When It Comes to Career Prep: Are Campuses and Employers Speaking the Same Language?

3d_graduation_cap_and_diplomaWith “Preparedness Paradoxes,” Inside Higher Ed tackles the debate over student preparedness for the workforce and who’s to blame when it’s lacking.  

It’s another article about the value of humanities degrees…

But this article doesn’t just say, “a humanities degree is good because it’s good,” or “it’s about developing well-rounded thinkers who are prepared for the life of the mind.”

In this article there are calls to action for both campuses and employers–urging both to work actively toward a solution to the perceived divide over student preparedness for the workplace.

Here are some of the calls to action that I like from the article:

Colleges should combine academics with hands-on learning, better incorporate technology, and ensure that career advising begins freshman year…

And businesses should work with colleges to improve career services so everyone’s on the same page regarding expectations for new employees, and should help develop professional curriculums.

But what I like most is that having those two groups–colleges and businesses–“on the same page” is a priority.

I spend a lot of time talking to campus groups about this.  Why? Because colleges and employers often are not on the same page.

For example, in survey after survey, employers say they want the following attributes in new hires who are recent college grads:

  • written & verbal communication
  • analysis
  • organization
  • problem-solving
  • decision-making

Those same skill sets mean something totally different to a professor than to a hiring manager. And students/young employees are caught in the middle, when they should be prepared for the transition. 

On a college campus we see that list of attributes and pat ourselves on the back: “check,” “check,” and “check!”  We do all of those things: students communicate in writing (10-20 pages per semester) and verbally in midterm & final presentation. They analyze the text using the frameworks studied in class. They use problem-solving and decision-making skills to organize their essays into clear paragraphs with introduction, body and conclusion.

Employers mean something completely different when they say they want new hires with good written & verbal communication skills. They want to know that when you call a meeting using email, you can give the date, time and location on the first attempt–without anyone having to ask clarifying questions like, “when you say, ‘Thursday the 4th,’ do you mean Thursday (which is the 3rd) on the 4th (which is Friday)?”  They want the written communication to be in the form of a clear, concise, bullet-pointed agenda–not essay format.  

Likewise, managers don’t want to be asked, “how many words should the email be?”, “what font should I use?”, “what size margins?”—that’s the kind of decision-making & problem-solving they’re talking about.  And on campus, we’re inadvertently training students to ask those detail-oriented questions about word count and font (because in the currency of academics–grades–those details matter).  But in the workplace, asking questions about those details make recent grads seem ill-equipped for professional life because they can’t solve those little problems and make those little decisions independently.  

Does studying the humanities provide students with important workplace skills such as communication, analysis, organization, problem-solving, and decision-making? Yes!  Students have had the experience of solving frustrating miscommunications. They have deployed problem-solving and decision-making strategies to solve them (for example, “I’ll solve this problem by asking the professor how many words the essay has to be!”)  They can use the organizational strategies they’ve developed on campus in the workplace. 

But they have to know how to translate their talents into the language of the workplace.  And they need specific training in how to represent the skills employers most want on  resumes, in cover letters & personal statements, and in job interviews.  

The how is what I work on with students in campus workshops–we start with putting that degree on your resume and talking about presenting yourself as a professional candidate (not as a student candidate). We translate campus experiences for professional documents. We practice explaining the content of professional resumes in interviews. We design answers to commonly-asked interview questions using two different frameworks, and we practice taking leave at the end of a professional encounter.  This is work to build that bridge between campus and workplace. I insert myself in the middle to get everyone  working on the same page–or at least seeing what that page might look like.  Campuses are educating talented, prepared students. Now we have to participate in their transition to talented, successful professionals.


2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. For one-on-one support in preparing for your job search or to set up a campus workshop, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
 
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