Employability Separates Whippersnapper from Stanford Grad

An employability expert I know has advice for parents.

That expert is the current president of the National Career Development Association (NCDA), Dr. David Reile. He was a young whippersnapper working as an intern at the University of Pittsburgh Counseling Center, back when I was a psychologist on the staff.

I recently called Reile to ask:

“What is the most important thing parents need to know about career planning?”

“Employability,” he answered, plainly not needing a nanosecond to search for his answer. “The point of going to college is to be employable.” He added that too many students graduate from college with significant debt, only to find that their best job option is working at Starbucks.

employability: applicants sitting in line for a job

Reile was referring to the fact that fifty percent of today’s college graduates are underemployed. That’s right: one out of two. Most of the recent job growth in the United States, including higher-paying jobs, does not require a college degree. As a result, nearly half of today’s grads aren’t sure their college education was worth the price. As Reile puts it,

“Getting a liberal arts degree for the love of learning is over, unless you have a trust fund.”

His advice for parents?

Ask the following questions of your children and/or the faculty at their college:

  • Does your major lead to employment?
  • What is the average income for those who graduate from your program?
  • What do graduates of your program actually do right after they graduate?
  • And what kind of work are they doing a few years after that?

Don’t stop at getting information from the educational institution, Reile advises. Find recent graduates in your student’s major and question them about their paid work. Or suggest that your child do similar homework herself.

If your students choose to attend college, then stress the importance of getting work experience along the way.

“Employers care more about experience than they do about GPA or a name school. An employer will hire your child over the other applicant because of her real-world experience.” Then Reile told me about a time in his 20’s, when his impressive work history gave him better opportunities for job advancement than his co-worker, a Harvard grad.

I knew exactly what he meant. Only in my case, I was a Stanford grad with a GPA that was lovely to behold—but until I acquired relevant, real-world experience, I lost out to candidates who had actually worked in my chosen field, whether that was a summer job, a co-op education program, a practicum, or an internship.

Thinking back, we selected David to be our intern, in part, because of his skills and experience with counseling and career development. He began our internship with relevant skills. He continued to strengthen his talent every day he came to work. He did not rest on his laurels then. I’ll bet he’s not kicking back now that he’s president of the highest career development organization in the land.

So when Dr. Reile says that parents of students should be concerned about employability, we might sit up, take note, and tell our children: It’s not going to college itself that counts; it’s being employable afterwards.

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