What students need to know

Asian cultures value education highly as parents send their children to school to ensure that they are educated, grow up to be good citizens, and contribute to the society. For many years, the degree is a symbol of an educated person and a guarantee of certain knowledge but today there are many schools that issue degrees without really providing any serious training and many students are chasing after a degree instead of learning anything. That is why there are a large number of degreed people without the basic knowledge, without skills, and of course, without job.

Today companies do not hire workers based solely on degree anymore but on what they can do with their knowledge. And since industry needs are changing quickly with changes in technology, a degree is no longer a guarantee for the ability to do a particular job. Most companies are designing their own tests based on the skills that they need to measure applicants’ skills before hiring them. The fact is many students and their families do NOT know about this and instead of focus on skills, they are still focus on obtaining a degree. That is why many parents are disappointed when their “degreed children” could not find jobs and many graduates are frustrated when their degrees do not help them get the job that they want.

Today most companies do NOT want to train workers anymore because many would leave after the training. In this competitive world, college graduates must prove that they have the needed skills as well as actively learning new skills to keep their job. Another fact is technology changes fast but school training program is too slow to change. That is why a degree is no longer a guarantee for job as many of the skills that are needed in the industry today are NOT being taught in school. It is very important that students must select the right schools that have the right training programs to ensure that they have proper training instead of select any school that is easy to get in. How do students know what skills are needed and what kind of jobs they could get when they graduate? These information are available on the Internet, technical websites and industry’s social media but how many college students would spend time research these information? How many students still believe that by having the degree they will get good job? How many students know what the industry needs or what hiring companies want? How many students are still confused about what jobs they could apply for? How many students know what jobs are available in the industry and how they could get them? How many students are actively competing for jobs and how many of them are passive waiting for the right job to come to them?

Today most companies are focusing on problem solving skills and using scenario interview techniques to test applicant’s ability. However, many students are not familiar with these types of test and do not know how to answer them correctly. Following are some examples: For a software project manager job, the company may ask: “As a software project manager you are given a budget. How do you know that you will complete all requirements within the given budget? What would you do if the budget is much less than what you need? What would you do if the requirements are changing but the budget is not? For a Web site analytics job, the company may ask: “You are hired as the manager for an online store and asked to set up a Web site analytics system. What are the key performance indicators you would measure? How would you measure them? How do you increase exposure to the market and increase traffic to the online website?” For a Marketing job, the company may ask: “You are hired as the marketing person for a large software company. The company develops a new product and wants it advertised on social media instead of newspapers. How do you write a tweet promoting this product? How do you get it to Facebook that ensure million people will get it? How would you ensure that it will go “Viral” all over the internet? How do you get million people all over the world to know about this new product? For a technical lead position, the company may ask: “You are hired as a technical lead for a small project of five people. The customers are not sure about the requirements and the technology to use but your boss wants the contract so you must do whatever you can to get this contract. What type of software development life cycle should you use and what tools would you choose to implement this project? How do you ensure that you will complete the project and meet customer’s requirements?

College graduates often do not get hired for two reasons: Either they do not have the knowledge and skills or they do not really know what they want to do with their career because they do not have a career plan and learned the skills that are needed for their career. Basically, most only want to have a job because they have a degree in certain area. For example when they are asked “What do you think that you would do three years from now or seven years from now? Most could not come up with an appropriated answer.” The sad fact is many graduates are not educated about career planning, or possess the knowledge and skills needed for a successful career. They spend all their time in school learning but rarely learn anything else beyond what the school teaches them. They do not do any extra reading or follow the industry’s market trends even these information are available.

Successful graduates understand what industry needs are, they learn about career planning, they are prepared to solve problems and ready to contribute to the company because they understand that companies do NOT care about their degree but only on what they can do with their skills as well as their attitudes about continuously learning to keep themselves current with technology changes. They know that with globalization, the whole world is the job market so they always look at the bigger picture rather than just the local market. They also learn at least one foreign language because they know that they may work for whoever hires them and give them the best opportunities regardless of where the company is located. Today every company needs skilled workers because the skills of workers decide the quality of the company; the quality of the company determines the effectiveness of the industry; the effectiveness of an industry promotes the growth of the economy; and the growth of the economy determines the strength of a nation.

Basically, the skills of workers are determined by the development of individuals, which is the responsible of the education system. The logic is everything must start with the education system. It is the education system that determines individual skills and the approach that each individual learns in their jobs. In this fast changing world market, technical knowledge is important but other soft-skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership and overall business knowledge are also important. To succeed, students also need to have strong ethics, diligent, hardworking, and responsibility and these are things they should learn in school. That is why investment in education is a long-term strategy for creating an effective workforce for the nation’s future and no investment is better than investing in your own people.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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