Leadership skills and experience driving graduate jobs' market

Apr 19 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Graduates in the U.S are increasingly having to show they have leadership and problem-solving abilities alongside good quality internships or work experience if they want to secure a top flight job.

Career services officers at Purdue University have found that the buoyant employment market in the U.S has meant companies are starting to use new approaches when it comes to making hiring decisions.

The typical employment interview has changed, said Timothy Luzader, director of the university's Center for Career Opportunities.

"The old 'What do you want to be doing in five years?' has been replaced by 'Give me an example of a problem you've faced and how you solved it," he told news service Newswise.

There has also been a persistent trend over the past three or four years for an increased emphasis by employers on internships.

Where internships used to be number five or seven on employers' "must have" lists, they are now a solid number one.

"Companies today court interns and provide them with a long-term, positive experience with significant challenges," he said. "The goal is to convert these interns and retain them as permanent employees."

What's more, summer internships for well-qualified undergraduates can now pay about $2,500 per month and sometimes include housing and travel allowances.

Internships for MBA students with large, established companies pay $4,500-$5,000 per month, said Luzader.

Patricia Garrott, associate director, added that internships are being used more broadly by students to help them gain leadership experience or even as "an extracurricular activity that makes you unique so you stand out from the competition".

She added: "Our students realise that there are greater expectations and more competition in the job market. We have students who start coming into our office in their freshman and sophomore years because they realise that more than one good internship will help them get the job they want.

"Students also understand that an internship can help them learn what they don't want to do," she concluded.

Employers ranked writing and speaking ability as the top skill they sought in new employees, Luzader said.

Then came decision-making, analytical skills and problem solving.

The lesson for graduates was that the employment market was dynamic, competition was high and things were moving fast.

Campus career placement centres were responding by working to attract a broader and more diverse group of companies to campus to hire college grads.

"Our office is sponsoring what we're calling a just-in-time job fair in the middle of April, right before finals, and we've got more than 50 companies signed up to come to campus," said Luzader.

"Among the employer participants are smaller companies that didn't know what their employment needs would be last fall when employers were on campus in greater numbers."

It is still, stressed Garrott, vital to get out there and meet and speak to people face to face.

"With all the online resume services, e-mail and commercial job boards, I tell students to find time to get away from the computer and make some human contacts and phone calls to employers and other contacts," she said.