What employers really want : a deep dive into résumés and holistic competencies

Cecilia Ka Yuk CHAN*, Theresa KWONG, Yui Bun CHAN, Albert Wing Yin KO, Samson Shu-Ki TSE

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


This research aims to understand employers' views and preferences on the assessment of holistic competencies (HCs) in graduates, a topic with existing gaps in literature. With the disparities between higher education practices and employer expectations concerning HC assessment, the study focuses on what employers wish to see in graduates' resumes. As resumes play a pivotal role in recruitment, influencing who gets shortlisted, this research seeks to discern how graduates can optimally make a good first impression. In essence, the study endeavours to enhance knowledge on employers' inferences about a candidate’s HCs and employability skills based on resume content.

A comprehensive 12-item survey was devised to collect employers' perceptions and expectations of holistic competencies (HCs) assessment. The survey was informed by a synthesis of discussions with employers, teachers and a critical review paper. It aimed to understand employers' HC assessment expectations and bridge the teachers' understanding gap of students' HC achievements. Questions included demographic data, and specifics about employers' perceptions of graduates’ resumes. The survey was hosted on Qualtrics and disseminated via the authors' networks, social media and university departments in Hong Kong, with responses gathered from April to June 2021.

This study reveals that employers value holistic competencies (HCs), especially those developed through work placements and extracurricular activities, as indicators of job readiness in graduates. It is imperative for students to highlight these competencies in their resumes, potentially also demonstrating them through digital portfolios. The research underscores the need for higher education institutions to systematically document and report students' HC attainments. They can support students by informing them about employer expectations, offering writing workshops and resume samples. Integrating experience-based opportunities into the curriculum can also enhance HC development, preparing students for job market competitiveness and readiness.

Research limitations/implications
The research limitations include the lack of a widely accepted, standardized method to document and evidence students' holistic competencies (HCs). The implications, however, stress the necessity for students to effectively communicate their HCs to employers, requiring awareness of expectations and adaptability to evolving technologies. Educators and higher education institutions must provide resources and opportunities to students to develop, demonstrate and document these HCs. In the absence of a standardised method for HC reporting, alternative solutions like e-portfolios and platforms like YOCLE can help students gather feedback and present evidence of competencies to prospective employers.

Practical implications
The study’s practical implications revolve around enhancing job readiness in graduates. Universities need to bolster their support, helping students understand employer expectations, offering writing workshops, resume templates and resources. Incorporation of platforms like YOCLE can help gather and retain evaluations, while promoting internships and extracurricular activities enhances HC development. Graduates must include work experiences, HC achievements and extracurricular activities in their resumes, even exploring digital portfolios for broader evidence presentation. They should also prepare for digital interactions like Zoom calls or video resumes, adapting to the technological advancements propelled by recent global disruptions.

This research provides original insights into employer preferences regarding job candidates' holistic competencies (HCs) in resumes, an area not deeply explored in past literature. Focusing on how resumes can best demonstrate HC attainments, it offers practical guidance for higher education institutions preparing students for the job market. Although the study’s scope is limited by geographical and industry-specific sampling, it provides a foundational understanding of employers' recruitment expectations influenced by resumes. Its value lies in its potential to spur further research into varying contexts and industries, leading to broader implications for graduate employability and resume building practices worldwide.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEducation and Training
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Jul 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Employability skills
  • CV
  • Employer expectations
  • Holistic competencies
  • Job application


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