With the consistently high youth unemployment rate that Canada has seen since the start of the recession in late 2008, many people have been asking what it is that employers are looking for. Is it that young people have the wrong education for the labour market needs? Are they missing core employability skills, or is it a lack of real-world experience that is holding them back. (Which leads the classic entry-level Catch 22: how can you gain on-the-job experience when no one will hire you without any in the first place?)

A new study from BMO Financial Group offers some insights into what employers really want from recent grads, and the answers may surprise you. According to the report released on Friday, more than half of Canadian employers (51%) are planning to hire students or new graduates this year.

The study ranks the traits on which business owners tend to place the largest level of importance when evaluating entry-level candidates who come directly out of school into the job market for the first time.

Think what you studied in university is the key to opening doors? According to the BMO survey of 500 Canadian business owners conducted earlier this year, only 3% of employers think that what degree you’ve earned or what school you went to are the most important qualities in a candidate.

References and recommendations also ranked surprisingly low on the priority list, with only 8% of employers ranking these as the most important factors that they consider. Even on-the-job experience, often considered to be the key to landing a job is the top priority for only 15% of business owners surveyed.

So what is important to employers hiring new grads? They are interested in who you are and what you can do. The second most important trait for business owners at 26% is your skillset. If you have the ability to do the job, they care less about what certifications you have or where you got them.

And the most important quality that employers say they are looking for is the right personality traits. One-third of employers (30%) surveyed rank personality as the most important factor to consider when hiring entry-level candidates.

A survey of Canadian employers conducted by Workopolis late last year found similar results, with fully 67% of employers saying that rather than job-specific qualifications, it was the basic business and people skills they were having trouble finding in candidates.

The personality traits that Canadian employers told Workopolis are most in demand:

  • A positive attitude
  • Communication skills
  • Strong work ethic
  • Customer service skills
  • Teamwork


The BMO report also looked at how employers in the service and manufacturing sectors rank candidates’ qualifications, and found:





Personality traits




Skill set




Work experience




References and recommendations




Degree earned and school attended





What this survey of employers and others show is that what you’ve studied or where you went to school isn’t nearly as important as what skills you can bring to the job. Those and demonstrating that you have the right personality to show up with a positive work ethic ready to be a valuable team player are the real keys to getting a foot in the door of that first job.

And those doors should soon be opening, as the other piece of good news in the BMO study is that more than half of business owners surveyed said that they plan to hire students and new grads this year.

Check out the opportunities available right now in Workopolis’ student career centre.

Source: BMO Poll Reveals How Businesses Rank Personality, Skills and Education When Hiring Students

Peter Harris

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