Graduates are Responsible for Their Career Outcomes, Not Universities

Do you know one of the easiest ways to piss me off? Exhibit external locus of control traits*. Blame anyone and anything else for your failure, and I will no longer respect your opinion. Wow, I don’t make statements like that much, I’m so hesitant of possibly alienating others. But that is one core tenet of my world view – I am all about personal accountability. And so with this background, I proclaim:

Graduates are responsible for their career outcomes, not universities.
Please refer to point 2 of the illustration to the right with the catchphrase “No one ever taught me how to write a goddamn cover letter!” to which I reply, “Yeah buddy, that was your responsibility.”

My apologies to Richard (@HRManNZ) and Amanda (@Sterling_Amanda) for my over-the-top passionate response to their musings on a young HR Pro’s opinion that he was not prepared for his job by university. You can see the storify of our conversation here and the original article here.

The idea that universities should prepare graduates to actually perform their job is absurd. We’ve got the purpose of our educational institutions all fucked up. The skills we need to do a job come with experience, not theory. That’s the main difference between vocational education (i.e. trade schools) and university. While you are learning at a vocational institute you are experiencing that skill. Uni, however, is about learning how to learn that skill, and you generally have to finish the learning before you can actually practice the skill. And when we get to practicing that skill in an office, do you know what we meet? Budgets, timelines, personalities, public images, feelings and conditions of service. All that crap that takes a beautiful theory, steps on it, takes a dump on it, rains on it, picks it up and asks “do you still hold up?” It’s no wonder that in a graduate’s first six months of their ‘real job’, they feel overwhelmed and underprepared. They go into the game thinking they know the rules, but are missing the skills to play. That’s not anyone’s fault though, that’s simply graduates lacking experience.

I had the big-education-doubt about 4 months into my first managerial position. I emailed one of my professors and anxiety-attacked “do I need to do my Masters, did my Bachelors actually teach me anything?” He honestly said that my Bachelors should give me everything I need until I get to the point of requiring an MBA. His advice has proven very accurate so far. I had gotten exactly what I needed – I learnt to think like a graduate and can research, prove/disprove and argue accordingly.

However, if you’re really keen on making the university to work transition smoother, then I suggest:
  • attending networking events;
  • gaining industry experience;
  • reading industry journals;
  • participating in industry online forums;
  • holding down a (any) steady job; and
  • being prepared to use nothing you have actually produced in your study, but knowing how to produce similar quality work on any topic thrown at you.

And if you are 100% sure you are not getting what you need from your degree, you have three options of:
  1. dropping out of tertiary education;
  2. staying at the university and capitalising on the brand name of your school; or
  3. changing universities.

University students are purchasing a product, be it training or association with a brand name. They are not purchasing personality traits like initiative, humility, or drive. So don’t expect that when you graduate, and don’t expect it from your graduate employee. The only difference between a graduate with 1 year of work experience and a non-graduate with 1 year of work experience is that the graduate has learnt to argue about their area of study really well – it’s up to their individual personalities to differentiate who can actually do the job.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

*On a side note – did you go to that linked article? I had a good chuckle at “A downside of an internal locus of control is that, in accepting responsibility, the person has to also accept blame for failures.” Is that really a downside, or could it be a good way to avoid a CEO of a bank still getting a bonus while the bank receives a taxpayer bailout?

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  • 23 March 2013