I once had a student tell me that she had never been to career services because it was too far a walk in high heels. I had another student with a 750 GMAT. He was on full scholarship, slept in class every day, barely spoke, hardly bathed and aced every exam. My MBA Director cried every time she saw him, knowing she had no shot at helping him get a job. You can’t make this stuff up.
This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education has an article by Tim Sandoval on the suspect nature of many college’s job placement statistics. It is a tough job market. Colleges that claim high placement rates have an edge in attracting students vis-a-vis schools with less impressive numbers. The crux of the article is that many schools exaggerate their placement rate. Part of the issue is technical: students are more likely to respond to questions about post-graduation experiences if they are employed than unemployed. Since colleges typical report the results only from those students who responded to their survey, the employment numbers have an upward bias. The other part of the problem is that there are no commonly held standards on how to report such data: Schools consciously fudge.
The real problem runs much deeper: Universities everywhere have career service centers staffed by professionals sitting behind their desks waiting for that woman in heels to walk in and start her career exploration process. They are also waiting for that MBA student to show up properly attired at this year’s career fair with the right set of questions to ask the right set of employers. University administrators reason that centralized career services are the most efficient way to offer job search assistance and provide would-be employers with one-stop shopping for all of their human resource needs. They build impressive facilities to achieve this goal. The problem is: she’s not coming. She reckons that if this was really an important part of the college experience, there would be for-credit classes about it in the curriculum and faculty would take an interest in her career prospects. Since there isn’t—she will just wait until after she graduates to worry about it. That MBA student thinks his obvious genius will prevail. He really doesn’t need anyone’s help. He’s not coming either.
This situation persists because many faculty and administrators don’t really believe job placement is the goal of a college education. They are committed to providing the critical thinking and adaptive skills that will benefit people no matter what their chosen occupation or profession. Like my disheveled MBA student, they think genius will prevail. So, faculty see career services as “that place over there that can help you find a job if you can’t figure that out on your own.” Students, recognizing a bad sales pitch when they hear one, don’t go and don’t respond to surveys from strangers who played no role in their post-college employment success. A lack of commitment leads to faulty programming, backed up by faulty data collection.
We are not the Diesel Truck Driving School or Lynn’s School of Cosmetics and Hair Science. We are not in the business of supplying a well-defined set of employers with the human resources they need to perform very specific jobs. But it is the twenty-first century and most students have to work for a living before, during and after they leave here. And like it or not, most students do not have the polish to win high-paying jobs on their own. Waiting for them to recognize this and come to us, is a really bad strategy. Until faculty partner with career service professionals to develop a proactive, systematic program of curricular and co-curricular activities that prepare students to compete as professionals in today’s job market not much progress will be made. Most accounting departments get this. They tend to be the best at preparing their students for professional careers. Others need to take note.
The good news is that if you are a student who recognizes the need to invest in developing your professional demeanor and job search skills, there are many career services professionals just waiting for you to make an appointment. So put on some flats or a shirt and tie and make the walk over to career services starting in your freshmen year. If you start now, you can wear those heels (or clean shirt) with a smart looking suit the first day on your new job.