Why Johnny doesn’t have ‘office smarts’

Apparently, we have a failure to agree on whether college graduates are as ready to go to work as they think they are.

The Wall St. Journal reports on a survey of both college students and hiring managers that finds they’re not on the same page.

Students and hiring managers are most aligned when it comes to assessing how well recent graduates make decisions without having all the facts, though that’s mostly because students agree they’re incapable of handling such ambiguity—47% of students say they’re job-ready on that front, while 37% of recruiters agree.

“The notion that college graduates exit universities and lack the ability to clearly organize and communicate information suggests institutions are failing to meet their mandate of forming critical thinkers,” according to the report’s author. In tandem with the release of the survey findings, Chegg is publishing a series of videos and career-readiness tip sheets for students.

The survey also measured what Chegg calls “office street smarts,” which include such skills as collaboration, managing up and making persuasive arguments. Once again, students painted a rosier picture than did hiring managers. The biggest mismatch came in students’ ability to communicate with bosses and clients—70% of students thought they were primed for the challenge; only 44% of recruiters agreed.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students are generally better prepared for work, the survey said. And both managers and students agreed that they have mastered technical skills.

It’s the “office smarts” area where hiring managers think graduating students come up short:

1. Can graduates make a persuasive argument to convince others to adopt their ideas?
2. Can they write to encourage action or make a specific request?
3. Were they able to communicate with authority figures and clients?
4. Can they collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds?
5. Can they complete a project as part of a team?

Why the gap? The survey pointed to the list of what college students do when not doing schoolwork:

Socializing with friends (49%)
Working at a job not related to their field of study (31%)
Working out (29%)
Extracurricular activities not related to their field of study (22%)
Volunteering (15%)
Working at a job related to their field of study (14%)
Extracurricular activities related to their field of study (11%)
Working in an internship related to their field of study (8%)
Attending networking events (2%)
Working in an internship not related to their field of study (1%)

Parents should emphasize the importance of extra-curricular learning and project opportunities while students are still in school, the authors of the report said.

Here’s the full survey.

  • Kassie

    I think it is interesting that students are expected to spend free time working in jobs/internships/volunteering along the lines of their “field of study.” A lot of students have fields of study that don’t necessarily translate into jobs. And a lot of students go to schools in small towns that don’t even have those sorts of jobs or opportunities available.

    For people outside of STEM and teaching, most college majors don’t translate directly into jobs in that major for most students. I have undergrads in Political Science and History. I’ve got a Master’s in Public Policy. I’m an IT Project Manager. At no time did I have a job that I needed any of those degrees for and my crazy internship that was in my field probably hurt more than it helped on my resume.

  • C

    For most of the 20th century employers invested in teaching new employees the occupation and industry specific skills they need for a job. Employees now expect new employees to walk through the door and have those specific skills in hand. To the defense of recent graduates, there is no way to develop all of the skills needed for a job when they need to develop a wide set of skills just to get a job.

  • John Peschken

    Maybe employers should start getting involved before these students graduate. How about in exchange for financial support, they get some control/input over the curriculum? That might get employers what they need as well as cut the cost of education for students.