Almost all employers say computer literacy is important for new hires, Cornell survey shows

For those students graduating this year, consider this: More than 83 percent of employment recruiters on college campuses believe that basic computer literacy plays an "important" or "very important" role in the hiring process of recent college graduates, according to a survey from Cornell.

The researchers examined 23 types of computer skills, including word processing, spreadsheet analysis, Web page creation, programming and database management. They found that 96 percent of today's potential employers expect college graduates to have at least basic word processing skills; at the same time most employers considered knowing how to create Web pages irrelevant.

"This study represents a snapshot of what employers are looking for today; it does not predict what employers will be looking for in four years time when our new group of freshmen graduate," said Phillip M. Davis, instructional librarian at Cornell's Albert R. Mann Library. "We were surprised to see that creating documents for the Internet was ranked last out of 23 skills. However, this skill may become as important as basic word processing in the next few years. From the standpoint of a college, minimum computer competencies may be appropriate across the curriculum."

The survey, "What Computer Skills Do Employers Expect From Recent College Graduates?" ( will be published in a forthcoming Technological Horizons in Education Journal. Currently, the article is scheduled to appear in the March 1998 issue. Davis surveyed 300 corporate recruiters who visit Cornell's Ithaca campus annually. Naomi Altman, Cornell research associate in biometrics, and Steve Schwager, Cornell associate professor in biometrics, both served as statistical consultants.

Among the survey's findings:

  • 75 percent of the employers said that knowing basic graphics or presentation software was important.
  • For network skills, more than 93 percent of the employers expected e-mail experience, while 63.3 percent expected competency with either online or Internet searching.
  • Numerical data skills, such as those needed for spreadsheet programs, scored highly as a group, as the ability to perform numerical analysis was expected by 86 percent of employers.
  • About 67 percent said that knowing how to create commercial-grade software was not relevant to the job.
  • Only 2 percent of the employers were looking for advanced knowledge in creating Internet documents, 8 percent sought intermediate skills and 22 percent sought basic skills. The survey found that 43.3 percent of recruiters-employers did not think creating Internet documents was relevant, and 26.7 percent were not looking for those skills at all.

The survey gave recuiters a chance to add their comments. One noted: "Writing skills are extremely vital, even in a technical organization. In consulting organizations, oral presentation skills are vital, even at the most junior levels."

Another recruiter added: "It is not important that a lot of graduates know a lot of programs . . . as much as it is needed for graduates to be computer literate and grasp concepts that can be applied to many situations across programs."

Although the tools are constantly changing, computer skills are transferrable, one recruiter noted. Another recruiter said that "students today must be quick to learn as well as eager to do so."