Whether you are an employer looking to hire someone or the person looking to get hired, it’s all about competency. Only 11 percent of employers believe recent graduates have the skills needed to succeed within their work forces, according to a recent Lumina Foundation report. Two-thirds of employers say recent college graduates may have the skills and knowledge for entry-level positions but less than half believe recent graduates have what it takes for advancement to higher level jobs, according to a 2013 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
So what are these essential competencies that candidates are missing? At the top of the list are the three “Cs”: critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Hiring officers look for candidates with good problem-solving abilities, the ability to work in teams, and those who have good verbal and written communications skills. For the “traditional” college graduate in his or her early 20’s, much of their focus in school was spent on mastering subject matter, not necessarily on cultivating the three “Cs”. They may have a degree but not much in the way of experience. On the other hand, working adults who are earning their degrees later in life have had ample opportunity to hone these skills and are lacking the credential – a diploma – to get hired or promoted.
A new approach to higher education taking hold on campuses and in board rooms is called competency-based education. Under this model, students can receive credit for knowledge and skills they already possess. A 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 87 percent of Americans believe students should be able to receive college credit for knowledge and skills obtained outside the classroom. Some schools, like Excelsior College, are well-established leaders in this practice. Degree programs like these define what students must know, have well-defined learning outcomes and have a rigorous means of assessing whether students have achieved these outcomes.
How can job candidates, young or older, demonstrate both subject-matter mastery and competence? To start, first evaluate and identify your unique combination of skills, values and personal traits. Research the job that you are seeking and the company that is doing the hiring. Think broadly and don’t confine yourself to the same industry in which you may have experiences, either as an employee or a student who had an internship. List the knowledge you have gained and skills you have developed.