Teaching and Learning Forum 99 [ Contents ]

Relationship between skills and education: A survey of what Australian human resource consultants are looking for from university business graduates

Mark Allan Patton
School of Marketing
Curtin University of Technology
This paper investigates the relationship between marketing educational offerings and employers' requirements by exploring what attracts the attention of the marketplace for the university product, students. One hundred and fifty personnel management consultants throughout Australia were surveyed regarding their views on how employers viewed new university business graduates, what was important for students to include in self-promotional CVs, and their views on the direction of graduate demand in the future. The vast majority of respondents agreed that tertiary education was important and likely to become more critical in the future. The respondents indicated a strong preference for relevant employment experience when considering new graduates and that students with relevant experience had a clear advantage. The actual work content of a work experience was found to be more important than paid work experience giving credence to work experience and internships. Respondents also noted the importance of backing-up claims of skills with proof. When the respondents were asked to look into the future with respect to employment prospects, they had the strongest support for areas like information technology, hospitality and service related jobs. While marketing and sales jobs were favourably looked upon for the future, they were placed in the "middle of the pack".

Introduction and methodology

One of the most important connections in education today is the relationship between educational offerings and employment opportunities in the marketplace. Two variables are underpinning the power of the new importance of student career placement: the shrinking higher education funding dollar and the deterioration of employment prospects for new graduates. As funding support reduced, schools attempted to make up shortfalls with both increased fees and student enrolments. This strategy has been successful for schools with favourable employment prospects for graduates.

Unfortunately, historical evidence has shown that academics have not been a valid judge of what the marketplace is looking for in employees (Messina; Guiffrida and Wood 1991). One of the best judges of the marketplace are human resource consultants (head hunters) whose primary objective is to find job opportunities and match them with the best talent available. The objective of this paper is to tap this source, HRM consultants, and see what they feel is important in the job search process.

To gain a better understanding of employment trends for university business graduates and the marketplace in general, personal interviews were undertaken with Perth HRM consultants. Further, 150 HRM consultants were surveyed across Australia and asked eighty-seven questions regarding what they looked for in prospective applicants in four major areas: personal details, education, employment history and skills. The research also investigated what employers were requesting from new employees as well as employers' perceptions of future trends in demand for human resources.

Findings

Specifically, by main categories of the questionnaire, the respondents were rather ambivalent when it came to reporting all personal details on a resume when applying for a position. The findings indicated that respondents felt that employers seeking to hire graduates for business positions were not overly concerned about receiving details other than the most basic experience and contact information. The consensus was that it is better to stick to what is relevant to the position and forget about the usual "padding" strategy.

With respect to educational reporting, the consultants felt it was more important to stress the courses studied and majors than items like years and school attended. Participants accepted that applicants should include in any CV the schools attended, years attended course completed and major and minors studied. There was not agreement on the need to include transcripts in any search material. While academic performance was considered favourable, it was not seen as an essential element in the selection of new graduates.

When discussing previous employment on a CV, the respondents strongly supported items such as positions, specific responsibilities, company and key achievements, while not supporting as strongly items such as company profiles or reasons for leaving. The respondents indicated a strong preference for relevant employment experience when considering new graduates and that students with relevant experience were in a clear advantage. The actual work experience was found to be more important than paid work experience giving credence to work experience and internships. Respondents also noted the importance of backing-up claims of skills with proof.

On the presentation of CV, the results indicate that photos and other "gimmicks" are not necessary, and as to be expected, hand-written and poorly proof read material was a very negative sign. With cover letters, there was strong agreement that the letter should not be over one page while the resume should be two to three pages in length. It was also not strongly supported to put references within the CV.

It was interesting to note that a significant number of respondents were still keen to look at illegal personal information such as age, martial status and country of birth when considering candidates for positions.

When asked what skills were important for graduates to have mastered, like computer, finance or marketing skills, it was interesting to note that all of the skills were only slightly in the positive ratings, indicating a lack-luster support for specific skills and what appears to be a support for well-rounded generalist. This was expanded upon in the personal interviews where participants indicated that attitude was the underlying determinant when hiring new business graduates where they stated: " ... skills can be taught ... attitude can't!"

One of the items that attracted the strongest support from respondents was the belief that tertiary education would become more important when recruiting in the next century.

When the respondents were asked to look into the future with respect to employment prospects, they had the strongest support for areas like information technology, hospitality and service-related jobs. While marketing and sales jobs were favourably looked upon for the future, they were placed in the "middle of the pack".

When selecting graduates for a position, the respondents did look at results but there was stronger support for well balanced graduates that had some work experience in their field of study.

Discussion

While this survey is still being analysed, it does provide students with a general guide of what the job market holds and should help new graduates in their personal marketing. It will also be helpful for academics that are advising new graduates in preparing for their career.

A copy of the questionnaire distributed to the personal recruitment consultants is shown in Attachment A. Further details of the findings will be presented in the full paper.

Sources

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Please cite as: Patton, M. A. (1999). Relationship between skills and education: A survey of what Australian human resource consultants are looking for from university business graduates. In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 306-309. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/patton.html


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