Student Perspective

Navigating the Waters

by Benjamin Skye | January 26, 2010 | Student Perspective 0 Comments

Understanding what employers in today’s highly competitive job-market are seeking in a prospective employee.

For most college seniors, there is a lingering fear that their efforts in college may not necessarily be rewarded with securing employment post-graduation. In view of today’s dire economic conditions, with unemployment rates ascending all across the nation, there is a need for college students to increase their awareness of what employers today are looking for in a potential employee.

The term” job-seeker” is usually associated with someone who is either unemployed or has just finished school. The problem with this rigid distinction lies in the fact that most college students don’t realize that along with every passing semester goes another opportunity to develop their credentials as a potential employee. It is often so easy for college students (and I speak from experience) to be bogged down by their present reality: assignments, papers, and social life that forget their job-seeking process does not begin following graduation. Instead, it begins on the very first day they are enrolled in school. From then on, every class that they pick and every relationship that they build with their professors and other professionals starts playing a huge role in determining their chances in the “real world” so to speak.

Once again, this distinction of “real world”, a term used in reference to the working realm as opposed to the college environment, is extremely deceptive in that it gives the student an excuse to be as detached as possible from a world that will be their everyday reality in the not so distant future. I had a professor, Dr. Paul Potter, who constantly reminded us in his Speech Communication class at Hardin-Simmons University about the importance of seeing our college careers as our “real world” in the here and now. He would take every opportunity possible to remind us that even the most trivial things in the eyes of a college student, for example: punctuality to class, personal grooming, teamwork, and assignment ethics are all habits that we develop and carry over with us into our future jobs.

I remember how a portion of my classmates would stare at him with a look of disdain, rolling their eyes in disgust and probably thinking to themselves, “Why is this old man trying to burst our bubble? We’re in college; it’s going to be the best four years of our lives. Please don’t ruin it for us by reminding us of the nightmare of a world that waits for us out there.” Little did these students realize that whether or not the world that they are approaching reveals itself to be a nightmare or a dream come true ultimately lies in their own hands. I have to admit, Dr. Potter was right about what he had to say. In a recent article by Hart Research Associates titled “Room for Improvement” published on January 21, 2010 in “Inside Higher Education”, executives at 302 private sector and non-profit employers were surveyed on their views regarding college learning in the wake of the economic downturn. The study was done on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities by the Hart Research Associates to discover the key learning outcomes that increase graduates’ potential to be successful and contributing members of today’s global economy.

In the list that they compiled from these professional organizations, the top three expectations that today’s employers have towards their employees were: “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing” (89%), “critical thinking and analytical skills” (81%) and “the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings through internships and other hands-on experiences.”  Among the other skills that are worth a mention include: “the ability to analyze and solve complex problems” (75%), “the ability to connect choices and actions to ethical decisions” (75%), “teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings” (71%) and “the ability to innovate and be creative.” Surprisingly enough, the bottom two in this published list were the items “proficiency in a foreign language” (45%) and “an understanding of democratic institutions and values” (40%).

With this information in mind, it is extremely important for the high school graduate who is in the process of selecting a college to seek out a post-secondary education institution that provides avenues for growth in all these areas. Bearing in mind that today’s employers are also expecting employees to “take on more responsibilities and to use a broader set of skills than in the past” (91%) as well as “work harder to coordinate with other departments than in the past” (90%), it is undoubtedly important for the college hopeful to be actively engaging himself or herself in classes, activities and internships that promote such sets of skills. With the job market today being more competitive than ever, diligence and the ability to be people-oriented are definitely hallmarks of a standout prospective employee. In addition, employers are also seeking individuals who have a “broader foundation of knowledge and skills” as opposed to the traditional expectation of being but a specialist of any one particular field.

As Carol Geary, the President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities said, “Quality has become the centerpiece of this nation’s post-secondary education”. The reality is that it is no longer sufficient for students to merely get through an institution of higher learning with a diploma in hand; graduates today need to be more multi-faceted and diverse in both their knowledge and skills than ever before. In other words, the sheer quality of one’s educational background is no longer determined by one or two aspects of the trade but by various levels of evaluation.

Add a Comment