The following results are broken down into four major themes: candidate materials and hiring factors, validation, competencies, and use and value of the Co-Curricular Record.
Candidate Materials and Hiring Factors
When asked to select the materials that candidates are required to submit, 98% of respondents selected resume, 83% cover letter, 30% academic transcript, 15% application form, 8% writing sample, and 13% other (i.e. assignment, presentation or skills test, produce examples of work or a portfolio, and/or provide references). While some materials are required, most employers (93%) allow for the submission of additional materials.
Respondents were asked to rate the importance of these factors in their hiring decisions. Of those respondents who selected very important or important, 100% of respondents selected interview, 97% resume, 68% cover letter, and 40% academic transcript. While 30% of employers in this survey require an academic transcript and 40% find this to be very important or important in influencing their hiring decision, the literature suggests that GPA plays a limited role. The transcript may be used in an initial screening process, but then plays a minimal role in influencing the hiring decision (Causer, 2009; McKinney et al., 2003; Brown & Campion, 1994).
Specific materials may be particularly useful for some employers, depending on the nature of the job and the specific qualifications that they are looking for, along with the applicant pool that they are assessing. Yet, universally, these results demonstrate that employers find the interview and resume to be the most important candidate materials that they consider in their decision-making process.
Looking at factors that are highlighted on the resume and in the interview, respondents were asked to rate the importance of these factors when reviewing candidate materials. The following figure highlights the responses for very important and important.
In this table, previous work experience was the most frequently identified factor noted as very important or important, followed by educational degree and references’ feedback. Extracurricular participation was ranked fifth of seven, with just under one-half of employers regarding this factor as very important or important. Of these responses, a large percentage felt that extracurricular participation was somewhat important (42%), with 10% selecting not important. Previous work experience demonstrates relevant experiences and skills that candidates possess, and references’ feedback confirms the extent to which candidates possess and applied those skills. One can also assume that certain competencies and skills have been developed through an educational degree, and academic subject focus may be of particular interest depending on the industry.
These results are consistent with the literature, which demonstrate the value of core skills. For instance, Harris Interactive Public Relations Research (2013) found that hiring managers selected the evidence of basic skills as the most important, followed by followed by educational background, directly related experience, references, and volunteering/internship experience.
The ranking of importance among these factors appear to differ once we observe the results across different industry groupings. The following figure highlights the responses for very important and important.
Given my interest in the value placed on extracurricular participation, I examined the extent to which the importance of extracurricular participation varied by industry. However, while there appears to be observable differences, a Pearson chi-square test found that there was no statistically significant difference in the level of importance placed on extracurricular participation across industries.
It is surprising that extracurricular participation is not regarded as more important, since employers look for skills in the hiring process, and research demonstrates the inherent value of these experiences. This study suggests that employers may not necessarily view extracurricular participation as a primary indicator for the skills they look for.
When asked if they follow up with references, 83% of respondents said yes. However, for those who answered yes, only 10% said that they seek to verify applicant’s extracurricular participation. While only 10% currently follow up with extracurricular references, 32% of respondents said they were interested in having a means to verify extracurricular participation. This suggests that checking references is an important practice, yet the focus is often not on extracurricular engagement. Again, this may be related to the fact that employers do not place as much importance on these experiences, since they may not see extracurricular engagement as an indicator for the skills they look for when hiring.
Acknowledging that employers look for core skills, respondents were asked to identify all the competencies/skills they look for in the hiring process. Respondents were given a list of 31 competencies, and were asked to check all competencies they look for when hiring. The list of competencies presented is the framework used for the CCR at the University of Toronto, which is based on the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) in Higher Education. The 109 respondents yielded 1338 responses. When analyzing the number of competencies selected, the mean and median were 12 competencies per respondent.
One competency that was ranked lower than many studies was leadership (which was ranked 12th). The difference in ranking may be attributed to the types of jobs that employers are hiring for. They may look for leadership skills for more mid-to-senior level positions, rather than entry-level jobs for students and recent-graduates. Some of the competencies that were also ranked lower, included design thinking (21st), creative expression (22nd), global awareness engagement (29th), and health promotion (30th). This does not mean that these competencies are not considered valuable, but rather may be more geared specifically towards a particular industry or field. For example, design thinking overall was ranked 21st, however was tied for 5th in the Natural & Applied Sciences industry grouping.
Employers rely on candidates to demonstrate and highlight the possession of these competencies and skills. While media has often highlighted concerns about a “job skills gap,” this study argues that it may be a lack of articulation of skills rather than a true gap.
When asked to reflect on the ability of students and/or recent graduates ability to describe the competencies and skills developed outside of the classroom, 4% of respondents selected excellent, 35% very good, 49% satisfactory, and 12% needs improvement. This suggests that not all students are effectively articulating the skills that they developed. If a student is a residence don, there is valuable learning and skills developed through that experience. However, if an employer does not know what a don is, and the student does not effectively articulate the skills developed through that experience, then the value is lost, and the assumption is that the student does not possess those skills.
REVIEWING A CCR
When asked, “How likely would you review a student and/or recent graduate’s CCR in the hiring process in the following ways?” there were 77% of respondents who said they were very likely or likely to review a CCR if it is attached to an application and 73% if brought to an interview.
When I looked at the results across industry groups, there were some observable differences. For example, three industry groupings (Business & Finance, Sales & Service, Trades & Manufacturing) are the most likely to review a CCR if it was attached to an application (86-89%). A Pearson chi-square test for each question revealed that there is no statistical significance in the responses across industries.
Across all industries, there was an increase in the level of importance respondents placed on extracurricular participation (49%) versus how likely they are to review a CCR in the hiring process (73-77%). Between these questions was a description and sample of the CCR, which highlighted how extra/co-curricular engagement leads to the development of skills. This suggests that employers may not understand what extra/co-curricular experiences are, and how they can help students develop desirable competencies and skills. In a study conducted by Bryan, Mann, Nelson & North (1981), 71% of employers said they “would definitely want” or “would prefer to have” a co-curricular transcript in the job application.
ASPECTS OF THE CCR
Only one respondent said they have received a Co-Curricular Record from a candidate, and that the information was somewhat useful in helping them make their hiring decision.
USE: When all respondents were asked how useful they found the information on the CCR, of the the 97 respondents, 5% selected very useful, 29% useful, 52% somewhat useful, and 14% selected not at all useful. That means a total of 86% respondents noted that the CCR would provide some use in the hiring process.
VALIDATION: When asked to rate how important is it that a university staff or faculty member has verified opportunities on the CCR, 47% of respondents selected very important (19%) or important (28%), 32% selected somewhat important, and 21% not important.
ELEMENTS: Common elements that are highlighted on CCR documents include time period, opportunity name, position title, description of experience, and competencies/skills developed. Institutions across Canada have also discussed (or have also included) adding additional information including number of hours per activity, definition of competencies/skills, and description of validation process.
Of those that responded, 55% noted that the inclusion of number of hours per activity would very valuable or valuable, 68% for the definition of competencies/skills, and 50% for the description of the validation process. Bryan, Mann, Nelson and North (1981) found that employers supported the inclusion of competencies/skills developed, since it demonstrates the relevancy of an experience in language that resonates. When asked to select how important verification is in the process, 48% selected very important or important, and 22% indicated somewhat important. This finding is similar to mine, where 47% of respondents in this survey indicated very important or important, and 32% for somewhat important.