Three years ago, when most of this year’s college graduates were just finishing their freshman year, job prospects for those just entering the work force looked bleak.
Today, however, fresh data suggest the job market will be particularly strong for 2007 graduates who hold degrees in business, finance, engineering and computer science, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based employment-services firm.
But what about those with less-technical degrees?
Challenger says the nation’s 54,000 English majors and 44,000 liberal-arts majors as well as the 150,000 who studied sciences and history may also find themselves in strong demand.
Helping to increase the number of opportunities for these graduates is a growing number of companies placing a higher priority on soft skills, Challenger says, demonstrated by the ability to communicate ideas, think critically and respond positively to feedback.
Though highly favored, not all of today’s current batch of liberal-arts majors possesses such talents, says Laura Katen, president of Katen Consulting in Harrison, N.Y.
Baby-boom parents keen on providing a rigid structure of planned activities have smothered many of today’s graduates. These so-called “helicopter parents” have bred a generation of college students who can’t make a decision on their own, she says.
For Katen, who runs an employment skills-building program called “Enhance Your Chance,” that means she spends a good deal of her time working with students – both one-on-one and in groups – improving interviewing aptitude, including etiquette.
Too many of today’s job seekers are focused on what a company can provide them rather than what they as employees can do for employers, she says.
“They don’t understand it’s not about them,” Katen says. “It’s about what are you bringing. You need to articulate what skill you have and how it’s going to benefit the company.”
To that end, Katen helps refocus students’ attention on those things, both small and large, that matter to employers during the interview.
Those include firm handshakes, consistent eye contact and an ability to articulate how past experiences make the applicant an ideal candidate for the job.
For liberal-arts grads looking to solve bigger issues, such as which career is best or whether to continue onto graduate school, a career coach may be a better fit.
That’s where someone like Kate Gwon can help. Gwon, who works as program development director at Springboard Career Consultants in Manhattan, says she routinely works with people trying to figure out which career path to take or how to translate their educational background into a job.
It’s something Gwon knows intimately because she’s switched careers herself. The former cancer researcher today helps Springboard clients determine their own path by providing assessment tests, career recommendations and research and other resources.
“One of the things we really work on with people is determining how their skill set can blend with the interests that they have outside the academic world into a career,” Gwon says.
Springboard President Emily McLellan, who used to work for a nationwide provider of educational and career services called Kaplan, started the company in 2005.
McLellan says she targets liberal-arts majors because they generally have a more difficult time than their counterparts with technical or business degrees, whose studies often lead directly to a job.
“Students tend to have a hard time understanding how to translate a degree in English Literature into a professional path,” she says.
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