After four years of college, students getting ready to graduate and enter the workforce feel like they have all the skills necessary to take on the challenges a new career has to offer. Their future employers are likely to think otherwise.
That’s what a report released by The Association of American Colleges and Universities has found after surveying more than 600 students and 400 employers. For example, while 66 percent of students said they were great critical thinkers, only 26 percent of employers agreed. Similar gaps appeared in categories like effective writing, oral communication, creativity, ability to work in teams and awareness of diverse cultures.
With a competitive, changing, and—for the first time in a while—growing job market, how can students avoid these misconceptions and prepare themselves most effectively for the workforce?
Derrick Boone, Associate Dean of the Master of Arts in Management program at Wake Forest University School of Business, says employers are looking for more than what’s typically taught in most undergraduate programs.
"I was a chemistry major, and was well prepared for my first job when it came to my knowledge of chemistry,” says Boone. “What I wasn’t prepared for was that most of my job wasn’t based on chemistry at all!”
Colleges and universities tend to prioritize teaching students domain-specific knowledge related to their majors. “That’s great preparation,” says Boone, “but that knowledge needs to be supplemented with the business skills that employers value.”
"Students are generally well prepared when it comes to the broad skills related to their chosen profession—after all in order to be a museum curator, you need to know something about art history,” Boone says. "But knowledge of Rembrandt, Rafael and Renoir isn’t enough to make someone an effective curator. You also have to understand financial statements so you can determine your cash flow, develop marketing plans for new exhibits, and do lots of other things that have nothing to do with art.”
“You also need soft skills,” says Boone. “How do you disagree without being disagreeable? How should you react when your boss takes your idea and represents it as her own? What should you do when a teammate isn’t pulling his weight? Where do you sit at the conference table during a meeting with a donor?” “These “soft skills” are what really prepare students for the actual responsibilities of a job and few undergraduates are taught those,” says Boone.
Finding a program that focuses on building both technical and soft skills, like the MA in Management program at Wake Forest University School of Business, will give students the competencies that employers are looking for.
"A major force in us creating this program back in 2006 was that our real-world business partners were telling us recent college graduates were lacking in business acumen,” says Boone. "They didn’t know how to write business memos. They didn’t understand how to “communicate up” to seniors. They didn’t understand what business casual attire meant. They didn’t understand how to lead and work with diverse teams."
The take-away for students? Be more responsible for your own education. Take advantage of opportunities to build up your soft skills. And, most importantly, never rely too heavily on a diploma as proof of career readiness.
The Wake Forest University School of Business Master of Arts in Management program is a 10-month, pre-experience program for students just leaving their undergraduate institutions. The program helps students develop conceptual expertise, practical competence, and strength of character that are required in today’s marketplace. Graduates have a 99% employment rate within six months of graduation and an average base salary of $53,242 and a $6500 signing bonus.