Students think they are prepared; Hiring managers think not

Tue, 10/29/2013 - 14:27 -- dougk

Education resources company Chegg ran a survey of 2000 college students and 1000 hiring managers to rate the students' proficiency in a variety of job-related skills.  The result? Take a look at their chart:

 Workforce readiness

In every single category, the students rated themselves as more proficient than the hiring managers rated them.  Some of the biggest gaps were in "Working on tasks independently", "Communicating with authority figures & clients" and "Organization". Big discrepancies were also apparent in communications skills like "Making a persuasive argument", "Developing slide presentations" and "Public speaking". 

Of course, it's nice that college students have the confidence to believe they've got these skills, but it looks like most are destined to a rude awakening during the first couple of weeks on the job.

That there is a gap is hardly surprising.  Most students have a limited understanding of what life in the workforce is really about, and colleges (rightly or wrongly) don't see preparing students for soft job skills as part of their mandate.  It is certainly possible to graduate in liberal arts today without having worked on a single group project or given a formal presentation.  Even in engineering and sciences, group projects might consist of one or two lab partners.  One recent comp sci grad told me that when he went to his first meeting as project member with ten other people, it was clear that no one had any idea how to organize, lead, conduct or behave in such a meeting.

Colleges can help students develop these skills without jeopardizing their core mission.  Every course (outside of large introductory classes) can include individual or group presentations.  Lab and group projects should be part of every engineering and science curriculum.  Group projects need to introduced to humanities and social science classes; writing has to be encouraged in the science and engineering classes.

External resources will help too.  I run workshops at Berkeley in subjects like "Handling Difficult People and Situations" and "Business Bootcamp for Liberal Arts Majors".  Students can look for ways outside of classes to learn communications skills (like Toastmasters), and join clubs and committees as officers to develop people management skills. The single best way to prepare for a job is to have worked already - internships and summer jobs provide exposure to the realities of the business world.

Students: keep that confidence, but pick up some of the non-technical business skills you're going to need before you leave college. And be sure to check out "What you need to get a job" and "Your First Job After Graduation: What Matters".

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