The worst advice a parent may give their child in University is ‘just focus on your studies’

Last month we were invited to introduce Acadiate’s student professionalism platform to 600 first-year students at the University of Toronto.

In the first half of our presentation, we talked about how the role of higher education is shifting in the recruitment process. Virtually all candidates for professional entry-level jobs in corporate America have university degrees. It has become the baseline requirement for consideration but is rarely the core differentiator of why an employer will choose one graduate over another. In our many discussions with corporate on-campus recruiters, we have found they are looking for more.  They want to see evidence that students have the passion, drive, and fortitude to apply themselves through their education studies, extra-curricular actives and work experiences. In many respects, they are trying to evaluate whether students have matured and made the mental transition to becoming a professional.

After our introduction to the class was over, a first-year student approached us. He told us our message resonated with him, that in a world where all his perceived job competitors will have a similar degree and that he’d have to do more to stand out. But it also made him uncomfortable because it went against what his parents were advising him to do. Like many parents, they had told him to just focus on his studies and get good marks, don’t get distracted and devote all his free time and effort to becoming a successful student. As we continued our conversation we learned that both of his parents worked very hard to immigrate to Canada and like many other parents, they saw their ability to support their child through University as an important step in parenting and preparing their child for the world. What I learned in this conversation was that as much as it was important to attain his degree, it was also important to attain this degree to make his family proud.  That the degree attainment would be a family achievement and any compromise that puts that goal at risk is frowned on.

My daughter is entering University this fall and I am starting to have similar discussions with her. As parents, our natural instincts are to reduce stress and simplify things for them. To insulate our children from some of the harsh realities of the real world, including failure. This means finding the balance between supporting our children so they find success, but not intervene so far that they are not naturally challenged during these critical development years and truly experience what they can achieve through adversity.

The competition for high-end graduate jobs is getting more intense. On-campus recruiters, want to hire the best university candidates. Our discussions with employers tell us that their decisions are not being driven by grades or the program a student attended. That it is being driven by personality traits and skills that are often acquired outside of one’s formal educational experience. In another blog, we list the 39 aspects as a more comprehensive list.

One of the big four accounting firms even removes marks and university names from their initial application process, instead putting students through personality testing and on-demand, online video interviews. Other major on-campus recruiters mention for many of their graduate jobs they can attract and filter candidates down to 50 high-quality new grads and hire anyone of them. That these candidates have good marks from good programs and good universities, but that they make the hiring decision based on other factors like past work experience and demonstrated skills in multitasking, time management skills, stress management, extracurricular activities, drive, passion, personality fit, self-awareness, career goals and communication skills to name a few.

Another University student using Acadiate mentioned she was having similar discussions with her parents on whether to have a part-time job during the academic year. Her father wanted her to focus just on her studies and her mother supported her to get a part-time job in retail. The student was driven to get the job, not for the money, although a compelling reason was to reduce the financial burden on her parents. The main driving factor was the self-reflection and judgement that up to that point in time she had never had a job and recognized that graduating without any job experience would not look good. Interesting enough after a few months, she found that it forced her to better manage her time and be more effective in her schedule. Although challenged and initially stressed in juggling her studies and a part-time job, she now assesses she is better off as a student and in preparing her for a professional career.  She learned through adversity and challenge and found she could handle the extra burden.

The University degree and good marks are increasingly becoming the base prerequisite for graduate jobs, but in most cases are not a key factor in getting new graduates hired.

The advice “just focus on your studies” is great advice if your goal is for your child just to graduate. However, I know for many parents like myself, my goal isn’t to have a $50,000+ paper hanging on my child’s bedroom wall. Education is an investment my child can use as a springboard into a successful career.

Candidates that are winning the top jobs are not marketing themselves as successful students, they are marketing themselves as talented, enthusiastic, driven, and flexible professionals. There is a dramatic difference between the two. Building a resume and profile that reflects this takes understanding, but also time and dedication.

Update: Due to many inquiries from parents of University students we have several ways we can help. We’d like to learn more about your child, schedule a call back to see how we can help 

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