The Class of 2012 might be entering a better job market than their peers that walked across the stage this time last year, but they are still facing anemic growth and stiff competition—and could use any insight into employers’ needs to help land a job.

A new study by Millennial Branding, which surveyed 225 employers using Experience Inc.’s data pool of over 100,000 U.S. companies, shows that 87% of employers are going to hire more 2012 graduates this year, which good news for the 1.7 million students getting their diplomas but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

“Employers are really looking to hire top talent; they are trying to hire with more precision, and therefore it makes it a bit more competitive both for other employers who are competing for these top talent graduates but also for the candidates themselves,” says Nels Wroe, director of Product Solutions Americas for SHL

We talked with career experts about the study’s findings to give students and recent graduates some insight on what employers’ expectations are and what they’re looking for in the ideal candidate.

How Employers are Connecting with Candidates

Although most companies have jumped on the social media train for marketing and brand interaction, only 16% of employers recruit on social networks all of the time or most of the time, according to the survey.

Employers remain traditional in their candidate seeking methods for the most part: 48% use job boards and 44% use employee referrals.

Although only 35% of employers use social networks to conduct background checks in the online hiring process (42% use LinkedIn, 40% use Facebook, 15% use Google+ and 2% use Twitter), having a positive online presence is essential for those on the job hunt.

“Students need to see social media sites as more than a place to connect with friends and old classmates,” says Kimberly Baker, Career Services Manager at Bryant & Stratton College Online. “Their online profiles are part of their personal brand which can either help or hurt in the job search process.”

What Employers Look for

Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding and author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future, explains employers are looking for three main traits in this economic climate: communication skills, the ability to work in a team and a positive attitude.

Walking into an interview without thoroughly researching a company and having questions ready will damage a grad’s image. The survey shows 42% of employers are turned off by how unprepared students are in interviews, and 26% are turned off by their bad attitude.

“A lot of companies are looking down upon how unprepared students are when they interview and the interviews are really how they can identify you as having those soft skills,” says Schawbel. “Soft skills have to be developed over time and some people have the natural gift of being good communicators whereas hard skills can be easily learned through a program--soft skills are harder to judge.”

Employers New Global Perspective

Companies are expanding to fit the needs of a more globalized economy. The survey also shows 65% of employers feel that their talent needs have changed over the last year to, but 26% of that group hasn’t communicated those changes to the student marketplace.

 “By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be Gen Y--that’s the big shift,” says Schawbel. “Year over year, we’re going to start to see the work place evolve and it’s really happening because of the economy and the new needs of the work force.”

As a result, Schawbel explains that employers are looking to candidates with specialty skills who can become future leaders in the company.

“The turnover rate is very high for this generation. It’s really important that they focus on not just recruiting, but retention and growing their future leaders.”

Internship Expectations

Landing an internship can be just as competitive as the entry-level job market but really important since 91% of employers think that students should have between one and two internships before graduating, according to the survey.

“The pressure we’re seeing from employers is that they want more and more internships and that’s because they are struggling with identifying and pinpointing the students who do have those qualifications,” says Wroe. “What they’re trying to say is you need more internships, more experience, because the experience is what starts to tell the story around the candidate—are they going to be successful?”

How to Stand Out  

Quantifying past experience from college organizations and career associations demonstrates to employers that a candidate has drive and the ability to lead, since 50% of employers say leadership positions in on-campus organizations are important.

“New graduates and students who are able to talk about and highlight past experiences from real-world class projects or career-related volunteer opportunities are the type of job candidates who will rise to the top of employers’ lists,” says Baker.

In order to stand out from a sea of applicants, 69% of managers think that relevant courses are either important when reviewing candidates, 65% say a referral from a previous boss or professor, while 29% are looking for entrepreneurial experience.

“Almost a third of companies are looking for entrepreneurial-type students to come in with an open mind to be creative and really make things happen,” says Schawbel. “If you can’t get an internship, maybe start a small project.”