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Professional Opinion

Closing the gap between college career services and employers

An evolving marketplace requires higher ed programs to form closer relationships with the corporate world
University Business, January 2017
COLLEGE SERVICES--Susan Brennan is associate vice president of University Career Services at Bentley University. Kara J. Della Croce is director of campus recruiting at Ernst & Young LLP.
COLLEGE SERVICES--Susan Brennan is associate vice president of University Career Services at Bentley University. Kara J. Della Croce is director of campus recruiting at Ernst & Young LLP.

Colleges and universities must face a harsh reality: Employer expectations of their graduates are changing. It’s not enough for candidates to have the professional or technical skills needed for a particular job. Hiring managers now want employees with 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 forge partnerships with the recruiters and corporate partners doing the hiring. 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? That’s what students ask advisors, 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 nonprofits. This  helps students translate classroom knowledge into career-ready competencies beyond any one major. 

Addressing workplace needs

Career services professionals must be able to translate the current needs of the marketplace to faculty and students, and to take action when appropriate. If recruiters say 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.

Employer advisory boards

How can a college make the most beneficial employer connections? Build an advisory board of key employers that meets regularly. 

At Bentley University, we formed what we call a Board of HIRE Education that includes representatives from more than a dozen companies.

This is a win-win proposition: The input we get helps us understand employers’ needs to adapt career preparation and curriculum. Employers get to share valuable information about their company, as well as to learn from peers about trends in recruiting.

Increase talent investment

More companies are participating in programs to increase their exposure to students—the all-important talent pipeline. Frequent campus visits allow students to learn about a company’s culture and career opportunities. 

Employers can also sponsor a campus information session to highlight various industries. Or they may even participate in the classroom experience, with managers teaching some classes alongside faculty and judging student presentations. The benefit for companies is that they can see top talent outside 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. 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. Kara J. Della Croce is director of campus recruiting at Ernst & Young LLP.

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