With the unemployment rate for workers younger than 25 lingering well above 14 percent — or more than twice the national average — it may seem natural to presume that college students are concerned about their job prospects.
Not so, according to the results of a recent survey, "The Grad Gap: College Millennials' Career Aspirations and Readiness," which finds that 90 percent of college students are optimistic about their chances of finding meaningful employment after graduation.
Amid a troubling job outlook for recent college graduates, the study's findings raise serious questions about millennials' level of career preparedness, their concern for earning a return on their college investment and their awareness of tools and services that will help them develop the skills they need to thrive in the workplace.
The study of college students, commissioned by McGraw-Hill Education, reveals that not only are students highly confident about their employment prospects, but their priorities and definition of "meaningful employment" differ from those of previous, more financially focused generations:
. A vast majority of students report that it is more important to find a job that allows them to do what they love (73 percent) than to find a job that pays well (20 percent).
. Many students report that they would prefer a job that is beneficial to society (45 percent) over a job that simply pays well (27 percent).
. Few students take advantage of career resources provided by their universities. While 80 percent of respondents were aware of their college career centers, only about half (52 percent) reported they had used this valuable resource. However, students reported that resources and opportunities specifically focused on career preparation would make them feel better prepared for the workforce, suggesting that to be effective, resources must be not only available, but also well integrated into student life.
. Students rate their own interpersonal skills as a key strength and point of attractiveness for employers (70 percent) — more important than GPA (62 percent), internships (57 percent) and other extracurricular activities (38 percent).
. Many students report that several critical job skills were self-taught rather than learned in college. These skills include managing multiple priorities (51 percent), managing time (46 percent), managing interpersonal relationships at work (40 percent), searching for a job (39 percent) and conducting oneself well in a job interview (35 percent).
Tips for job seekers
Maryellen Valaitis, McGraw-Hill Education's senior vice president of human resources, offers college students the following tips to boost their career preparedness level:
Don't overlook the importance of a strong GPA to your job prospects: "Interpersonal and other 'soft skills' are undeniably important in today's job market, but recent graduates must be careful not to underestimate the value of hard skills." Valaitis also recommends getting involved on campus or in your local community: "It's another way to apply your skills and show that you're engaged with the world around you."
A lack of qualified candidates is a real problem for U.S. companies — and students who prepare themselves to enter the gap stand to benefit: "Nearly half of employers report that they struggle to fill jobs because they can't find qualified candidates. It's important that students do everything they can while in college to boost their qualifications so that they can meet the needs of employers who want them to join their ranks."
Use all of the tools available to hone your skills — including study technology: "It's important to use all of the resources available to them to learn job-ready skills and generally become more aware of what it takes to become an attractive candidate. Campus career centers and guidance counselors are great sources for information about preparing for a career. Also, using study technology like adaptive learning software can boost your academic performance, as well as help you learn important job-ready skills, like productivity and time management."
Know what employers are really looking for: "Students need to understand that employers are looking for candidates who have global mind-sets, are systematic thinkers with problem-solving skills and embody the traits of lifelong learners. We're also looking for students with a keen understanding of technology that goes beyond Facebook and Instagram."