The Freshman Year of Their Career


Employers are looking for key attributes and character traits in employees. Dr. Tim Elmore shares key leadership development traits young potential employees are missing.

Wallace, an employer of hundreds of recent college graduates, startled me with a decision he recently made.

He told me, “I’m no longer hiring fresh graduates out of college. I will either require them to have two years of work experience outside of school, or some type of experience in at least one other job. If that doesn’t work, I will target the population following the Millennials.”

Wow. He’s given up on 22-year-olds.

Soon after hearing this, I discovered why—and realized Wallace wasn’t alone. A study released by textbook rental company Chegg and Harris Interactive found that there’s a substantial gap between students’ self-assessed readiness when entering the workforce and the readiness their employers are experiencing.

In other words, their character development lacks hard skills in areas such as organization, leadership, personal finance and basic street smarts, but they weren’t necessarily aware of it.

What’s Missing?

So I decided to find out exactly what leadership development traits these young potential employees are missing. After surveying both employers and recent graduates, I found that the top habits and attitudes that young team members still need develop are:

  • Willingness to start at the bottom. Many said they felt entitled to high-level jobs since they had a degree. As a result, they felt some jobs were “beneath” them.
  • Patience and tenacity. Graduates assumed they’d be promoted within six months, including raises and perks without having to expend much effort to get there.
  • Submission to authority. A majority reported they struggled with policies and parameters they didn’t understand. They felt systems were confining.
  • Sense of initiative. Young staff failed to demonstrate risk-taking abilities. There was apprehension about stepping out and leading the way.
  • Work ethic. Grads lacked old-fashioned grit and expressed unwillingness to serve beyond the job description, to do whatever it takes to get a task done.
  • Responsibility. They were unable or unwilling to assume sole responsibility for their work. It was as if they wanted to “rent” their job, not own it.
  • Conflict resolution skills. Along the way, a majority of young adults failed to learn how to work through conflict, often running from it instead of resolving it.

While I recognize this list sounds harsh, these were the pieces to the puzzle so many employers said graduates were missing. What’s more, I believe employers have every right to expect these traits from young employees—they’re within reach of any twenty-something. They aren’t about talent, IQ or charisma — they’re habits and attitudes that work. … at work.

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