Commentary: Colleges must focus on job placement for their graduates

March 18, 2012

At Consero Group, the event-development start-up that I co-founded in 2010, we see countless resumes of new college graduates. While I appreciate the great volume of strong candidates who are eager to work, the sheer number of unemployed recent college graduates is alarming.

From interviews with these candidates, I was not surprised by some of the recurring themes, including severe indebtedness and a lack of promising opportunities. But I was quite surprised by another fairly common theme: the lack of alma mater support in the job search.

Universities must play an active role in helping their graduates to find work. Being prepared for and obtaining gainful employment is an implicit basis of the bargain between student and college. Those students interested in working after graduation should be ready to succeed in the workforce, and they should be able to count on their college to create or facilitate opportunity.

The steady growth of companies like McLean-based Brazen Careerist, which teaches skills necessary to land and thrive in a first job, is glaring proof that despite the cost, our nation’s schools are simply not doing enough to serve their workforce-bound students. This is not to say that every career development office relies merely on stacks of corporate brochures and Myers-Briggs testing. But it is clear that more proactive efforts are needed to train students for both interviews and work, to generate job leads and to match students with employers.

Boosting resources to get students placed has obvious benefits to those students, which should be reason enough for more investment. But there are less obvious benefits that make supporting job placement an even more compelling mission. To begin, placements are good for the numbers. The higher the percentage of employed graduates in an economy like this one, the more appealing the school will be to applicants. Moreover, for public institutions of higher education, strong placement figures are a powerful ally when it comes time for state budget allocations.

In addition, providing proactive, personalized support for job searches is a great way to develop the donor base. Students who receive help during that stressful pre-graduation job hunt are far more likely to leave with strong, positive feelings about their alma mater. And years later, when those alumni have greater giving capacity, that support and the resulting positive feelings could pay big dividends.

The school’s fundraising team may also benefit significantly in the shorter term by working to identify jobs for students. Finding an opportunity to open a dialogue with successful alumni is a persistent development challenge. Approaching these contacts with a request for help in finding work for students is a natural way to develop a rapport, as well as to get those alumni personally invested in the school and its students. And the value of leveraging alumni in the placement process is obvious. Who could more easily funnel job opportunities to graduating seniors than successful, networked alumni out in the workforce?

Supporting job placement more actively is an obvious way for colleges to serve their students. But given the development benefits, finding work for students may most benefit the schools themselves.

Paul Mandell is chief executive of Consero Group, an event development firm in Bethesda.

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