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Employers Don’t Care Half As Much About Study Abroad As They Do About Your Writing Skills, Internships

The Close School’s resident sage sheds light on prospects for entrepreneurs in the U.S. job market.


March 2, 2015

By Dr. Roy Carriker

As mentioned in an earlier column, Hart Research Associates recently released the results of a survey conducted on behalf of The Association of American Colleges & Universities. The survey involved business owners or senior management of 400 employers for which at least 25 percent of their new hires were associate or bachelor degree holders. The survey also involved 613 college students.

As a part of the survey, researchers examined the value of specific, applied learning experiences from the perspective of both the employer and the students. Of seven applied experiences examined in the survey, the four most highly rated by employers with ratings of 80 percent or higher were:

  • Internship/apprenticeship with a company/organization
  • Senior thesis/project demonstrating knowledge, research, problem-solving and communication skills
  • Multiple courses involving significant writing
  • Research project done collaboratively with peers

There was good agreement between the employer and student rankings in these four areas except for demonstrating writing skill, which students ranked five percentage points lower in value than employers. By far the most important applied learning experience as viewed by both sets of respondents was internships/apprenticeships, with 94-95 percent agreement.

There was a significant drop-off in perceived value by employers in the three remaining learning experiences surveyed, namely:

  • Service-learning project with community organizations
  • Field project in diverse community with people from different backgrounds/cultures
  • Study abroad program

Maybe somewhat surprising, there was typically on the order of a 20 percent difference in the employer and student rankings of the value of these experiential learning opportunities, with students holding them in much higher regard than employers. Perhaps the most surprising result was that only 51 percent of employers viewed study abroad as a valuable applied experience.

Why this matters:

If you are trying to figure out what practical experiences might serve you better than others in impressing a potential employer, be aware, at least on the basis of this survey, that an internship, apprenticeship or co-op experience was valued at 94 percent while study abroad was valued at 51 percent.

Further, demonstration of writing skills may be much more valued/important than you think.

Says Carriker: An entrepreneur friend of mine once told me: "Learn, earn, return." After 55 years of learning and earning around the world, I am returning.

Roy Carriker is a Teaching Professor and Director of Technology Entrepreneurship in the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship. He is also a School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems senior executive in residence.

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