4 amazing opportunities that will help your high school student develop the skills that top employer

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

What do employers really want?

A high GPA? Top class rank? A degree from the Ivy leagues? Surprisingly, no. While those things may help, there are far more qualities and skills that recruiters are looking for in recent college graduates.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a career fair at a local university. Over 130 company reps from firms like Lenovo, MetLife, and Sherman Williams as well as non profits and government agencies were on the lookout for grads that met their hiring standards. I took the opportunity to ask many of these employers what they were hoping to find in recent grads and what students could do to make themselves more employable.

The top qualities employers want to see in students...

I asked recruiters to tell me what the most important qualities were in their hiring decisions. I included things like GPA, work experience, and internships as well as “soft skills” like communication, problem solving, and organizational abilities. I also asked about character qualities like integrity and compassion. What ranked at the top of every single list? Integrity and communication skills. Problem solving ability was a close second as well as hard work, and for some fields, tech experience.

The representative from Sherman Williams noted the need to find students who are willing to put in the hard work that it takes to succeed in the business world. Often, millennials expect to immediately have the autonomy and success that is the result of years of hard work. A hiring manager for Lenovo’s sales training program says she looks for confident students with excellent communication skills, regardless of their college major.

The three items hiring managers most often take notice of...

According to a 2013 survey conducted by Chegg, Inc. hiring managers most often take notice of three items; initiative/leadership (93 %), participation in extracurricular activities related to one’s field of study (91%) and completion of a formal internship (82%). A rep from the healthcare technology firm Optum confirmed these finding, saying that when he sees a student who has contributed open- source code to a sharing site such as GitHub they move to the top of his resume pile. Computer Information Systems students who have created apps or participated in hackathons are also noticed more quickly.

What does this mean for high school students?

While we may think that high school is too soon to worry about post college employ-ability, this is far from accurate. Here is a sampling of a few of the amazing organizations that help students develop the exact skills that employers told me they are looking for; communication, problem solving, leadership and tech experience.

First Lego League

First Lego league offers events in 88 countries with over 255,000 participants. Students design, build and program a robot to compete against other teams in solving real world problems. While using science, technology, engineering, and math they also develop critical thinking ability, team work, presentation skills, STEM skills, and creativity; all things that employers value and are not always taught in the classroom. www.firstlegoleague.org


NCFCA is a speech and debate organization for homeschool, high school students which teaches students to think critically, communicate clearly and impact society in a positive way. Through speech and debate competitions students become familiar with current events and hot topics that shape the future of our country and the world. Whether debating term limits for Supreme Court justices or delivering a limited prep speech on current world events, the value of NCFCA competition reaches far beyond the classroom and equips students to be the effective communicators that employers are seeking. www.ncfca.org. You can also check with your public or private high school for opportunities to participate in speech and debate.

Hour of Code

The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. Students from as young as 4 years old can participate. The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify "code", to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. The Hour of Code for 2016 will take place during the week of December 5-11, but you can participate in an Hour of Code at any time of the year. Khan academy offers multiple Hour of Code projects that are absolutely free and accessible any time. www.khanacademy.org/hourofcode


Hackathons are all day computer programming events that challenge students to complete real world tasks while developing their technical skills. According to Major League Hacking, hackathons have grown to become a global student movement. By fast tracking the software and hardware development process, hackathons provide students with valuable technical skills they will need in their future careers. Students learn by doing, and finish with a final project that has the potential to turn into a real business. Collaborating in a high stakes environment, students learn how to work effectively as a team, think critically, exercise creativity and complete a project according to a set timeline. For a list of US hackathon events visit mlh.io/seasons/na-2017/events.

Don’t wait until college to start developing the skills you will need when you graduate and start your career. Start early and take advantage of some of the great opportunities available to high school students.

What other organizations do you know about that offer the chance for students to develop some of the valuable skills employers are looking for?

80 views0 comments