Professionalism, problem solving and education are more important to employers than previous work experience, according to new University of Guelph research.

The U of G study made national headlines in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 5.

An eagerness to keep learning and the ability to work well in a team environment also ranked highly in the study led by Prof. Nita Chhinzer of the Department of Management. It was published recently in the journal Emerald Insight. 

“It was a surprising finding,” Chhinzer said of work experience being ranked lower than things such as academic achievement.

Topping the employability scale was professional maturity, a quality that Chhinzer defines as an employee being “fully engaged in their work, holding themselves accountable at work and highly conscientious about doing the best work they possibly can.”

Teamwork also ranked toward the top and is increasingly important in modern workplaces, Chhinzer said. More companies are moving from hierarchical and bureaucratic structures to flatter organizations with more dynamic work, she said. Employees are expected to contribute to a team-based environment, both virtually and face-to-face.

“Knowing how to navigate through that teamwork environment will really have a big impact on how well we perform on the job,” she said.

Prof. Nita Chhinzer

Other characteristics employers look for include a willingness to do the core tasks, time management skills and attention to detail, the study found.

Researchers from U of G and the University of Toronto examined 122 employer assessments of graduate students across Canada who completed work terms.

Unlike other studies, this research examined actual employer perceptions of the factors that increase or decrease employability, Chhinzer said.

The findings will help universities better prepare students for work life, she said.

“A graduate student can learn what employers are evaluating them on and develop those skills,” Chhinzer said.

“Graduate programs are often evaluated on the basis of whether graduates can secure employment after the fact. If we can develop these skills in our programs, it will help our students be more successful in the labour market.”


Prof. Nita Chhinzer

Department of Management or 519-824-4120, Ext. 52592.