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A University Recruiting Perspective on Millennials and the Recession

August 6, 2011

Our expert series continues with a conversation with Lisa Simmons who is the assistant director of recruiting for the Schools of Business at Wake Forest University.  Our research uncovered interesting findings on the value of education and degrees and Lisa provides insight from her perspective of working within higher education.  Enjoy!

Q: As the Assistant Director, Recruiting for the Wake Forest Schools of Business, what were your initial reactions to the findings in the white paper? 

A: Actually, several points really struck a chord with me.

  • Distrust of “big business“ – Millennials hold out a larger and more holistic ideal for companies than the profit motive.  Their model business is engaged in sustainability, diversity, and is giving back to the community. By and large, they are people and not profit focused.  They believe in “doing good” and expect to be treated as a human being and not a commodity by their employers.  
  • Dissatisfaction with current employment – Your findings about Millennials actually reflect that of the larger American workforce.  So, while this was no surprise, it did reinforce the belief that college students need careful career exploration and a career plan.  
  • Doubt about cost versus value of college education – This has been in the news a lot lately.  Parents, students, and even various pundits have been discussing the issue.  There is no doubt that college can be an expensive endeavor.  Yet, without a degree, it is difficult for young adults to find work and then to grow.  That’s not to say that it cannot happen; only that it is very rare. It is just very difficult to get a foot in the door of a company without the requisite education.  

Q: From your perspective, what are some best practices employed by Wake Forest University Schools of Business in preparing students for the “real world?”

A:

  • Focus on lifetime career management – Our career staff provides students with the necessary tools to manage their career and job search, not just while in college, but for a lifetime.
  • For-credit career education – Career education is a mandatory part of the curriculum.  While academics are of supreme importance, the student’s ultimate success will be measured by employment.
  • Four P’s Program – The career coaching staff trains students in the Four P’s of Purpose, Passion, Preparation, and Performance, which is a solid foundation for career contentment and achievement.
  • Dedicated Employer Relations – Having a dedicated staff allows full-time pursuit and development of employer relationships.  Some models I have seen place the responsibility for employer relations on the career coaching staff.  That leaves less time for specialization in either area. 
  • Mentorship Program – Career staff carefully pair corporate volunteers with students to provide a more rounded real-world experience.
  • Supportive administration – Our administrators understand the importance of student success in our own success as a school.  They supported the building of a career staff that could meet the needs of students.  Wake Forest Schools of Business was featured in a June 10, 2011 Inside Higher Ed article entitled MBA in Job-Hunting?

Q: Do you find that students ask different questions than students did 5 or 10 years ago regarding the ROI on their college education investment?

A: It’s my opinion that the value of a college education has not changed but the perception of its value has in the weak job market.  A college education has been understood to be the usual gateway to the “American Dream.”  It is a door opener and a box that must be checked for many jobs. While it is still true that a college degree is a necessary step on the path to a career, given the state of the job market, some students (and even parents) may have begun to doubt. 

The competition for jobs is high.  Job seekers not only need a degree for many jobs, but also must be competitive in job seeking. It’s like the adage, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.”  Thus, job seekers need to outpace the competition.  The resume, elevator speech, and interview skills must be polished.  The candidate needs to be able to relay his or her value to the employer.  In addition, the candidate should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the company, industry, and competition.  That is why university career services offices are crucial to student success.  

Q: As mentioned in the white paper, there have been numerous recently released statistics regarding people looking to make a move and my research showed 70% of Millennials were considering the possibility of changing jobs.  As someone on the ground floor working with the Millennial generation, what is your reaction to these type of statistics?

A: I think there may be a few factors at play here.  First, as students step out into the world for the first time, they may learn that things are not quite as they once imagined.  Reality may shake apart previously held idealistic views when they finally get on the job.  Perhaps the job that they thought they wanted no longer seems to be a good fit, or maybe the industry in which they are working is no longer desirable.  Of course, the current economic conditions are not facilitating employee satisfaction by and large.  The temptation for employers is to try to do more with less, and this usually falls on the shoulders of the employees via increased workload, light to non-existent raises, few promotion opportunities, and benefit cuts.  There may even be inadequate funds for professional development and other needs / programs.

Another reason that Millennials might be unhappy is that they did not receive enough career assistance while in college.  Either their school did not stress career management or students never believed it to be necessary.  They may have taken the first job offered rather than having set and pursued a goal throughout college, culminating in a close approximation to their dream job.  How many undergrad students become engaged with career services when they are freshman or sophomores versus the last semester of their senior year when graduation is knocking on the door?  How many graduate students ignore the career resources at their disposal? The temptation may be to pursue the academics and let the career development take care of itself.  Unfortunately, that strategy works best at or near full employment and not during a recession. 

Wake Forest is concentrating on the development of the whole person since the launch of the Office of Personal & Career Development. Likewise, the Wake Forest Schools of Business, faculty and staff are very involved with students because our success is measured by their success.  Thus, shortly after orientation, our career staff begins to expose students to the work world through industry panels, company information sessions, company site visits and trips, practical learning opportunities and other career education opportunities.  In addition, they assist students in putting together a plan and a brand and provide a mentor.  This leads to more informed career decisions that are likely to boost eventual job satisfaction. 

Thank you Lisa for your time!

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