What Employers Want: Strong Work Ethic

In today’s blog I’m going to discuss one of the skills that was reported as important by employers who completed the Job Outlook 2015 NACE survey, a topic which I began discussing last week. I’ve already discussed the top four skills (Leadership, Ability to work in a team structure, Communication skills [writing], Problem-solving skills) in previous posts, so today I will cover the skill that showed up as number 5. 70.4% of employers listed a strong work ethic as an important attributes for new college graduates to demonstrate. But if this is the first job after college, how do you demonstrate a strong work ethic?

To help answer that question, I read through a number of descriptions online, and found a lot of variation in the answers. For some, a strong work ethic means putting the job first, being willing to work long hours, and being loyal to your employer. To others, it meant having a positive attitude, completing assignments quickly and accurately, and being personally satisfied with the work. However, what I see as the most useful answer came from an article in the Small Business section of the Houston Chronicle. That article suggests that there are five factors contributing to a strong work ethic: integrity, sense of responsibility, emphasis on quality, discipline, and a sense of teamwork. In my opinion, if you can demonstrate these five factors, an employer will recognize that you have a strong work ethic. So let’s talk about how you can do that.

Integrity means trustworthiness, so anything you’ve done that shows how other people have trusted you helps contribute to a picture of you as a person with integrity. Having served as an officer for a student organization or chair of a fundraising committee is one way to demonstrate integrity. Another is with part-time jobs you may have had, such as being responsible for opening and closing a retail outlet; working as a nanny, babysitter, or lifeguard; or waitressing or bartending. All of those positions show that your employer trusted you with their money, their children, their clients and customers.

Those same jobs may help you present yourself as a person with a sense of responsibility: someone who shows up on time, completes assigned tasks to the best of your ability, and takes pride in accomplishments. You can also use your college coursework or involvement in extracurricular activities to show a sense of responsibility by talking about projects you completed in a specific class or for a student organization.

The third factor, emphasis on quality, is likely to mean going above and beyond the minimum requirements. Again, work you have done in class or for a student organization may give you examples that you can emphasize on your resume or discuss in an interview.

When employers talk about discipline, I think they’re primarily talking about time management. They want to know that you can complete your work on time and meet deadlines, so anything you can tell them about situations where you’ve done this is going to be meaningful to them. Especially useful will be stories about times when you’ve had to put in long hours or get something done well on short notice.

The final factor, a sense of teamwork, is something I wrote about at length in this blog on January 8th, so you may want to go back to that post and re-read my suggestions about how to demonstrate your sense of teamwork.