August 12, 2015 - In This Issue:
Saying good-bye to summer and hello to a fresh start in the classroom.

What are employers looking for in new hires who are recent grads--really?

The National Associate of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is probably the most frequently cited source of employer surveys.  In this survey we see employers want the following traits in new college grad hires: leadership, teamwork, communication skills, problem-solving,  analytical/quantitative skills. 

Most humanities programs emphasize those same skill sets, but do employers mean the same thing by those terms as university faculty do?  Translating the campus version of these traits for the job market is what I do in campus workshops and one-on-one with clients. See column at right for a few tips for starting off the academic year with a tone of professionalism integrated into your courses.  Urge   students to problem solve, work in teams, communicate and take leadership roles as if they were in the professional workplace.  

Language educators will note that employers don't necessarily value volunteer work, study abroad or  language skills in and of themselves. The key is to train students to highlight the skills employers  do  want that they have acquired through their experiences with volunteerism, study abroad and language study! 

This survey conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities found similar results in terms of the specific qualifications employers seek (communication, critical thinking & analysis, teamwork), but also noted that employers want to hire people with "both
a broad range of skills & knowledge
and in-depth skills & knowledge in a specific field or major." Humanities degrees  often confer the broad skills that complement the specifics students acquire in their other major areas (business, science, tech, etc.).

Students need both, but they also need to explicitly understand what skills they are acquiring and how they apply to their future careers. We have to spell it out for them!

Teamwork, communication and collaboration are part of most courses we teach, but are we being explicit with students about how those things translate for the workplace? Do they know the value of those skills independent of the work they're doing in our courses?

Here we see the same basic skill sets are articulated. And while this post points out the need to explicitly tell employers that you possess the soft skills they want, I would add that it is not enough to say you have the skills in a bullet item on your resume. You have show--illustrate--prove--that you have those skills through clear, concrete, concise examples. 

This one comes from the official website of the GMAT--so we see that fundamental communication skills are in high demand even in the fields that seem the farthest from the humanities, such as business administration.  Students need to know that their polished abilities to communicate effectively in speech and in writing will be in demand even if their ultimate fields of interest align with business studies. 

This is the most up-to-date article I have highlighted. And if you look at item number 2, "ability to make decisions and solve problems," you will see that it ties directly to my recommendations in the column at right. 

Employers want their new hires to be able to seek answers to their questions on their own, find solutions by Googling and following tutorials on YouTube, contact help lines and tech support when they can't solve their own problems, and behave professionally all the while.  

As educators, we tend to think of "solving problems" as contemplating complex social issues, analyzing the various facets of a given problem, and articulated all of that in well-organized academic language.  Indeed, we are training students to solve problems, but while we're at it, why not point out that it's practical workplace problems that they will have to solve on a daily basis once in the workforce?  Why not explicitly weave that exact kind of problem-solving into the curriculum while being explicit with students that it is career preparation?

Read on (at right) for specifics on how you might kick off this academic year doing just that...

Navigating Career Transitions Is a Lifelong Endeavor?
Most of my newsletter readers know me as the college-to-career transition coach, but many of my clients are in different career transitions: mid-caraeer, assistant to associate professor, or retirement.  

Over the summer guest bloggers have written about some of these:

  Grant Gearhart wrote about his experience landing an academic job: "An Insider's Perspective on the 'PhD+1'"

Christine Maxwell reflected on the transition to a productive retirement in "Career Transitioning Later in Life: Navigating Our Way to a Successful Retirement"

From Day One, Establish a Professional Rapport in the Classroom
Students can network in a classroom environment. Here, they engage in poster session style presentations related to each presenter's career aspirations.
Weaving professional development into the academic curriculum doesn't have to involve discrete activities or course projects.
You can build professional development into the day-to-day operations of your course and write it into the syllabus.  
Rule #1: Students must be resourceful when they want information or have a question
Students want to be able to launch their professional careers as "self-starting problem solvers!"  But it will never be enough to say that they are resourceful problem-solvers; they have to be able to prove it with concrete examples. Employers don't want employees who have to ask their managers how to handle every detail of a project and appear helpless in the face of a minor snafu (see left column for more on employers). 
Here are some examples of what I mean by resourcefulness on the part of students and how you can build it into your syllabus:
1- Did the bookstore run out of books? Solve your problem: ask someone in the bookstore what's going on! Ask if there are any books in the back. Ask when more books will arrive. Ask them is there's someone you should contact (a name on the order).  Don't run to your email to ask your professor what to do. Your professor doesn't work at the bookstore (and in a lot of cases didn't even place the book order). Inserting your professor in the middle just adds a layer of bureaucratic communication. You're the customer at the bookstore; work with the bookstore.  Then you can inform your professor of the situation (rather than asking your professor to solve your problem for you).
On your syllabus add: "please contact book supplier with any questions or concerns related to acquiring the book."
2- Having trouble logging on to the online course system? Solve your problem: c lick on the help icon. Google "how do I log on to X course system?" Ask a classmate.  Don't contact your professor--chances are that person has given you all the information s/he has. You know that your professor can't access the interface on your computer. Asking the professor to troubleshoot adds another layer of bureaucratic communication between you and the solution to your problem. 
On the second day of class, I sometimes illustrate the importance of peer resources by putting a successful student's laptop on the class screen and having that student walk their classmates through it to illustrate the importance of peer resources.  Faculty often don't even have the student interface so it looks completely different on our screens than on student screens!
On your syllabus add: "please check with a classmate, course system help resources, or Google if you have trouble getting online."
3- Doing homework online and there's a problem with that online system recording your grades? Solve your problem: c ontact the online system help desk! Professors are not a help desk/tech support hotline; they cannot troubleshoot a publisher's online system. And your first managers in your first jobs out of college won't want you popping your head in to their offices every time the printer jams either! You have to be able to troubleshoot your own technical problems.
On your syllabus add: "for any tech support concerns, contact the online system help desk."
4- Can't remember the homework assignment / classroom number / next course in the sequence for next semester?  Solve your problem: most of this is online and you can search it. So do that instead of asking your professor to do it for you.  Or contact a classmate.
Rule #2: Students should practice behaving professionally. 
Tell students to write professional emails. When writing an email, make it professional (open with "Dear Professor...," close with "Sincerely,"--in the target language if this is a language course).  Do we always have to do that in a venue as informal as email? No! Do students need to practice so they're ready for that college to career transition and all the networking / job searching involved? Absolutely!
On your syllabus add instructions for email writing, including proper salutations and closings where you provide your own contact information.
Previous newsletters have featured specific suggestions for adding professional content to your courses, such as networking, basic office skills, soft & hard technical skills.  Contact me if you would like me to forward any of that to you: darcylear@gmail.com
One key aspect of resourcefulness is the old adage that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Remind students to practice that on campus when they're trying to work through a frustrating situation: be kind when asking for help, don't act like the crabby customer who is always right, show what resources have already been deployed when reaching out to someone else for help.

Rule #3 Students can and should network professionally while on campus.
Tell students how to use face time with faculty in order to make a good impression. First, they have to find out what would make a good impression on each faculty member. There is no one-size-fits-all way to make a good impression on someone else.  
Most faculty want students to be genuine: seek them out to discuss real questions about actual course content. What questions or confusion can be clarified one-on-one with faculty (after deploying all the resources available to figure it out independently)?  
Tell students to use professors' office hours; while it's probably okay to give a heads up about stopping by office hours for a particular reason, asking faculty to schedule around you is a mistake--especially if you just want to drop by to say "hi," introduce yourself and talk briefly about your interest in the course, the field and its application to your career goals. 
Rest assured that college graduates struggle with appropriate networking and that these exercises on campus are designed to get students over the learning curve before the stakes are high--so they don't wind up in an awkward situation like the one described here.
On final note that may be familiar to newsletter readers: 
Be explicit with students about the professional development you've woven into the curriculum. Tell them that the above examples on your syllabus provide them with opportunities to be resourceful, self-starting problem solvers and that they could actually use those specific examples in their job search documents and interviews.
For example, if you have a student illustrate access to the online course system on the second day of class, say, "now Josie can use this as an example of taking a leadership role, solving a problem that others could not, working well with her peers, and networking with a faculty member (who will be able to write a strong letter of recommendation in part because of this example).  It's a great example because it's brief, clear, concise and specific. Employers won't have to take her word that she has those skills & qualifications; she can illustrate it with this example."

Darcy Lear, PhD
25 E Washington, Suite 1717
Chicago, IL 60602


Standout candidates in competitive job markets