Recent studies by Gallup and Inside Higher Ed have exposed a massive gulf separating perceptions of college graduate readiness for the workforce that blow me away.
Ninety-six percent of surveyed college and university provosts believe they are doing a very or somewhat effective job preparing their students for the challenges that lie beyond graduation.
Only 11 percent of business leaders polled by Gallup strongly agreed that graduates have the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace.
That’s about as bleak a disparity between buyers and sellers as you’ll ever find in any market. As a representative of the business class, I think some of the attitudes captured in the Gallup poll are a product of our own making. When the economy turned south, many of us had to freeze hiring or combine multiple jobs into one requisition.
As a result, I have seen postings seeking to hire what I call the Unicorn. Just like the mythological creature, a Unicorn in the hiring sense has a combination of attributes that is extremely rare. When Human Resources is unable to produce candidates matching the unreasonable expectations that emerge under these circumstances, it’s natural to assume that the supplier of talent you need to produce is failing you.
That said, I struggle to imagine hiring fresh-out-of-college graduates because I do not think many of them have laid the foundations they need to succeed in marketing. So, as that fateful week in April approaches when millions of American high school seniors will find out which colleges and universities have accepted them, I offer six recommendations on how undergraduates can prepare themselves for work in mobile marketing.
- Stretch yourself academically: Can’t wait to go to college so you never have to take another math class? Hate the idea of ever writing another essay? Fight the urge to ghettoize your education. We hiring managers need Swiss Army Knives with a broad range of skills. Push yourself to take the harder classes. The type of courses you take matters, too, which I’ll get to in a moment.
- Become a solid writer: Whether you fancy yourself to be a creative type, an influencer, or a person who can run numbers, you eventually will need to explain your point of view to others. More often than not, that will require writing an email or creating and delivering a presentation. Force yourself to write. Join the student newspaper.
- Get comfortable with numbers: Marketing and information technology are merging, so you need to be as analytical as you are creative. Take course work in math, economics, and/or the sciences.
- Lead something: Though it is unlikely that even a start-up would give a freshly minted grad a leadership role, every company wants workers who can rally those around them to get stuff done. Join clubs and strive to lead at least one before you graduate.
- Build something: Companies need producers, so find an outlet that will allow you to create. My advice: visit your school’s IT department and offer to do whatever you can to help. Even if you have no ambition to code or design software, spending meaningful time with and around the people who run the campus network will prepare you for work in an engineering-driven culture.
- Work during the summer: A marketing professor of mine once cautioned me about looking for internships. Many companies don’t offer internship programs because they can’t afford the overhead. Asking companies like this for an internship will lead to a dead end. Every company needs help getting things done, though, so keep your eyes peeled for “opportunities to contribute” instead of internships. The language you use in your hunt for summer work can make all the difference.
Notice what I didn’t advise. Enroll in an elite school or university. Become a computer science or business major. Land a lofty internship. Where you enroll and your concentration on pre-professional subjects matter less to me, and I’d much rather hire someone who worked hard during her summers, even if the jobs wouldn’t win any beauty contests.
One more thing: these six tips will prepare you for any job. Bring me a resume that has them, though, and I might be the first to try to hire you.