What Employers Really Want in 2021

Take note of the 2021 NACE Job Outlook Survey Results to put your students in a medal winning position.
Rebekah Box
Client Experience & Marketing Manager – Athlete Assessments

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Most of 2020 and 2021 have seen an everchanging and unstable environment around us, particularly for those in a university space. One thing is for sure, it just got a whole lot more competitive for graduating Sport Management students, and in fact all students. This can be a daunting outlook, but we can be proactive in helping our students take action to improve their position in building the career that they have studied so hard for. 

There is no better place to start than looking to the release of the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) Job Outlook Survey results, to provide you with the tools to help your students get ahead of the pack. 

What Employers want in 2021

What clearly stands out from the 2021 NACE Results is that having the ability to work in a team is the priority for employers – ranked as the number one skill they are looking for in graduates. It’s also no surprise that both verbal and written communication skills rank highly, and leadership skills round out the top six. These prioritized skills are all related as important interpersonal skills.

Coming from the perspective of an employer, CEO of Athlete Assessments, Liz Masen says, “We have a very in-depth recruitment process at Athlete Assessments, because we truly value the importance of getting it right. But it might surprise people how hands off we are in senior management, until right towards the end. We plan it this way because we agree that the ability to work in a team is fundamental, so if the candidate can’t impress our staff, and if our team can’t see the candidate working well with them, then there is no place for them here.”

She continues, “It sounds a little brutal, but it aligns with the research. Overall, employers want this team focus within their graduates too. That’s why it is immensely important that before students graduate from their university programs, they have developed these skills, can demonstrate they can work well with others, communicate, influence, and build relationships. It is so much more than just getting high marks.” 

2021 NACE GPA use

a dramatic decrease from 75% only two years ago in 2019

Taking the place of GPA, we’re seeing employers increasingly on the lookout for initiative and technical skills, alongside leadership. 

We found one of the most interesting things about the results in recent years, is the shift towards attributes that are heavily focused on qualifying the person and their potential behaviors within a working environment, rather than a more traditional grade or ‘academic success’ focus determining their suitability for a position. 


Student-athletes hold a unique set of skills when graduating as they’ve spent years being a part of a team. Whether in a defined leadership position or not, one thing every student-athlete has in common is the refined understanding of the part playing your role within the team has on driving your team’s culture and performance. The ability to effectively communicate and provide quality leadership within a high performing sports team is directly translatable to that of a work environment. high-performance is high-performance. This puts student-athletes in an outstanding position as they immediately fulfil one of the most important employer’s requirements. 

Ultimately, studying and higher education is all about transitioning into the workforce, whether that means moving into the corporate space or sport, and it’s clear that employers want candidates with high levels of self-awareness, adaptability, and communication skills in order to be an effective member of their team, and solve problems should they arise. So, just like coaches, educators should be incorporating building these skills into their university and college programs as it will ensure their students have the desired and necessary skills for entering the workforce. 

Wondering how?

We are here to contribute!  Athlete Assessments’ Academic Program provides the necessary means for students to get ahead in the eyes of their future employers. We welcome you to read about what just some of our academic clients say about why they love and rely on our program to assist with this invaluable element of their students’ development. So, whether you teach Sport Management, Leadership, Sport Coaching, Sport and Health Sciences, or Sport Psychology, provide your students with the skills which differentiate them when they enter the workforce and find out more here

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