Here we are, a month until graduation. The last month is full of anxiety, excitement. and saying “this is the last time we’ll ever _____” (fill in the blank with any activity). A bunch of students have either locked in a post graduation job and are on cruise control until May 12th. Or, freaking out and applying to every job possible. With such little time remaining in our college careers, naturally our school wants to know what are plans are post graduation. Virginia Tech sends me an email a day asking me to let them know what my post graduation job and salary are. Do they really care about what we do after we’ve paid all of this money? Yes, only because they want to brag about their placement rates, “90% of students had jobs when they graduated”.
Hearing about college placement rates seems important. The general consensus is that the higher percentage of students with a post graduate job, the better the school. This is why schools bring in top campus recruiters, spam us with emails about openings, and constantly beg us to fill our their survey. The more jobs students get, the more money they get. Sounds fair right? Wrong.
What these placement rates don’t tell us is the quality of jobs students end up in after graduation. Are they on a career path that will lead them to where they want to go? Or did they take a job the school helped them get just so they can party the last few months and get paid? Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of the latter. Even more unfortunate is that the schools aren’t helping students reach their dreams, they’re killing them.
Let’s take a look at last years Marketing placement at Virginia Tech. The most popular career is “Sales Associate” at Cvent (event software company). Followed by Sales Rep for memoryBlue (consulting staffing agency). Coming in 3rd is Sales Rep for Red Ventures. These statistics aren’t surprising because every single one of those companies has emailed me asking to interview for their positions. So yes, Marketing students were placed, the university can be happy. But how many students go into marketing so they can be sales associates for staffing agencies? Approximately 0. We go into marketing because we want to tell brand stories, use social media, and create content. These jobs do exist, there are agencies hiring for these exact positions right now. Tech students aren’t exactly prepared to land them (see more on my opinions of our classes here).
I’ve received a bunch of information from my school on how to land a job in Northern Virginia with banks that recruit at Virginia Tech. They’ve taught me how to “own” the career fair, get an on-campus interview, and land the gig. Weirdly enough, an email hasn’t crossed my inbox with advice on looking for a job in a new city. Forget about advice starting your own business or launching a product. I personally want to work at an agency, not a big corporation. This means I have to do outbound work and reach out to those agencies myself. If you can send me tons of information about your career fair, you can certainly give me more information on reaching out to smaller companies than “visit career services”. Which in my experience is a bunch of student workers who try their best, but don’t qualify as experts in my field.
I consider myself lucky. I’ve developed myself enough personally to where I feel comfortable going through this search alone and seeking advice on my own. For a lot of my classmates they simply don’t know where to start. This leads to them settling for career fair jobs that will never fulfill them. Dreams and aspirations never realized.
So how do we break this cycle? I have a proposition to schools to hold them more accountable.
Freshman Year Survey
We care a lot about what students are doing post-graduation, why not what their plans are freshman year? When you walk onto campus wide-eyed, passionate, and confused, I want to know what your goals are. Who do you want to be when you graduate? Do you want to be a Sales Associate or an Investment Banker? Probably not.
Marina Keegan (who’s story you should read about if you haven’t already) wrote an amazing piece for Yale Daily News about the shift of students job prospects from Freshman year to Senior year. Here’s an excerpt:
But it’s not just them. It’s us, too. I conducted a credible and scientific study in L-Dub courtyard earlier this week — asking freshman after freshman what they thought they might be doing upon graduation. Not one of them said they wanted to be a consultant or an investment banker. Now I’m sure that these people do exist — but they certainly weren’t expressing interest at a rate of 25 percent. Unsurprisingly, most students don’t seem to come to Yale with explicit passions for these fields. Yet sometime between Freshman Screw and The Last Chance Dance something in our collective cogs shift and these jobs become attractive. We’re told they will help us gain valuable skills. We’re told a lot of things.
When I walked onto campus my first year, I wanted to work in the sports industry, that’s who I was. I’m sure if I polled my classmates a lot of them would have had similar aspirations as a freshman. Singer, writer, business owner, sports marketing, live in LA, live in NY, take a job overseas. The possibilities were endless as a Freshman, but somehow finite as a Senior.
My challenge to universities is to see where your incoming freshman want to end up when they graduate. Don’t you dare say they have to high of aspirations, or unrealistic expectations. It will be hard to keep your students passionate, to make them take chances, to go against the well worn path. It might not boost your placement rate, but at some you have to go back to why you started working at a university in the first place. It should have been to help students get to where they want to go, not tell them where to go.
I’d be much prouder of my university if they placed more students in their dream jobs, than at investment banks.
To the students reading, keep fighting the good fight. You don’t have to be like everyone else. I’ve held out on my job search, ignoring every single staffing agency that needs a sales person. You’re most likely 22 years old graduating from college. You’re ahead of the curve, not behind anyone. Take a risk with your job search, make something happen. As unfortunate as it is, the school may not be your best resource. Career services doesn’t specialize in helping students taking risk. Speak to the guy on LinkedIn who went to your school that got a job across the country in a crazy industry. There’s your career services.