Academic Credentials vs. Business Results: What do Business Owners Want From Graduates?

By: Dr. Cheryl Lentz, The Academic EntreprenuerTM

Good morning colleagues!

Satisfaction of business owners regarding the academic qualifications or credentials of their work force is the focus of our discussion. Many business owners and business services like the mighty Transworld Business Advisors have discussed it.  Business owners are not happy.  Graduates are not happy.  Let’s see if we can unravel the mystery why.

Business owners across the country are quite disappointed in the quality of college graduates.  I hear often: “Dr. C—academia is sending me graduates I can’t hire. [Why?] They do not have skill mastery.]”  “These graduates need to hit the ground running, but they can’t.  I am wasting too much time and money to REtrain graduates.  Not a good return on my investment (ROI).  They don’t have skill mastery that their degree says they should.”

Comments like these break my heart.  Students [and educators] fail to understand the ultimate goal for college—to educate the future work force with skills that demonstrate marketable RESULTS for business owners.  Business owners look for RESULTS that drive profit and the bottom line.

A graduate invests money on a degree that isn’t marketable.  Business owners cannot find the graduates with the right skill sets to hire.  What is the solution?


Those on both sides of this equation expect results.  Graduates want more money, more status, higher profile projects, leadership responsibilities, and more opportunities.  Business owners want highly skilled and trained employees who can demonstrates results in their business to drive profits.


The goal of this article is to discuss the top 5 priorities for graduates to connect with business owners.  Let’s close this gap.

1. THE RESUME:  Students/graduates—this area is for you.  Remember, the goal of a resume is to demonstrate RESULTS.  The resume is a strategic tool.  Potential employers are interested in RESULTS, not credentials.  Telling employers where you went to school is not as important as what you did when you were there.  An employer doesn’t want to see your list of classes, they want to see what results the employer can expect as a result of what you learned.  Show them.   Bring an example of your writing; show how you work well in a team, offer strategic plans to improve their business.  RESULTS!  Employers want to know what’s in it for them.  What VALUE do YOU bring to THEIR table?  What can you DO?

I see many students who simply list their credentials and then wonder why employers aren’t beating a path to their door.  Remember the resume is only to secure the interview, not the job.  When there are more than 400 applicants for every job, an employer will interview only the top candidates with ACTIONABLE RESULTS that could help their business. End of story.

If you can’t show your potential worth and value to the bottom line of an employer’s business. they won’t want to talk with you.  Remember, you are asking an employer to exchange YOUR time for THEIR money.  You must demonstrate you are a PRUDENT investment with a high ROI.  Show them.

2. PROOF:  How can you prove yourself to a potential employer?  I tell my students often, it’s not what you know, but what you can prove that is important to your reader, and in this case your prospective new boss.  Your boss will NOT take your word for anything.  Business owners are quite perceptive in asking for proof.  They WILL check to verify your resume.  They will run a background check to include criminal records, verify academic credentials, and they are going to want proof that you can do what you said in the interview.  Show them.

3. RELEVANCY & CURRENCY:  Educators: This one is for you.  One cannot offer old or outdated information in the classroom.  Students MUST apply what educators teach them immediately to their jobs, professional worlds, or perhaps volunteer and community worlds; they need current theories and relevant research.  Educators/universities, please update your course materials.

4. INNOVATION:  Teach with emerging technologies.  Business owners want to see current technologies used by their new hires; use of social media is mandatory.  Think about the message an educator sends when using an overhead project in the classroom?  Faculty must be on the cutting edge.  If you don’t have a smart phone, get one.  If you don’t know how to make You Tube Videos or create a blog or use Twitter and Facebook in the classroom, learn.  Take a class, hire a coach, find a mentor.  Do what you have to do to have the latest and greatest technologies in your classrooms.  Educators cannot run the risk of being obsolete.  Students need to be technically savvy because BUSINESSES EXPECT STUDENTS TO HAVE THESE SKILLS.  Teach them.

5. CREATIVE & CRITICAL THINKERS:  The United States used to be Number 1 in many areas of education and business.  To regain a competitive edge, skills such as critical thinking & analysis, refractive thinking & synthesis, and creative thinking need to be the focus of every classroom.  Business owners need employees who can think on their feet, go off script, and find the solution to the problem.

My hope is that using these five tips will change the relationship with graduates and business owners, to close the gap and regain the connection.  Peter Senge, (1990) is all about systems thinking, the ability to create linkages to grow roots deep into systems that sustain growth long-term.  Let us reintroduce the purpose for which academia was created.  Academia—meet the business owner.  Business owners, meet academia.  We need you both.  Results not excuses.

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