What Do Students Really Want When Choosing an Employer?

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Elana Widmann
What Do Students Really Want When Choosing an Employer?

It’s no secret that January is a hot month to apply for jobs.

Whether they’re an underclassmen trying to get internship applications in before the semester picks up, or a senior trying to figure out what they want to do after graduation, January is the time when students put their career goals into motion.

New year new you right?!

In honor of all that job searching happening this month, we surveyed over 750 students and asked them to rank what is most important to them when evaluating a potential employer. We’re not talking about perks like great snacks and gym discounts. This is about the stuff that actually matters — such as company culture, advancement opportunities, inclusivity, and more.

Check out our findings below!

Work-life balance is more important than you think.

Of the general population of 750 students we surveyed, 48.5% said that work-life balance was one of the three most important attributes they evaluate when picking an employer. Interestingly, this number jumped to 52.9% among diverse students (African Americans, Hispanics, and multiracial individuals), and 59.5% when it came to asking students studying business. Also worth noting: work-life balance does not mean an equal balance between work and play. What it truly means is whether your company correctly prioritizes the things that matter most to employees such as health, leisure time, and family.

Corporate America, listen up: The next generation of business minds needs work-life balance. Younger workers value things like exercise, travel, and family just as much as they care about advancing in their career.

When it comes to recruiting younger employees, make sure that you communicate that work-life balance is taken seriously in your organization!

Young job searchers look for companies with a purpose-driven culture—that also aligns with their values.  

Right after work-life balance and salary (because let’s face it, we’ve all got bills to pay), students ranked company culture as an important consideration when picking an employer.

43.9% of the general population of students rated having a “purpose-driven culture aligned with my personal values” as one of their three key requirements when evaluating an employer. Interestingly enough, students majoring in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) didn’t rank this condition quite as highly. Only 39.7% ranked this among their top-three aspects when figuring out where to work.

Why does this matter? Students want to work for a company that sees eye to eye with them. Whether its environmental sustainability or LGBTQ support, young workers want to know that their employer shares their values when it comes to social issues.

Not everyone prioritizes big name brands.

It’s no secret that many students want to work for companies with recognizable names. According to our survey, 33.7% of students listed “a company name to build my resume” as one of their three most important requirements.

Also interesting: big names seem to be more critical to women and minority students. 35.2% of female students surveyed ranked this attribute in their top three, and 42% of diverse students did.

Interestingly, MBA candidates and STEM majors felt less strongly about brand names. Only 27.4% of MBA students and 31.8% of STEM students surveyed ranked this as one of their three most crucial attributes when searching for a job.

Companies with recognizable brand names certainly have an easier time attracting talent. However, if this survey shows anything, it’s that students care about much more than “just a label.”

Students want to see that their work has a real impact.

Whether going to work for a Fortune 500 organization or a growing startup, students want to see that their work has a real impact on the company.

Out of all the students we surveyed, 38.3% said that a workplace where they can see the impact of their contributions was one of their three most critical components when choosing an employer.

Interestingly, women and STEM students ranked this slightly lower than the general group: Only 36.3% of women and 36.4% of STEM students said this was one of their top three attributes. Meanwhile, diverse students and MBA candidates ranked this attribute higher: 43.1% of STEM students and 40.7% of MBAs said that this was a top priority.

Students value transparency and want to see that their work drives real results. They want to know why they are building a specific spreadsheet or designing a special newsletter. Even if it seems obvious, always share the “big picture” impact with the students and recent grads you are looking to hire.


This survey was conducted from September 2017 – October 2017 among 750 undergrad and MBA students, with a primary focus on Business and Physical Engineering majors that had a proper distribution across gender and year of study.