Let’s start with a qualifier:  I believe a majority of PR graduates are meeting entry-level professional standards required in business today.  Unfortunately, not all grads meet those expectations.

A new survey of 520 human resources professionals and business leaders conducted for the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania confirmed that nearly 60% of the hiring decision for new college grads is based on an assessment of the applicant’s professionalism. 

Here are the five characteristics you’ll need to possess if you want to impress these hiring managers:

  • Personal interaction skills, including courtesy and respect.
  • The skills to communicate, and listen.
  • A great work ethic; being motivated and staying on task until the job is completed.
  • Professional appearance.
  • Self-confidence and awareness.

David Polk, professional of behavioral science at York College and president of the Polk-Lepson Research Group, which conducted the study, noted that survey respondents gave low marks to recent grads.  A third of the respondents believed that less than 50% of all new grads exhibit professionalism in the workplace.

Slightly more than half felt the level of professionalism had stayed the same over the past five years, but a surprising 33% felt professionalism had decreased.  The standard complaints were cited–entitlement, values, work ethic and culture of Millennials. 

While some can argue with the survey results–especially the usual finger pointing at Gen Y shortcomings, the key take away is the opportunity to position yourself in the upper quartile of grads by understanding and mastering the five characteristics of professionalism.  As the survey notes, nearly 90% of respondents said that professionalism is related to the person not the position.  All the more reason to differentiate yourself from the pack. 

The professionalism study is getting considerable media attention, including a piece on National Public Radio’s popular Markeplace program.  You can hear the report and read some thoughtful listener comments on the NPR website