Kristi Oloffson’s article “The Job Market: Is a College Degree Worth Less?” for, 8 December 2009, talks about the changing role a college degree plays in hiring decisions. Where it used to be that fewer than half of all American citizens had a college degree, a college degree made a job applicant stand out from the applicant pool. Now, about 70% of American citizens earn a baccalaureate degree. This means that a college degree has become a minimum requirement for many entry-level jobs. One of my colleague in industry likes to say that a baccalaureate degree is just your ‘drivers license’ for employment.

The article then goes on to explore (as well as a short article can) what hiring managers look for when they examine a candidate pool for jobs. There’s not many concrete ideas for making an application more competitiveness, but there are a couple general ideas mentioned. Employers are looking for people who

  • can do jobs that can't be outsourced (see Friedman's tome, The World Is Flat, for a discussion on what these jobs are) and who can work independently,
  • have the right-brain skills of seeing structure in chaos, connecting the dots, and
  • have done things while earning a degree that distinguish themselves from others.

Let me add a some flesh to these bones with some ideas that Truman’s STEM Talent Expansion Program has come to believe in.

  • soft skills like the ability to communicate orally and in writing are critical, as are analytical skills that contribute to problem solving,
  • internships and research experiences not only give you an edge when applying for jobs (read them as 'work experience'), but they expose you to the realities of employment and help you make choices regarding what you want to do with your professional life,
  • the more mathematics you take (and learn), the more competitive you'll be, regardless of the position you're applying for,
  • do things that teach you how to work as part of a team, especially if the team is cross-disciplinary,
  • GPA is not nearly as important as you think it is.

Do you have other advice to share with students who are currently in college or planning their college career? Share it in the comments.