What Next Year’s College Graduates Are Looking for in an Employer

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek September 12, 2023
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​The Class of 2024 is entering its last year of college, and the soon-to-be graduates will be looking at prospective employers. A new report from Handshake, based on a survey of 1,148 students, offers a glimpse into the concerns and interests of these students as they begin their careers.

Artificial Intelligence

A higher percentage of students in the Class of 2024 are aware of tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E than those from the previous class (85 percent versus 61 percent, respectively). Among the 978 students familiar with AI tools, 33 percent plan to use them in their careers.

Slightly more than 1 in 5 students (21 percent) said they are more likely to take a job where they have a chance to experiment with generative AI. Not surprisingly, 54 percent of students majoring in tech fields—computer science, information systems and technology, engineering, math, and physical sciences—plan to use AI in their careers. However, the following students also anticipate using it in their jobs:

  • 40 percent of business majors.
  • 33 percent of arts and humanities majors.

Handshake found a "significant gender gap" among students regarding AI: 94 percent of male students said they're familiar with AI tools such as ChatGPT and DALL-E versus 79 percent of female students.

Members of the Class of 2024 are slightly less worried than 2023 graduates that AI will hurt their careers. However, 53 percent of female tech students are somewhat or highly worried about AI's impact on their careers while 41 percent of male tech students expressed concerns.

"With the [female] tech students, there's a possibility they could be taking an optimistic but cautious approach to this new technology," wondering about its ramifications and how they can prepare, said Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake. Male students, she added, may have not "projected into the future what some of those implications [of AI] are."

Handshake also found that students at schools with inclusive admission standards were less familiar with AI tools than students at schools with selective admission standards—91 percent versus 79 percent. The data is derived using the Carnegie Classification for four-year undergraduate institutions.

Additionally, Cruzvergara said, "This particular generation cares about transparency. Be transparent about your pay equity, what the leadership bench looks like" in terms of diversity. "They want to see leadership reflect the values you espouse on your website. What does internal advancement look like compared to hiring people from outside? Are you doing regular pay audits and reporting that to your employees? [These are] some very concrete things employers can and should be doing."

Other things to know about this cohort of students who will soon be venturing into the workplace:

Training

Almost 50 percent of the 2024 graduates said they are more likely to apply to a company that provides employer-sponsored upskilling resources, according to Handshake's online survey conducted June 16 to July 12 across 440 educational institutions.

Hybrid Schedules

Hybrid work schedules are more appealing than remote schedules; 41 percent of soon-to-be grads are more likely to apply to a job with a hybrid schedule and 22 percent are more likely to apply to a job where they could work remotely. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of incoming seniors said are they are more likely to apply to a job that offers a flexible schedule.

Money Talks

More than two-thirds (69 percent) of students with student loans also said that debt will influence the jobs they will consider upon graduation.

And when queried about salary negotiations, a majority of students (76 percent) said they are hesitant to bargain—mostly because they don't want to risk losing the job offer (67 percent), followed by a fear of making a bad impression (57 percent). Forty-three percent said they didn't even know how to negotiate, and 41 percent want to avoid the stress involved.

Money concerns are a reason why one-third of this class (33 percent) plan to take on a second job—freelance, gig or part-time work—to supplement their full-time position. Employers that don't have a student loan repayment benefit may want to consider adding one.

"Financial security is top of mind," Cruzvergara said. "When you're thinking about benefits, I would highly encourage some type of student loan repayment benefit you can provide to students."

Burnout Concerns

Given the extra work they expect to take on, it's no wonder that more than half (55 percent) of the students are somewhat worried about burnout once they start their new job; one-fourth (25 percent) are highly concerned about it.

This class entered college in the fall of 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began. A vast majority—81 percent—said they have felt burned out during their undergraduate experience.

"It's a very real thing," Cruzvergara said, and she recommended employers consider how they will support these future employees.  

Work/life Balance

One way employers can support them is through the benefits they offer. Two-thirds (66 percent) of the students said work/life balance is very important in choosing where they will work. Additionally, employer-provided mental health days are important to 63 percent of the students surveyed.

Wellness is still "very top of mind," Cruzvergara said.

"Are you providing [employee assistance] services? Do you provide telehealth or tele-counseling? Are you providing a stipend for the gym or wellness activities? … If financial security is one of the top factors concerning them, you can help offset some of those [out-of-pocket] costs. That is something employers can do to stand out."


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