Preparing College Graduates for Job Search and Career

April 4th, 2011

If you saw my raw letter to university professors about what they should include in a semester curriculum you know I feel most schools are NOT preparing students for a career.

I’ve zig-zagged the country and been to a number of career centers, and visited with many career services directors. I have a strong opinion about the disservice college students are getting at traditional schools and online colleges, especially with today’s “new” career model. Unfortunately, not many schools have strong job placement programs like William Penn University. (if your school does, leave a comment and tell us which school it is)

It’s not necessarily the fault of the career center (generally speaking, they are trying really hard!), or the fault of the professors (who usually don’t care about anything outside of what they are “supposed” to teach), but it is a major problem.

I personally feel the level of education is not up to par (maybe that’s simply because of my own college experiences (two different universities, a CIS undergraduate and an MBA))… maybe I’m just a pessimistic whiner.

Nonetheless, I think things need to change.

What should change?

Check out Thom Singer’s post about how freshman are courted by the career center, and of course graduating students are courted by the career center, but what happens to the sophomores and juniors?

In his post, Networking and the College Student – Sophomore Year Experience (SYE), he writes:

I spoke recently to a “Young Professionals Organization” and found these career-minded twenty-somethings actively taking notes and asking questions.  Many had an “Ah-Ha” look on their faces as I explained how networking really worked.  Misconceptions stripped away, the group was excited to attend future networking events, instead of grimacing at the thought. One women queried why “networking skills” were never taught at her college.  She was mad that her expensive education left out this powerful part of her success toolbox.

I know some of you think that this stuff is 100% on the student and the parents… and that college is a more pure learning environment.

But why not include stuff in the university experience about personal branding, networking, career management, etc?

If that’s not part of an education, what is?

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if that was part of the education for all of these public school teachers who are getting laid off … they have no idea what to do because they spent their entire time learning how to teach kids in school, and now they are deer-in-the-headlights because they are faced with a situation they never, ever thought they would be in.

No discipline is immune from career management issues, and this should be interwoven much more into the education we pay for.

Did you know? A new breed of online distance learning universities such as Kaplan Open Learning are helping to bridge the gap between college and careers guidance – taking great care in providing the next step for its graduates.

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12 Responses to “Preparing College Graduates for Job Search and Career”

  1. sterling Bateman says:

    utahfutures.org is one example of a tool that volunteers could use to add value to college students of higher education.

  2. I completely agree. Especially with the cost of higher education skyrocketing, it’s no longer enough to just teach students their subject. Schools need to prepare them for the real world – to know that they’re not guarenteed a job, that they’ll have to work hard to define themselves if they want to work, and that there are skills involved in getting connected with the right people.

    Simply giving a student a degree in a certain field is no longer enough, and it infuriates me when college say “well, students have a choice about going to the Career Center and they don’t choose to come”. That’s just passing the responsibility.

    Personal branding, etc should be taught throughout college. If colleges don’t like that, they should consider charging less for education.

  3. Sarah Mitus says:

    As a current college student, I believe my career center has helped me with the resources and opportunities to be a networker, but it has had to do with my own interest in networking and personal branding.

    During my curriculum as a top ten undergraduate business school, we take a lot of classes NOT directly pertinent to our interests in order to make us well-rounded, knowledgeable individuals. In many of these classes, students still do the tasks to get by, or the papers to get an “A”, but if there is a speaker in class who doesn’t relate directly to the material they will be tested on, they will pay less attention.

    What I’m saying here is that giving mandatory classes on personal branding and networking won’t be useful to most students who aren’t interested.

    I think the effort and desire to learn has to come from within the student to have an impact on his/her life.

  4. Jason Alba says:

    Love the two differing perspectives by Katie and Sarah – thank you :)

    And thanks, Sterling, for the link :)

  5. Great post Jason and thank you for putting this out there!

    I have to tell you that as a parent of twins who are Sophomores in 2 reputable (and expensive) Philadelphia universities, the minimal instruction that’s provided in how to write a good resume has been disappointing…let alone how to network at career fairs and all of the little things that go along with it. Like grabbing a business card from everyone you speak to, send a quick note of thanks so they remember you, etc.

    I agree with Katie’s comments 100%. While I honestly don’t believe that anything about the term “personal branding” is appealing to a student, a required class with a more creative name would get their attention. Colleges should be offering students practical tips on how to use LinkedIn, how to write good cover letters and how to get them to be creative and stand out in a job search. There is so much basic info and the “bow ties” at colleges have their heads in the sand when it comes to our current job market. We’ve been in this market since 2008 and we really don’t know how long it will last. My son is on LI and has more connections than I do along with a few recommendations. My daughter has been hitting career fairs and just recently joined LI…but that might be due to my nagging, lol!

    I have to disagree with Sarah’s comment because this is about becoming gainfully employed after college graduation. The lack of a paycheck is the impact on the student’s life and I’d say that’s a big deal. As a parent, I’m not about having my kids move back home after college and not because I don’t love them. This is real life — when you get your degree, you take off and fly with your own wings. We raise our kids to do the right thing just for this time in their lives when they’re independent and can make it in the real world.

    In addition, learning how to network online and face to face is a life skill that we can never do well enough.

  6. Brad Merrill says:

    I am both a accountant looking for work and a adjunct faculty member at a career college, giving me a perspective that may or may not be different from others.

    As someone who is in the job market, I have learned a lot about networking and personal branding in the last 11+ months. Not the way I wanted to learn about it. Before early May of 2010, while I knew of LinkedIn, I wasn’t on it. Had no real idea how to use it.

    As a faculty member, do schools do as much as they could? Hell no.
    The school I work at teaches a class (labeled as a Psychology course) that all students are required to take that covers things like cover letters, resumes etc. I have no idea if it covers things like LinkedIn or personal branding. We are a school with a accelerated program (Bachelors in 36 months – each class is 4 weeks long)

    Students do need a more in depth understanding, I believe regardless of how well it is currently covered, otherwise they are in for a rude awakening upon graduation.

  7. Jason Alba says:

    I really appreciate all the comments – this has been fun to listen to.

    I love Brad’s line (actually, a few of them):

    “Not the way I wanted to learn about it.”

    I think schools cannot teach what needs to be learned with regard to career stuff for a few reasons:

    - students won’t listen until it applies to them (in line with what Sarah is saying)

    - time… there simply isn’t enough time. In another comment from Brad he says there is barely enough time to cover what needs to be covered.

    A few more reasons, but I think those are the biggest.

    I’d really, really, really, really like to see some preparation, though, to get students thinking about this stuff. Maybe not an indepth course on HOW TO have a strong personal brand, but I’d like to see people going out of school thinking “I really need to have a real, strong, intentional brand.”

    This, I think, would happen in casual conversation when the professor is in the mood … perhaps sharing stories from their life/career. Those were the most interesting parts of school to me… when they dug into their past and shared real life stuff… but that’s just me :p

  8. thom singer says:

    Jason, this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart (Thanks for quoting me). My book, “Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Graduates” has helped many students, but I have had college administrators tell me the topic of “networking” is just “fluff” and not worthy of their investment in instruction or hiring a speaker. Those same administrators would be shocked if they got laid off and had to find a new job.

    My experience shows those who have been forced into a job transition suddenly discover why meaningful and long-term business relationships matter.

    It is a shame it is not taught in advance as that would save a lot of people the pain of feeling all alone in a job search.

  9. Jason Alba says:

    @Thom, I bet those same fluff-throwers have done a fair amount of networking, either without realizing it or calling it something else (because networking seems to have a bad connotation). They’re more into “relationships” … fine, have a class on professional relationships!

  10. I totally agree. It’s worse when you take into consideration that today’s grads face higher student debt, higher unemployment, and a BA that’s worth a lot less than when any of us graduated.

    I read on another blog that on average, colleges spend $3,000 per student in marketing but only $85 on career services. The colleges don’t yet understand how the new post-recession economy works.

    My colleague and I wrote some white papers on the problems recent grads face and the role of college career centers. If anyone would like a copy, please contact me!

  11. Sarah Mitus says:

    I agree with many of your comments, especially when I look at it from my parents’ perspective. They want me to do well, and they want my education (which they are THANKFULLY paying for) to pay off in the long term.

    But I still believe in the ability for an individual student to take a proactive approach on their own. Even though I’m graduating in less than five weeks, still without a full time position to call my own, I see my branding ability as a personal advantage.

    Because my school hasn’t taken the time to walk everyone through what they should do to brand themselves online, I have a competitive advantage against my peers who only use social-networking tools to be social. Organizations see me standing out from the crowd, actively engaging in the online sphere in a professional manner.

    So from a student who has been effectively job searching all-along, I’d prefer to keep the competition less, especially while I’m still competing for entry level jobs with 2010 and 2009 graduates.

  12. Jason Alba says:

    Sarah, thanks for continuing the conversation.

    When people tell me “but you are different,” I disagree, and I dislike it.

    But, I’m going to say that to you :) YOU ARE DIFFERENT. In my presentations across the country I rarely see someone like you – you’ve read Never Eat Alone. You came to my presentation while I was in town. You are doing this stuff. You get career management. You are proactive. You are eyes-wide-open!

    Many students, though, need more. I think they need great career services resources from the career center, and I think they need raw, real talk from professors.

    Unfortunately career centers aren’t funded appropriately, in general.

    And many professors are more concerned about what their job duties are to give that raw talk to their students.

    For students like you? You’ll think “yeah, of course, I know that.” For others, though, I would hope they think “wow, I didn’t realize I had to take control of this stuff, I thought with my degree I’d be set for life.”

    If nothing else, it’s just a dream I have :)

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