College vs. The Real World

Those of you high school seniors who will be embarking on your college years starting this fall need to ponder a common exclamation that you’ll hear as you traverse those halls of ivy. “Just wait until you get out into the real world!” will be hurtled at you by those who are already in the real world. This should immediately make you ask, “Well, what is it about the real world that makes it so different from life here at college?”

Well, remember Raymond “Ray” Stantz, Ph.D from the movie Ghostbusters? Ray was a scientist who, in his esteemed career, avoided climbing the corporate ladder, which so many new college grads aspire to tackle. Perhaps his most cogent insight came when he proclaimed, “I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results!” This wisdom is a prime key to understanding the difference between college and the real world.

Ray’s proclamation should make you wonder what your prospective real-world employers will expect of you as a potential new hire, fresh out of college. Some quantitative data have recently come to light that should help you get a preview of which areas to emphasize during your journey to your first sheepskin. Anne Fisher has written a highly interesting article on CNN Money entitled Executives to new grads: Shape up! — Most senior managers are unimpressed with the entry-level job applicants they’re seeing, reports a new survey. It spells out in exact terms the areas in which America’s corporate executives see recent college graduates falling short in their real-world (perhaps better said as “corporate ladder”) preparation. Whether these criticisms are more an indictment of colleges or the graduates themselves is a matter of conjecture, but the statistics are sobering. Let’s take a look at some highlights from Anne’s article.

Executives to new grads: Shape up!

Most senior managers are unimpressed with the entry-level job applicants they’re seeing, reports a new survey.

Note to recent college grads and the Class of 2012: You may not be as ready for the working world as you think you are. At least, that’s the opinion of about 500 senior managers and C-suite executives in a study by Global Strategy Group, on behalf of worldwide architectural firm Woods Bagot.

In all, a 65% majority of business leaders say young people applying for jobs at their companies right out of college are only “somewhat” prepared for success in business, with 40% of C-suite executives saying they are “not prepared at all.” Not only that, but even those who get hired anyway may not rise very far. Almost half (47%) of C-suite executives believe that fewer than one-quarter (21%) of new grads have the skills they’ll need to advance past entry-level jobs.

And what skills might those be? The most sought-after are problem-solving (49% ranked it No. 1), collaboration (43%), and critical thinking (36%). Also in demand is the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively in writing (31%). Technology and social media skills came in at rock bottom on the list, valued highly by only a tiny 5% minority of senior managers. The kicker: According to the poll, new grads fall far short of the mark in every one of these areas — except tech savvy, the least desired.

Jeffrey Holmes, principal at Woods Bagot, notes “an interesting disconnect”: “Despite a widespread impression that social media make people better at communicating and collaborating, that’s apparently not the case.” Why not? “Being adept at using social media is like ‘show and tell.’ It’s mostly one-way communication, with less emphasis on taking a flood of information and turning it into useful knowledge,” Holmes says.

“Companies need people who can synthesize information and apply it to business problems. I see this even at our own firm,” he adds. “There’s less room for new hires who don’t have that ability. Technical skill is not enough.” …

… “Now, companies want young people who walk in the door with these abilities,” Holmes notes. “The pace of business has accelerated to the point where expectations are much higher now.”

And whose fault is it if most college grads haven’t got what it takes to get ahead? The executives surveyed overwhelmingly believe that academia has failed to keep up with the breakneck pace of change in the business world: More than three-quarters (77%) blame educators for new grads’ lack of readiness.

***

Looks like these real-world execs don’t have a problem blaming colleges and universities for the shortcomings of new hires. So, the message here, at least according to this survey, is to adjust your thinking about what you’ll accomplish during your collegiate years. Maybe you should get a poster of the Ghostbusters Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and put it on the wall of your college dorm room. Then it can remind you of Dr. Ray’s admonition. Yes, Virginia, the private sector does expect results!

**********

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.