Thursday, December 28, 2006
Seeking grads with "leadership experience"
According to a new report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers are greatly influenced by whether a college grad candidate has held a "leadership position."
In this survey of 267 of its members, NACE found this factor was rated highest, along with college major. Nearly three-fourths of respondents also stated they preferred candidates with relevant work experience.
My guess is few grads have held "leadership positions", which presumably adds to its cachet. But what exactly does this mean? What is a leadership position? Presumably we're talking about more than just being in a club; we're talking about being club President.
I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say that employers associate these positions with intelligence, drive, knowledge, and ability to lead groups of people. In most cases all you really can be assured of is that the person had sufficient motivation to throw their name in the hat.
Let's say I told you I was president of the Psychology Club at my university for two years. The club had over 200 members and I was responsible for leading monthly meetings and took the lead on all club-sponsored activities over that time, including publishing the club's newsletter, Psyched. (By the way, this is a total fabrication)
What do you really know about me? What if you found out that I was president for two years because no one else wanted it? That while there were 200 members, an average of 5 showed up for the monthly meetings? That our "activities" included going to the movies, and that the newsletter was published twice and was simply a brief e-mail to all members? Would that change how you thought about me?
As with any measure of training and experience, to get real validity out of this type of screening you need more information:
- What were the duties of the position?
- Did they compete for the position; if so, how were they selected?
- How long did they have the post, and what did they accomplish?
- Did they seek "re-election", and if so, what happened?
In their defense, employers of college grads don't have a whole lot to go off of. Grads typically don't have much job experience to draw from. So you're usually looking at coursework and GPA. On the plus side, we know GPA actually does a passable job of predicting job performance (probably because it's largely a proxy for cognitive ability). Sadly GPA was ranked third in this survey by employers.
So how could employers do a better job of screening college grads? The same way they screen everybody else! By relying on job-related, high quality assessment methods, such as situational interviews, work samples, and personality tests.
Here's another question for ya: do all jobs for college grads require leadership skill? Or is teamwork ability more important? How about customer service skill? Conscientiousness? I'm just sayin'...