Closing the gap between college career services and employers

An evolving marketplace requires closer relationships with the corporate world
By: | Issue: December, 2016
November 20, 2016

College and universities must face a harsh reality: employer expectations of their graduates are changing. As the world becomes more complex, so do employer demands. It’s not enough for candidates to have the professional or technical skills needed for a particular job. Hiring managers now want strong “right brain” attributes — communication, collaboration and creativity – and the ability to apply both hard and soft skills to their role.

That means it’s more crucial than ever for college career services teams to continue to forge even stronger partnerships with the recruiters and corporate partners doing the hiring. Going above and beyond current standard practices, we need to make sure those relationships address the very latest market demands and ultimately provide students with the competitive advantage they need and deserve.

Don’t Focus So Much on Majors

What can I do with my major? It’s the question students often ask of their career advisor, but it’s the wrong question. The job market today is about the skills you possess and the ability to apply those skills across a range of industries and roles. That’s why colleges need to embrace a “career communities” model that empowers students to expand their career mindset beyond their major. A “career community” is a group of students who come together with corporate partners and alumni to learn more about specific industries and be mentored in their career interests. We suggest hosting regular meetings focused on a range of professions such as finance, analytics, consulting, entrepreneurship and non-profits. This holistic approach helps students translate knowledge gained in the classroom into career-ready competencies beyond any one major.

Career Services as Translator for Workplace Needs

As the bridge between educators and employer, career services professionals must be able to translate the current needs of the marketplace to faculty and students and take action when appropriate. If recruiters are saying they need more candidates for lucrative sales roles, for example, it might be time to create a new sales course. Or if hiring managers tell you that, in order to truly assess students’ analytical abilities, their companies will be using case-style interviews, college career services should offer workshops that prepare students for this format.

Colleges Need Employer Advisory Boards

How can a college make the most beneficial employer connections? Build an advisory board of key employers that meets regularly. Bentley University formed what we call a Board of HIRE Education that includes representatives from more than a dozen companies. This is a win-win proposition: Schools get input that helps them better understand employers’ needs in order to adapt career preparation and curriculum. Employers get the opportunity to share valuable information about their company, as well as learn from peers about trends in recruiting.

Increase Talent Investment

More companies are funding and participating in campus programs to increase their exposure to students – the all-important talent pipeline. Frequent in person visits allow students to learn much more about a company’s culture and career opportunities. Employers can also sponsor a campus information session to highlight a certain industry. Or they may go so far as to invest in and help shape curriculum, as Ernst & Young LLP did at Bentley when it came time for an Accounting curriculum overhaul. The company provided a grant to fund the effort and now offers Ernst & Young LLP senior managers as part of the classroom experience, teaching some classes alongside faculty and judging student presentations. All of this interaction allows students to connect what they learn in the classroom to a firm’s culture and expectations. The added benefit for companies? An opportunity to identify top talent outside of the interview process.

While colleges should offer students substantive knowledge, growth and experiences, we also recognize the legitimate expectation that higher education should also lead to a successful career. A survey supported by the Lumina Foundation found that the number one reason respondents choose to go to college today is improved employment opportunities. The return on investment matters. It’s time to focus more closely on two of the key players in the ROI equation and close the gap between college career services and future employers of college graduates.

Susan Brennan is associate vice president of University Career Services at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Kara J. Della Croce is director of Campus Recruiting at Ernst & Young.