May 12, 2016
2016 U.S. College Graduates Value Culture Over Compensation, According To Accenture Strategy Research
Recent Graduates Increasingly Consider Themselves Underemployed
NEW YORK; May 12, 2016 – The Class of 2016 is optimistic about their job prospects, despite a growing trend in underemployment, and seeking employers that offer meaningful work, ongoing learning opportunities and a fun workplace culture, according to a new study by Accenture (NYSE: ACN) on the workforce of the future. The fourth annual Accenture Strategy 2016 U.S. College Graduate Employment Study also found that these graduates are increasingly digital, embracing new technologies, both to find work and on the job.
“The class of 2016 is especially passionate and seeking a fulfilling employee experience in their first job,” said David Smith, senior managing director, Accenture Strategy. “They are increasingly looking at workplace culture, and benefits other than salary, as important factors when making career decisions. This means employers will need to focus on the employee experience they deliver as a differentiator to attract today’s millennials.”
The Class of 2016’s Employment Prospects Are Good
Four out of five of this year’s graduates said they considered the availability of jobs in their field of study before deciding on their major. This pragmatism appears to be paying off as at the time of this research, 21 percent of the Class of 2016 accepted a job before graduation, up from 12 percent last year and 11 percent two years ago. 
Despite this, there are some stark differences between the expectations of new graduates compared with the realities of the preceding graduating classes. Perhaps most striking is the rise of recent graduates who reported they are underemployed – 51 percent of 2014/2015 graduates said they are working in jobs that do not require their college degree, a steady increase year over year since 2013 when 41 percent of recent graduates reported the same.  

A majority of 2016 graduates (88 percent) also expect to land a job in their field of study, compared to 65 percent of 2014/2015 graduates who say they have done so. When it comes to salary, 82 percent of 2016 graduates expect to earn more than $25,000 in their first job, yet 39 percent of 2014/2015 graduates are, in fact, making $25,000 or less.
Graduates Prioritize Workplace Culture and Growth Opportunities over Compensation
The majority of the class of 2016 (70 percent) would rather work at a company that provides an employee experience built on a positive social atmosphere and receive a lower salary – up 10 percent on last year’s graduating class. They are also passionate – 69 percent chose their area of study because they were passionate about it – and want to work for companies that do good. Almost all (92 percent) of 2016 graduates said it is important to be employed at a company that demonstrates social responsibility. Salary and benefits aside, 30 percent of 2016 graduates said they believe opportunities to make a difference or meaningful work are important for an employer to offer. They are also three times as likely to prefer to work for a small or medium-sized company (44 percent), versus a large company (14 percent), indicating their preference for a smaller team environment.

“Graduates are hungry for a culture with opportunities for rapid advancement and the ability to actually love the work that they do,” said Katherine LaVelle, managing director, Accenture Strategy. “This means employers will need to provide an employee experience that offers the flexibility to participate in project-based work, allowing for on-the-job learning and the opportunity to work across different roles with a small-team feel.”
Continuous learning opportunities are also of utmost importance to new graduates. The majority (80 percent) of the class of 2016 expect their first employer to provide formal training, in contrast to only 54 percent of 2014/2015 graduates who say they actually received formal training. Soon-to-be 2016 graduates also expect on-the-job experience to further their career (68 percent) and 77 percent expect to get this experience in their first job. Graduates are also increasingly indicating they will require continued education in the form of graduate degrees to further their career – 37 percent of 2016 graduates compared to 27 percent of 2015 graduates.
Class of 2016 Shifts to Digital Technology
This year’s graduates understand and utilize digital technologies both to find a job and in the workplace. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of this year’s graduating class used a mobile app to search for or apply for jobs, compared to 39 percent of 2014/2015 graduates. 
After they’ve landed the job, 61 percent of 2016 graduates think advancements in digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) will positively impact their work. Forty-one percent of this year’s graduates also believe that in the next five years, AI and other advanced technologies will enhance their work experience, and 39 percent believe they will be a welcome addition.
Accenture conducted an online survey in the United States of 1,005 students graduating from college in 2016 and entering the job market, and 1,013 participants who already graduated college in 2014 or 2015. The survey was conducted in March 2016.
About Accenture
Accenture is a leading global professional services company, providing a broad range of services and solutions in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations. Combining unmatched experience and specialized skills across more than 40 industries and all business functions – underpinned by the world’s largest delivery network – Accenture works at the intersection of business and technology to help clients improve their performance and create sustainable value for their stakeholders. With more than 373,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture drives innovation to improve the way the world works and lives. Visit us at
Accenture Strategy operates at the intersection of business and technology. We bring together our capabilities in business, technology, operations and function strategy to help our clients envision and execute industry-specific strategies that support enterprise wide transformation. Our focus on issues related to digital disruption, competitiveness, global operating models, talent and leadership help drive both efficiencies and growth. For more information, follow @AccentureStrat or visit .
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Tourang Nazari
Accenture Strategy
+ 1 202 322 4640