Op-ed: Making sure grads are more prepared for jobs than interviews

Reevaluating the college-to-career roadmap to help students achieve career success.

college-career-barnesAccording to a recent study, surveyed students may be more prepared for an initial interview than for the skills required for the job—a trend that could ultimately affect recruitment and retention efforts at colleges and universities.

As seniors prepare to graduate in May, job hunting has officially commenced, with students beefing up their resumes, attending networking events, honing interview skills and sending out applications. However, a study conducted by Barnes & Noble College and Why Millennials Matter found that many students today are falling behind on the college-to-career roadmap.

This should be concerning not only for students, but colleges and universities as well. Today, career placement rates play an increasingly bigger role in where students decide to get their degree, and alumni donations also are highly influenced by how well the school helped launch their career. With recruitment, retention and revenue constraints topping the list of higher ed concerns, colleges and universities can’t afford to take this trend lightly.

The “College Student Mindset for Career Preparation & Success” study surveyed more than 3,000 students from two- and four-year colleges and universities across 44 states, garnering more than 17,000 open-ended responses. The study aimed to uncover Millennial student expectations, motivations, influences and preferences in regards to career preparation and early work experiences.

According to the study’s findings, many respondents are simply waiting too long to start building the experience and skills they need to launch their careers. Among those surveyed:

  • Only 36.7 percent of juniors and seniors have participated in an internship, while 42.5 percent have not applied to one.
  • Over half (52.4 percent) of juniors and seniors haven’t begun casual job searching.
  • Only 23-34 percent of all students are using the Career Center to research options.

Students surveyed also aren’t building the skills they need to succeed. They know what skills are important, such as clear communication and critical thinking, but they also identified these skills as those needing the most improvement. Additionally, respondents are more focused on building the skills they need to pass the interview and land the job, as opposed to the skills they need to succeed on the job.

(Next page: 3 innovative ways that a university can invest in student career prep)

These practices put students at a serious disadvantage. When they begin applying for jobs, they don’t have enough experience or the skills expected of them. As a result, many employers are dismissing them as potential candidates because they feel they aren’t ready for the real-world work environment.

The good news is, for the most part, those students surveyed do identify the same skills for success that employers value, including communication, teamwork and problem solving. The challenge is that they don’t feel confident about their own skills and aren’t sure how to go about enhancing them.

It’s time for students to rethink the traditional career roadmap. Beginning freshman year, students should be meeting with a career counselor to discuss their interests and options, and focusing on four areas in particular: personal branding, relationships, experiences and skills. By accelerating the entire process, students can enhance their future career success – and colleges, universities, employers and alumni can and should help them do so.

Three ways that a college or university can invest in student career preparation include innovative partnerships, incorporating career prep into the academic curriculum, and engaging employers in the process early on.

Employers would like to see colleges invest in the following areas:

  • Offer educational experiences that teach students to solve problems with people whose views are different than their own
  • Teach students about ethical issues and public debates important in their field
  • Offer direct learning experiences for students to work with others and solve problems important in their communities
  • Teach students about societies and cultures outside of the U.S., as well as global issues and developments

Employers also should take a more active role in helping students prepare to succeed in their career. For example, Barnes & Noble College employs more than 10,000 Millennial student workers, in addition to serving more than 5 million students nationwide.

Barnes & Noble College has also been working with its campus partners to launch its new Career Now initiative. The program aims to enhance connections between students, faculty and the bookstore by providing the tools, guidance and resources they need to help students on their way to career success. Beginning with in-store career workshops led by Why Millennials Matter founder Joan Snyder Kuhl, the program now is expanding to include a variety of online resources, tool kits and other content that will allow the bookstore to continue to be a support system for students and faculty.

Alumni also can act as a valuable resource for students by seeking ways to offer advice based on their own personal experience. For example, Rutgers alum and Barnes & Noble College consumer & new media marketing manager Tamara Vostok recently returned to her alma mater to participate in an alumni career panel session. Engaging with students in this setting allows alumni to share personal and practical advice that students might not be able to get anywhere, and allows them to ask questions specific to their concerns.

At Rutgers, Vostok was able to share her professional insights related to starting a career in the journalism and marketing industry, and students walked away with valuable advice and new perspectives on career development.

The clear skills gap between what many Millennials have to offer vs. what employers expect and desire is an evident issue for all involved – students, parents, employers and higher ed institutions. Sometimes it takes a village to get a student from their dorm to their dream career, but we believe that together, we can raise the bar.

Lisa Malat is the Vice President of Marketing and Operations at Barnes & Noble College.