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The New Career Roadmap: How Colleges Can Help Students Build the Skills for Success

Keys to giving students an education that ensures success in their careers
University Business, December 2014

Committed to being a true partner to colleges and universities by supporting student success, Barnes & Noble College recently partnered with Why Millennials Matter to launch a national study on the state of student career preparation and student perceptions about careers after college. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on October 23, 2014, attendees learned the key findings from the survey related to the career preparation roadmap, the skills that today’s employers are looking for, and how schools can help their students build these skills needed for success. To support student success, colleges and universities can also take a more active role in helping students develop these skills, such as working with employers, the bookstore and other on-campus entities to build partnerships.

Lisa Malat
Vice President, Marketing & Operations
Barnes & Noble College

At Barnes & Noble College, as an organization we strongly believe that our role is to be much more than a bookstore or just a vendor. We aim to be a strategic partner for the colleges and universities we serve and to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to support the school’s missions and goals. Our goal is to rise above the standard retail transaction to instead deliver an experience that supports and celebrates everything that the student is going through, as well as faculty, administrators and the campus community overall. We work hard to forge a very strong connection to our students, and everything we do is driven by their insight. We conduct research on both local and national levels, and use these findings to develop programs and initiatives that can deliver a very local, customized experience at every one of our schools. Through a recent client survey, we learned that student recruitment and retention top the list of concerns for our campus partners. And of course, post-graduation job-placement rates affect both of these.

We partnered with Why Millennials Matter to dig deeper into the subject to see how we could help. Why Millennials Matter is an agency that focuses on bridging the gap between what millennials want as employees and consumers, and what companies need in terms of talent and brand loyalty. Our study was designed to gauge the overall level of career preparation of today’s college students, and their perception of what skills and experiences are desired by companies looking to hire them. It also aimed to uncover what millennials are looking for in their early work experiences—what they are looking for in terms of training and development, benefits, and what ultimately motivates them to apply for a job. A report of our top-level findings can be found on our website: www.BNCollege.com/news.

One of the major findings from our study is that students are being far too casual about their career prep strategy. While these students definitely have direction, relatively few are taking action or maximizing all of the available resources. For example, the study found that only 36 percent of juniors and seniors have participated in an internship, and 42 percent of juniors and seniors have not even applied for an internship. Over half of juniors and seniors haven’t begun even casually job-searching. And only 23 to 34 percent of all students are taking advantage of the career center on their campus. Why? Because students are thinking and following the traditional career roadmap. Many of them won’t start thinking about gaining experience until junior or senior year. This puts them at a serious disadvantage, because when it’s time to apply for a job, they don’t have the experience or the skills that employers are seeking. As a result, many recent college grads are being passed over for entry-level positions. This also puts the school at a disadvantage. Career prep is the No. 1 driver for enrollment, and alumni giving is most influenced by how the school helped them launch their careers. So we believe that it’s time for everyone—students, colleges and universities, advisors, employers and parents—to rethink the career roadmap.

Joan Kuhl
President & Founder
Why Millennials Matter

We have developed what we call the “new career roadmap.” The key element of it is that you’ve got to start earlier. From the very beginning of freshman year, students should be meeting with a career counselor or advisor to talk about their interests and their options, and understanding what resources their career center offers to them. They should be focusing on four areas:

Personal branding. Students should be owning and developing it, and basking in their brand both online and offline, from building their resume and their profile on LinkedIn to refining their communication skills to help them convey confidence when they are presenting their ideas and opinions.

Relationships. Networking with professors, alumni, mentors and even employers can start as early as freshman year. Building relationships with professors or professionals in their field of interest will be valuable in the long run.

Experiences. While internships are a critical piece, getting experience can come from less obvious avenues as well. There are all sorts of situations that a career center, an advisor or a mentor can help put students in so they can start to develop the skills that are critical to being hired after graduation.

Skills. They have to build the skills that will not only help them land the job, but that will help them succeed at that job beginning on their first day. One of the important goals of our study was to understand what students perceived as the critical skills for success.

Critical thinking and clear communication were ranked as the two most important skills by all groups of respondents. However, critical thinking wasn’t always listed as the students’ greatest strength, and clear communication was one of the things students said they most needed to improve. The top skills that employers are looking for are the ability to verbally communicate with people inside and outside the organization; the ability to work in a team structure; the ability to make decisions and solve problems; the ability to plan, organize and prioritize work; and the ability to obtain and process information. The good news is that most students identified those same skills, meaning that they understand what employers value in new hires. The challenge is that students still lack confidence about their skills related to communication, leadership and initiative.

Employers would like to see colleges invest in a few different areas:

1) They believe that all students should have education experiences that teach them to solve problems with people whose views are different than their own.

2) They want students to learn about ethical issues and public debates important in their field, and to feel comfortable with conflict management.

3) They want students to have learning experiences working with others to solve problems that are important to the community.

4) They’d like students to learn about societies and cultures outside the U.S., and about global issues and development. A college can invest in these areas through three different avenues—innovative partnerships, incorporating career prep into the academic curriculum, and engaging employers on campus earlier. To help facilitate this, we have launched the Career Now campaign, comprised of career-focused events at campus bookstores—in partnership with their career services centers—to help all students, including graduate students, to better prepare their skills to land their first jobs. I’ll be hosting workshops across the country as well as Twitter views online. These live and digital programs will cover all the aforementioned topics. Sometimes it takes a village to get a student from their dorm to their dreams. We believe that together we can raise the bar.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.universitybusiness.com/ws102314

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