Dear post-high school student,
I am writing this letter to you and 17,487,474 of your closest friends. That’s how many of you are enrolled in institutions of higher learning (public, private, 2-year, 4-year, graduate, and professional), according to the National Center for Education Statistics. I’m also hoping this will get to your parents, spouses, teachers, academic advisors, and everyone else involved in the process of moving you into your future. By my way of thinking, that’s somewhere around 60 or 65 million of you. Now let’s throw in elected officials, policy makers, state boards of education, and textbook publishers – all of whom play a part in this – and we’re really getting somewhere. Not to mention current high school students only a few years behind you – and all the same people involved in their education plans.
So, to all couple of hundred million of you, here’s what I want to say.
One of the most dramatic developments in the history of the American workplace is going on right now. It’s the confluence of two streams – both of which are, in and of themselves, quite strong – into one mighty current. There has always been a debate about what your college education should look like: broad-based liberal arts education or specific skills-based training. The pendulum has always swung slowly on this issue over the decades, but something other than a shift has occurred and emerged: the melding, the confluence of the two. That’s the mighty current.
I’ve always been a strong advocate for the broadest education possible, with immersion into the arts, literature, social sciences, languages, history – the whole nine yards. I have not changed my mind on that.
However, heightening global competition has shined its light on a growing phenomenon known as the skills gap, a problem of great magnitude: nearly four million open jobs in the US that employers would fill in a heartbeat if candidates with the right skill sets would just show up. Employers are crying out for skills – sharp, well-defined skills, especially in the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering, and math) – but they’re not finding them.
OK, fine, but in more than 10 years of teaching at the graduate level, I’ve seen enough evidence to be comfortable saying there is an overabundance of people who can do regression analyses, write pages of code, or work out complex physics calculations – but who have no interpersonal skills, ability to deal successfully in a truly global society, or understanding of the danger of repeating a history from which they learned nothing.
Conversely, I have also seen some beautifully educated people of all ages who have, somehow or another, not figured out that a nice set of applicable skills is pretty good idea.
Now here’s why this all comes into focus for you, the current student, and here’s why it’s important now. In the last five years, many college graduates chose not to enter the workforce because their job prospects were, in a word, dismal. For example, in 2009 only 20 percent of college graduates had job offers by graduation day, the lowest number ever. Graduate school or other continuing professional development was a better option, and I was right there at the front lines offering that advice. In essence, by continuing on, a 2009 graduate (or 2010 graduate, whose job prospects rose only to 24.5 percent, or 2011 grad with only a 33 percent shot) would defer competing in the job market until (a) it got better, which it did, and then (b) they emerged with stronger credentials, which they have. We’ve never seen this before at this scale.
So now here you are entering a job market place in which you’re competing not only against your peers but against your predecessors, many of whom are after that entry level job you want, but who have an advanced degree or certificate you don’t have. You, dear college student, are now facing not only more competition for a job but better competition for that job.
Which brings us to the point of all this. This is not to say you can’t compete; it simply means you have to figure out how best to compete. And the first answer to that challenge is to emphasize on your resume or – if you still have time to go before graduation, in your curriculum planning as well – a strong combination of broad-based learning plus specific skills training.
Your resume, then, becomes the key. Since your resume is the way the world sees you before it meets you, that document has to be a masterpiece of communication, telling the reader in a clear, concise, and compelling way that you are someone special they must meet, someone who’s got both education and training. You must make it crystal clear.
Everything about your resume – the structure, all its components, the format, language, tone, and even appearance – must be top-notch, aimed at one thing: getting you in the door for an interview. You are competing in a job market that is rapidly improving and increasingly competitive at the same time. But remember, those previous grads are out there doing the same.
And since I’ve never in 40+ years seen the “perfect” resume (including mine), improving yours becomes top priority.
Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 201-357-5844. Please visit www.amdurcoaching.com and "like" him at www.facebook.com/AmdurCoaching.