Five Strategies to Help Recent Graduates Close the Awareness Gap
While information security employers decry the skills shortage, a recent Forbes article pointed the finger at a different reason for the perceived gap between what employers want and what job seekers are able to bring to the table: an awareness gap. This gap is due to the widespread inability of college graduates to fully articulate the range of skills and experiences they developed during their time in college and through extracurricular experiences.
Long-Term Implications of the Awareness Gap
The Forbes article explained that this initial gap has long-standing implications for graduating students, employers and society overall. Left unaddressed, the awareness gap can hold college graduates back from finding jobs that fully utilize their education and, more importantly, their full range of skills.
This form of underemployment, over the long term, impacts the ability of this incoming workforce to receive appropriate compensation and deal with ever-increasing student debt. Being held back early on in one’s career can impact future jobs and pay.
Cultivating Desired Qualities
While each discipline has its own set of specific skills required to be a successful new recruit, there is broad set of skills that employers tend to agree on. For example, the Indiana University Bloomington career center lists qualities such as the ability to work as part of a team, analytical and quantitative skills, written and verbal communication skills, and strong work ethic. Similarly, The Balance listed a positive attitude as a desired quality in new recruits, LiveCareer emphasized honesty and integrity, and LinkedIn included a friendly personality, social skills and punctuality.
Five Strategies to Translate Skills Into Potential Value
Unlike recent college graduates, seasoned professionals know the value they bring to their employers. Recent graduates are not usually thinking in terms of value, or even in terms of skills.
To help college graduates get started on the road to closing the awareness gap, we’ve outlined five strategies and ranked them according to how quickly students can get started on them.
1. Create a Living, Breathing Resume
Resumes are like English papers: They can’t be hatched overnight. They have to evolve, preferably over a long period of time.
A good resume is frequently updated. It changes and matures as the person it represents develops new skills and progresses in his or her career. As an advisor, I have seen hundreds of resumes, some of them several times. Some resumes only need one or two revisions, while others might require multiple cycles of revision to achieve a near perfect form. Your resume is your ambassador until a hiring manager has a chance to meet you during an interview.
While you’re updating your resume, consider adding a section to outline your skills. This makes it easier for prospective employers to locate the competencies you bring to the table.
2. Seek Internships
One of the things employers usually agree on is the value of internships. As an educator and the internship coordinator for my department, I have heard nearly every single employer indicate that it would choose a candidate with internship experience over a candidate without. This preference is echoed by a 2013 Time article, which reported that 80 percent of employers sought to hire recent graduates with internship experience.
While the most valuable internships tend to be external to the institution, internal internships can be a good backup plan for students who may not have access to resources (e.g., transportation) to go from campus to a workplace. Particularly savvy students even seek to line up multiple internships by the time they graduate.
3. Actively Plan Your Education
“Without a career plan, you may wander aimlessly without any direction,” Lisa Chapman, an executive resume writer, recently wrote on LinkedIn. While college and university students benefit from advising sessions that help them navigate the intricacies of prerequisites and make progress toward graduation, it’s equally important to develop a plan for your post-schooling career.
Here is an example of a final exam question that I send to students in the more advanced courses that I teach:
Create a detailed, plausible, personal development plan with a five-year timeline in three- to six-month increments or sprints. Your plan should address continued development of your technical skills (25 to 40 percent) and your nontechnical skills (60 to 75 percent) and contain a master plan of activities and/or events/workshops/education that you could follow. Make reasonable assumptions from a budget/monetary perspective. Must be one to two pages.
4. Challenge Yourself, Always
Regardless of the type of degrees they are seeking, students should challenge themselves. For some, that means trying to improve the quality of their work. Can that paper or program be improved? Can those access control rules be written more succinctly? Can your security assessment plan be improved?
For others, it means exploring disciplines that complement their main skills, expanding their level of thinking, or volunteering to apply their newfound knowledge and skills to help others in the form of tutoring, consulting or teaching.
Without pushing our own boundaries, we may never reach new heights. Students about to graduate must realize that this is no time to slack or slouch, but instead push themselves to be better.
5. Connect the Dots
Connect the dots, for yourself and for prospective employers. Unfortunately, most academic programs fail to explain how the multitude of classes translates into mastery of different skills.
For each course passed, students should consider documenting a list of skills that they have explored and the level of mastery achieved. Such lists can then be reviewed for breadth and depth, and woven into their resumes and cover letters.
Art majors, for example, create portfolios of their designs, which serve as documented narratives of the evolution of the students’ abilities. Similarly, I’ve advised many of my own students to create portfolios of their programming assignments, the designs or schemas they created and the reports they’ve written to bring with them during interviews.
Don’t Forget Your Technical Skills
Finally, with all of this talk of soft and professional skills, don’t neglect your technical skills. For those in IT or information security, LinkedIn’s list of the “25 Skills That Can Get You Hired in 2016” is worth a look.