As members of Gen Z begin to graduate college and enter the workforce, employers have voiced concerns about this generation’s preparedness for the workforce. They note issues with a lack of professionalism, entitlement, and time management.

To find out how recent graduates from Gen Z view themselves and their preparedness for professional work environments, surveyed 566 individuals ages 21-27 who graduated between 2021 and 2024. Respondents were asked to evaluate how prepared they felt for the workforce and provide insight into what, if any, challenges they’ve faced since landing their first professional job.

Key Findings

  • 38% of recent college grads feel very prepared for the workforce; 39% feel somewhat prepared
  • 81% of recent college grads say college ‘definitely’ (37%) or ‘somewhat’ (44%) prepared them for the hiring process
  • 6 in 10 experienced challenges in the interview process
  • 87% of currently employed recent college grads report facing challenges in the workplace
  • One-third of employed recent grads have already switched jobs
  • 4 in 10 Gen Z employees are on a performance improvement plan, have received negative feedback from managers

4 in 10 recent college grads say they’re ‘very’ prepared to enter workforce

The majority of recent college graduates expressed confidence about their preparedness for entering the workforce. Thirty-eight percent say they feel very prepared to enter the workforce, and 39% feel somewhat prepared.

Only 13% of respondents expressed hesitancy, with 10% saying they feel not very prepared, and 3% saying they don’t feel prepared at all to enter professional life.

This confidence also applies to the hiring process. Thirty-seven percent of respondents say college definitely prepared them for the hiring process, while 44% say it somewhat prepared them.

Nearly 1 in 5 recent grads expressed doubt about their preparedness for the hiring process, with 12% saying college didn’t really prepare them for the hiring process, and 5% saying it didn’t prepare them at all.

According to Diane Gayeski, professor of strategic communications at Ithaca College, it’s important for students and employers to remember what purpose college serves in students’ educational and professional development.

“College is not designed as corporate training, and college degrees, except for specific professional areas that require certification such as teaching or physical therapy, don’t expose students to workplaces,” Gayeski says. “Colleges can do a better job of letting students know about available opportunities outside of their required courses that can expose them to professional environments.”

“Even getting a job on campus that may seem menial like working in the cafeteria can provide students with powerful insights on workplace interactions and can develop skills like customer service, computer applications, and conflict management.”

9 in 10 employed recent college grads report facing challenges in the workplace

Despite their sense of self-assurance, of the 85% of recent graduates who have landed their first post-graduation job, 87% admit to facing challenges in the workplace.

Forty percent of these respondents say that their salary is too low, making this the number one complaint among recent grads. This is despite the fact that 30% of employed recent college grads say they asked for more money during the negotiation process.

Other challenges newly employed recent college grads have experienced include hours that are too long (28%), unclear job responsibilities or expectations (24%), a work environment that’s too fast-paced or high pressure (21%), receiving feedback (15%), and difficulty meeting deadlines (14%).

Employers appear to be noticing where Gen Z hires are struggling. Thirty-nine percent of recent college grads who are currency employed have received negative feedback from a manager, while 40% are currently on a performance improvement plan.

“It’s not surprising the new grads find some aspects of the workplace challenging, especially with regard to what might be called ‘office culture,’ because all workers are rather confused and challenged these days,” Gayeski says. “Many practices that new grads became accustomed to in college are still absent or just starting to be implemented in many companies. Things like gender-neutral bathrooms, using individuals’ preferred pronouns, and expressions of identity through clothing and hairstyles may not yet be accepted in organizations. It’s difficult for young workers to know how to navigate these unstated rules or expectations.”

16% of recent grads brought a parent to a job interview

Recent college grads have also experienced bumps while seeking their first post-graduation job. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents admit to facing challenges or committing faux pas during the interview process.

Thirty-four percent of these individuals say that during job interviews, they struggled to communicate their strengths and abilities. Twenty-nine percent rarely or never send thank-you notes following interviews, 27% struggled to make eye contact during their interview, and 16% brought a parent or someone else to their interview for support.

To counter these struggles, Gayeski encourages students to start preparing for interviews early.

“Every college has a career center that offers mock interviews,” Gayeski says. “Learning how to speak the language of a particular company or profession is important, and becoming fluent in it just takes practice, as with any new language.”

“Developing a portfolio of artifacts that actually demonstrate hard skills as well as overall competencies can help students express their strengths by creating talking points. A traditional academic paper can demonstrate critical thinking and creative problem-solving, while a presentation that a team of classmates developed for an assignment can provide a way to talk about teamwork and how the person navigated the complexities of collaboration.”

Recent grads also say that some of the challenges they faced during the interview process came from employers themselves.

Forty-six percent say they were ghosted by an employer while job-hunting, and 43% encountered job descriptions that were inaccurate.

Gen Z is also embracing technology to help them find jobs. Sixty-five percent of recent grads say they’ve used ChatGPT for help in the job-hunting process. Fifty-six percent use it to help them write emails, 48% use it for cover letter creation, and 46% use it to help them write their resume.

1 in 2 recent college grads turned down job offers while seeking first post-graduation position

Recent college grads also display a willingness to be choosy about which jobs they take, with 54% of respondents saying they turned down at least one offer while job-hunting.

The top reason for saying no to a job was salary offers that were too low (59%). Recent grads also turned down jobs because the work location wasn’t what they wanted (46%), the job description was inaccurate (31%), and the job responsibilities felt overwhelming (21%).

Even with refusing job offers, most Gen Z grads didn’t have to search long for their first post-graduation job. Sixty-two percent of employed recent grads submitted 10 or fewer applications before getting hired, while 22% say it took 11-25 applications to find their first post-graduation job. Nearly 1 in 5 recent grads had a job lined up before graduation.

1 in 3 recent grads have already left their first post-graduation job

Despite this pickiness, 32% of employed recent grads have already left their first post-graduation job.

Among this group, 56% say they left their first position to start a new job. Nineteen percent were working in temporary positions that ended, 13% quit without having another job lined up, 6% were laid off, and 1% were fired.


This survey was commissioned by and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish on February 23-29, 2024. In total, 566 respondents completed the full survey.

To qualify for the survey, all participants had to have graduated from a 4-year college or university between 2021 and 2024 and be between the ages of 21-27.

To avoid bias Pollfish employs Random Device Engagement (RDE) to ensure both random and organic surveying. Learn more about Pollfish’s survey methodology or contact [email protected] for more information.