Signaling standout graduate employability: the employer perspective

Michael Tomlinson, Valerie Anderson

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    This paper examines employers’ graduate employability expectations. In an overcrowded graduate labour market, employers must distinguish between equally qualified graduates to determine ‘standout employability’. Grounded in a dramaturgical perspective we integrate concepts of skilful social action with signaling theory to extend the processual conceptualization of graduate employability. We report a qualitative abductive analysis of employers’ expectations of graduates’ employability performances. We theorize that employers frame and decode signals of standout employability from graduates’ narrations of experientially referenced skilful social action. These form the dramaturgical backdrop from which employers infer unique personal brand assets and qualities they associate with standout employability. Our analysis has important implications for Higher Education, HRM and career counselling practitioners. It indicates that the employability value of non-HE experience is as a backdrop for the dramaturgical performance of graduate employability rather than for the acquisition of work-related skills or the enablement of work ready behaviours.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number0
    Pages (from-to)0
    JournalHuman Resource Management Journal
    Early online date8 Dec 2020
    Publication statusEarly online - 8 Dec 2020


    • graduate employability
    • dramaturgy
    • work experience
    • signaling theory


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