expect to move your grads around different areas of the organisation, high learning agility will help them soak up and apply everything you’re teaching them. Effectively, to coin a cliche, they’re more likely to hit the ground running. 

But that’s not enough, according to our Head of Customer Solutions, Federica Rusmini. She argues that learning agility must go hand-in-hand with…


Fast learners will only learn fast if they’ve got the necessary proactivity. This means getting started on a project straight away, without delay or procrastination. 

The value of a group of go-getters might seem obvious. But highly proactive grads have only grown in value as schemes have gone remote in the past 12 months. Federica explains that now, unlike in the office environment, graduates will enjoy no:

  • “Nannying”
  • “Hand-holding”
  • “Spoon-feeding”

Or any other such metaphors. Those high in both learning agility and proactivity will be best placed to succeed under their own steam at home. 


There’s not just likely to be less day-to-day working support from line managers. Grads working remotely can also expect less emotional support. So, today, employers are increasingly looking for resilience.

This diminishing support isn’t managers’ fault. With face-to-face meetings replaced with Zoom, it’s simply much harder to spot clues suggesting fatigue, burnout or conditions like anxiety. Grads might be finding it hard to keep bouncing back – but, today, it’s much harder to tell.

So, in a world where employers can no longer guarantee grads constant support, it pays to find the resilient ones.

Ownership & responsibility 

Another example of a pre-pandemic nice-to-have becoming essential today

Great work is no longer all that’s expected from grads. Today, they’re also expected to be accountable for that work.

This, again, comes down to the fact that line managers aren’t on hand day-in, day-out to keep standards high. Sarah, a line manager juggling her job with the home-schooling of her two children, may have enough trouble motivating herself at this point. 

So, in a post-supervision world, top employers want grads who take responsibility for their own work, and their own success, every day.


This last one might seem counter-intuitive, as we sit here in lockdown once again. But it’s actually one of the most important characteristics on the list. 

That’s because, in a remote environment, “the biggest challenge graduates face is being left behind”. That’s how Federica sees it. Yes, it’s troubling – but it makes sense. While an office environment makes watercooler moments inevitable, that’s obviously no longer the case. No watercooler moments = fewer opportunities to network with, and learn from, other colleagues and teams.  

And this matters. Because, as Federica puts it, “the job doesn’t end with the job”. Being a graduate isn’t just about delivering great work. It’s about forming those networks and, as we’ve mentioned already, building a deep understanding of the business. 

Those with the sociability to ‘put themselves out there’, despite working remotely, will naturally have more of these networking opportunities, and generally learn faster. That’s why top employers are already on the hunt for sociable grads.

A note on sociability: This isn’t to say that you want a team full of extroverts. But, it does mean that grads who are lower in sociability will need more support to facilitate that networking – and employers should bear that in mind.

The hardest things to measure

Not only are these the top traits employers want in their grads. But, conveniently, they’re also the hardest to measure. 

Example 1. It’s very hard to use a realistic job preview or assessment centre to measure resilience, because you’re actively trying to create a relaxed, stress-free environment. And, even if you do up the ante, who’s to say it’s resilience that helps candidates cope? 

Example 2. These traditional methods also fall short in capturing proactivity. That’s because, usually, your expectations will be set out at the very start. So there’s little proactivity required on the graduate’s part.

We could go on, but it’s clear that traditional processes simply don’t match employer’s grad priorities today. And they certainly don’t measure the traits that truly guarantee top grads. It requires (we would argue) something more. A behaviour-based assessment, perhaps…

Seeing truly is believing. So see how our psychometric assessment works with a demo, by clicking here.

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