Here we go again. For the past several years, studies on the workplace readiness of college grads makes headlines in the business news––and the news ain’t good!
Here’s the news from the Washington Post:
“In a pair of surveys by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, would-be graduates said college armed them with the skills needed for the job market. But employers disagreed. On a range of nearly 20 skills, employers consistently rated students much lower than they judged themselves. While 57 percent of students said they were creative and innovative, for example, just 25 percent of employers agreed.”
The news doesn’t get much better…
“One study is the result of a test administered to 32,000 students at 169 colleges and universities. It found that 40 percent of college seniors fail to graduate with the complex reasoning skills needed in today’s workplace.”
“The test, the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus, is given to freshmen and seniors and measures the gains made during college in critical thinking, writing and communication, and analytical reasoning.”
Wonderful. Our colleges are graduating young adults who can’t think, write or speak. And it doesn’t seem to matter too much where you send your kids to school…
“The results of the test found little difference between those students who graduated from public colleges and those who went to private schools.”
I won’t devolve into a lament over the damage of the “every-kid-gets-a-trophy” argument, though you could say that has something to do with it. There’s no doubt we’ve pumped up the self-esteem of an entire generation without the substance or capabilities to justify their confidence.
Instead of worrying about who made this mess and how, let’s focus on fixing the problem.
First of all––don’t wait for your college to change!
They’re trying, but they’ve got a long way to go. The needs of the workplace are changing faster than the curricula of higher education. For too long they responded to increasing demands for less practical and marketable courses of study. It will take time for them to adjust.
Fortunately, there is a clear and proven path to develop in each of the key competencies your future employer finds important––
If you want to be prepared for life beyond matriculation––be a leader––now.
There are plenty of opportunities at your school for actual, “on-the-job” training in leadership. You can participate in student government, serve with volunteer organizations and projects or get involved with clubs or social groups.
Holding an office or working as a key staffer is a great way to polish the skills you’ll need after graduation including analytical thinking, writing and speaking.
However––genuine leadership has nothing to do with rank, title or position of authority and sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it has nothing to do with your diploma either. Leadership is stepping up to do what needs to be done. It’s about asking before being asked and acting before being asked.
That’s the type of initiative and drive your future employer is looking for.
Here are 8 simple strategies you can apply right now to become a leader and develop the talents, skills and abilities that position you for success:
#1 Work first on being a good follower…
Great leaders are great followers. Leadership is not a static position––it is a role and great leaders are adept at swapping roles from leader to follower.
#2 Find the right Master…
Find someone who is doing what you aspire to do. Seek out a willing mentor. Don’t expect your school to provide one for you, but be open to the possibility that a terrific mentor might be someone you see every day.
#3 Commit yourself to personal and professional Mastery…
If you didn’t know what would be expected of you when you go for your first job––you know now! Find out what employers are looking for in your chosen field and then read, go to seminars, start an internship––take advantage of every opportunity at your school and beyond.
#4 Ask before you’re asked––Act before you’re asked…
There are plenty of things that need doing around your campus, I’m quite sure. Find something to do and get to it.
#5 Learn to deal with uncertainty…
One of the greatest deficiencies showing up in college grads in their first jobs, and especially in their first leadership roles is the inability to handle themselves when things go to other than planned. And believe me, sooner or later things will go other than planned.
Find opportunities to test yourself under pressure. Get out of your comfort zone.
#6 Learn to talk and write good…
If you didn’t get the joke––you’ve got a lot of work to do!
Find opportunities to develop and cultivate your writing and speaking skills. These skills alone will position you well ahead of the pack.
#7 Focus on experience over rewards…
You know what your employer owes you on the first day of work?
It’s up to you to prove your value through performance. You improve your value by continually improving your performance.
Experience is one of the greatest assets that will lead you to success. As my dear friend and mentor Joe Calloway says, “Don’t step over dollars to get to nickels.” That’s exactly what happens when someone puts money before experience too early in their career.
#8 Lead by sharing––not accumulating…
Leadership is sharing––a leader shares. Don’t worry about what you’re getting––focus on what you’re willing to give.
Your success in life grows in direct proportion to your willingness to share with others. Share your talents, your skills, your knowledge, wisdom, experience––and power.
As a leader, your success will depend on your ability to help others become successful. Period.
So that’s it.
You can wait around for someone to hold your hand, pat your head and tell you what a good job you’ve done––
Or you can get your butt in gear, find out what it takes to make your dreams come true and do it.
That’s what leaders do. Why wait?