Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Report: Emerging Professionals Well-Prepared for Workforce

Early-career workers can stand out by strengthening important skills that employers value

Emerging professionals at work

Individuals in the early stages of their career tend to be well-prepared for the workforce, according to a new report, but there are areas where these emerging professionals can improve and stand out among the competition.

Adaptability and a willingness to learn are areas where emerging professionals shine, according to Expectations and Realities: Preparing the Next Generation of Talent for the World of Work, a report SHRM and Handshake jointly released March 26.

The research centered on individuals with less than three years’ experience and found adaptability and willingness to learn are the top qualities organizations seek in job candidates. Close to 70 percent of the HR professionals surveyed said that emerging professionals commonly exhibit these traits.

Communication, the ability to work as part of a team, critical thinking and time management are other top skills organizations seek from those early-career professionals.

“These skills significantly outranked focused skills such as project management, multilingualism, and leadership,” SHRM and Handshake noted in the report, which

explored the skills emerging professionals need, how employers evaluate emerging talent and what emerging professionals are looking for in an employer.

The report also highlights emerging professionals’ data analysis skills. More than 70 percent of emerging professionals report at least some experience with data analysis, which is a skill that nearly 60 percent of employers seek from this group.

There are a few areas, though, emerging professionals can strengthen to make themselves especially attractive to employers looking to fill positions:

  • Reliability.
  • Critical thinking.
  • Communication.
  • Time management.

SHRM and Handshake surveyed 2,122 U.S. current students and recent graduates from a two- or four-year program within the last three years. Also surveyed were 1,180 HR professionals whose organizations hire emerging professionals. Students and recent graduates were surveyed between July 6 and Aug. 8, 2023; HR professionals were surveyed between July 12 and Aug. 7, 2023.

Advice for Emerging Professionals

“Emerging professionals are entering the workforce with valuable skills and experience, but still have room to grow,” said Casey Sword, one of the SHRM researchers who authored the report. “Our research shows that employers are seeking stronger demonstrations of work ethic and reliability from emerging talent. By providing specific examples of their capabilities in these areas during interviews, emerging professionals can help alleviate employers’ concerns.”

HR professionals offered the following ways that job candidates early in their career can stand out to hiring managers.

  • Thoroughly research the organization, so as to ask thoughtful questions during the interview. The job candidate should have a working knowledge of the employer and the role they are interviewing for; failing to do so shows a lack of initiative.
  • Exhibit professionalism. How a candidate comes across during a job interview is “very” important, according to 79 percent of HR professionals. That’s slightly more than the percentage (75 percent) who said relevant work experience was “very” important.

  • Ask questions about employer benefits that are available to you, such as professional development opportunities. There are other benefits that employers don’t always automatically highlight, such as financial literacy, average tenure or how quickly employees may grow with the company.
  • Give examples of ways you have effectively communicated with others, demonstrated a strong work ethic and reliability. It’s not enough to simply say that you possess these qualities.
  • Rehearse a succinct summary of your background and qualifications. You will come across as prepared and professional.

“When looking to land that first job, emerging professionals can help put their best foot forward by ensuring they focus on key factors employers are looking for, like strong interview performance,” said Kerri Nelson, director of mission research at SHRM. “Our research shows that candidates who prepare more thoroughly for interviews by researching the organization in advance, who work to communicate their skills and experience more effectively, and who ask more thoughtful questions will really stand out to employers.”

Advice for Employers

Employers also can benefit from the report’s findings. To attract emerging professionals, highlight:

  • Job stability. While only 7 percent of HR professionals think job security is one of the top three factors emerging professionals value most when choosing an employer, nearly 70 percent of those emerging professionals said job stability with guaranteed work hours is very important.
  • Development opportunities. Training and career development continues to be important to early-career job seekers, as well as seasoned employees. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of recent graduates expect to stay in their current or next job for four or more years. Twice as many (65 percent) would stay four or more years if their employer provided opportunities for them to grow within the organization.
    Highlight learning opportunities and job stability in recruiting materials, during career events and job interviews. “In particular, highlighting job stability can give employers a competitive edge, given that many employers underestimate the importance of this factor for emerging professionals,” researchers noted, and “robust professional development programs” can give employers the edge in recruitment and retention.
  • Student loan assistance. Among employers that offer student loan assistance, 70 percent said this is effective in attracting individuals starting their career. But while recent graduates said student loan debt is a major concern, only 8 percent of employers surveyed currently offer this benefit.
  • Transparency. Employers need to be more transparent in their recruiting materials on the traits that weigh more heavily in hiring decisions, the report noted. For example, “by specifically calling out adaptability as a core qualification, employers can encourage applications from early-career candidates who are ready and eager to learn,” researchers noted in the report.
  • Be aware of what job candidates value. The report found a misalignment between what HR thinks job seekers prioritize and what candidates find important:

Have questions or feedback? Get in touch with Kathy at


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.