4 job skills students should focus on—and one they shouldn't

Major gap in perception of leadership skills

Students may be focusing on the wrong skills, according to a new survey of more than 13,000 people.

The survey was conducted by Jeff Kavanaugh, a senior partner at Infosys and adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, and it includes responses from staff at business school career centers, business school students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and corporate recruiters.

The survey found that schools and students were much more positive about students' preparedness for the workforce than recruiters were. Schools rated students' preparedness as 7.1 out of 10 and students rated themselves at 6.6 out of 10—but recruiters rated students as 5.9 out of 10.

Looking deeper into the disconnect, Kavanaugh discovered that the perception gap extended to specific skills as well. Out of a list of eight competencies, students rated themselves above a 7.0 out of 10 in every area. But recruiters rated them below a 7.0 out of 10 in all but one category—information technology.

Kavanaugh shares that "the most startling gap" he found was in perceptions of leadership ability and importance. Students ranked leadership higher than recruiters on the list of competencies critical for getting a good job. Students also rated their own leadership skills much higher than recruiters—8.2 out of 10 (students) versus 5.7 out of 10 (recruiters). Kavanaugh notes that recruiters have a little more experience with real leaders out in the world, so they "realize one important thing that students often miss: Leadership isn't isn't a skill to be learned in class; it's the result of doing other things right."

Instead, recruiters responded that the top four skills they look for are:

  • Critical thinking;
  • Teamwork;
  • Communication; and
  • Professionalism/Work ethic.

Recruiters and schools agreed that the best solution is getting students more practical experience, such as internships (JeffKavanaugh.net 1/5; Kavanaugh, Fast Company, 3/6).

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