Higher Education

Launch Your Career-Ready Graduates With These 5 Expert Tips (and Pitfalls to Avoid)

Launch Your Career-Ready Graduates With These 5 Expert Tips (and Pitfalls to Avoid)

Higher ed faculty take on many roles beyond just teaching – guides, mentors, and champions for students. They are guided by the goal of preparing them for not only the rigor within the classroom, but also for the opportunities – and challenges – that await them beyond graduation. In this blog, we’ll explore five powerful ways you as an educator can position students for career success.

1. Leverage on and off Campus Partnerships

One of the best ways to prepare students for their careers is to invite industry professionals to speak in class or at events. These professionals can provide insights about the industry and employable skill requirements, and ways for students to get their foot in the door through internships  or jobs. By involving these partners in your classes, you expose students to real-world experiences and contacts that will be valuable for their careers. 

Remember you’re not alone in your efforts to prepare students for their careers. Most campuses have departments on campus that can provide resources and support, like career services and alumni relations. Reach out to these partners and explore opportunities for collaboration and support.

“They (career or alumni services) love finding ways to bring recruiters or great ambassadors into the classroom,” said JD Schramm, communications instructor at the USC Annenberg School of Communication. “That may help you beef up your curriculum and you can define what the topic is and moderate the conversation, but they bring the talent for you.”

2. Don’t Forget the Soft Skills

One of the most consistent requirements of employers across nearly every industry is hiring employees with soft skills. Recent studies show that proficiency in soft skills has dipped among college students – often in favor of “hard skills” that are tied to certain jobs or potentially the reduction in face-to-face interaction brought on by the pandemic and greater reliance on technology.

It’s the little things that matter, says Jennifer Kaplan, Head of Campus and Diversity Recruiting and Co-Head of DEI at Schonfeld Strategic Advisors, like professionalism, saying thank you after an interview, or following up and acknowledging when someone offers advice.

Internship and job experiences can help students build and practice these skills in a safe learning environment. A good guiding principle to remember and encourage your students is that “practice makes permanent”, where how a skill is practiced is how it will ultimately be performed according to Zack Rigney, Career Advisor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication.

3. Share Your Career Journey

Students value authenticity and transparency, so by sharing your experiences with applying and interviewing for jobs, connections are built. Hearing real stories from faculty about what their dream jobs were or how many jobs they applied for before landing their first one, can inspire students and get them more comfortable with their own vulnerabilities. By sharing your experiences of overcoming rejection or setbacks, you can help students see that success isn’t always a straight path, and that failure and rejection can often be a natural part of the journey.

Sharing your career journey – the good, the bad, and the ugly – can help create a more relaxed and approachable classroom environment, which can foster strong relationships and lead to increased engagement, participation, and better outcomes for students. 

Overall, talking about your own job experiences can help students see you as more than just a professor, but as a relatable and empathetic mentor invested in their success.

4. Transform Learning Into Skill Check Offs

Students often assume they aren’t qualified for an internship or a job because they don’t meet every requirement on the position description. The reality is, most companies aren’t looking for candidates – especially for internships or entry-level roles – who check every box on the required skill list. Encourage students to think about their academic accomplishments and projects as evidence of certain qualifications and skills. An advertising campaign concept that was created in a marketing class, for example, could be a great way to showcase leadership, collaboration, communication, creativity and other skills.

For his communication students, Schramm encourages them to share some of their final projects via the university’s social media channels. “It’s not that you need to change your syllabus or change what you’re doing in the classroom, but giving voice and exposure to the final project is important.”

5. LinkedIn and Recommendations Matter

Writing letters of recommendation can be rewarding AND time consuming, but they are extremely valuable, so if your students ask, do what you can to accommodate. It can be helpful to remind students before the end of the semester to reach out sooner rather than later if they need a recommendation letter so you aren’t squeezed to complete 50 letters in one week. Also, with the rise of LinkedIn, it may be helpful to proactively offer to add a recommendation on their profile in addition to the letter. One shortcut Schramm applies is writing the letter first and then using a snippet from it to add to the student’s LinkedIn profile.

This extra step can help emphasize to students the importance of LinkedIn in their job search. When Rigney meets with students, he always advises them to create and complete a LinkedIn profile. “The last thing you want is for a recruiter or someone from a potential job or your dream company to review your account and there’s nothing there for them to glean from.”

While there are even more best practices to follow to support students in their job search, it’s equally important to be aware of some of the pitfalls to avoid. Here are three practices that hinder rather than help students: 

  • Badmouthing or saying negative things about particular companies or recruiters. Keep your organization’s name on the nice list, and let students form their own opinions.  
  • Failing to seek support from campus resources, like career centers, who work closely with recruiters and are familiar with the requirements of entry-level positions. Don’t underestimate the knowledge and relationships colleagues have with employers.  
  • Being an obstacle rather than a partner when job hunting interferes with class schedules or assignment deadlines. Students seek support and flexibility to meet the demands of a job they have or the job they want to get. 

Preparing students for their careers is a critical part of higher education, and faculty play a significant role in this process. With an evolving job market, educators must continue to adapt and innovate to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary skills to succeed in their chosen careers.

Get more best practices from education and career placement experts to help your students develop the skills they need to build a fulfilling career.