Students Should Prioritize Career Prep

Editor’s note: Editors-in-Chief Sydney Allen and Nathan Carpenter are both student leaders in the newly-created SOAR program, which is discussed in this editorial.

An anecdote floating around campus recently tells the story of a Google executive who supposedly said that Oberlin students make for some of the best employees, but some of the worst interviewees. This story, whether true or not, reflects a kind of dual truth: Oberlin students are creative, innovative, and have a lot to offer, but often struggle to make themselves attractive to employers. Subsequently, Oberlin students lag behind students at comparable institutions in finding full-time work following graduation.

This observation suggests a failure to connect the skills and knowledge Oberlin students gain through our liberal arts education to the real-world — a failure to present ourselves to our full potential. It is essential that we learn how to pitch ourselves and to articulate how our Oberlin education has given us marketable skills and experiences.

However, we recognize that these difficulties are not solely the responsibility of students — they are also due to both previous institutional failure and a school culture that doesn’t promote serious career preparation.

We have written in the past about how Oberlin’s resources for career prep have been mediocre at best (“Graduate School Connections Vital for Student Development,” The Oberlin Review, Sept. 14, 2018). The institution has done a poor job of partnering with potential employers, bringing recruiters to campus, and fostering a culture of thoughtfulness around academic and career planning. Students have lost confidence in the Career Development Center and see much of its programming as outdated and unhelpful.

Recently, however, we have seen the institution making strides to remedy these shortcomings. We are excited to see a variety of new programming launching next semester, designed to address student apathy and spark intentional conversations about life after Oberlin, starting with the Sophomore Opportunities and Academic Resources program and the Career Communities initiative.
The SOAR program will give selected sophomores the opportunity to attend a two-day retreat in February before classes start to build academic and career plans alongside students and professors within their intended major. Students will plot their five-semester plan, connect with a variety of professionals and peers within their field to build a network of support and resources, and pave the way for potential internships and other opportunities in summer 2019 and beyond.

The Career Communities initiative, facilitated by the Career Development Center, was announced this week. As part of the program, which will pilot in spring 2019, juniors and seniors can apply to join one of four career communities. They will then participate in a variety of workshops and networking opportunities within their chosen community. The four communities are Finance, Business, and Consulting; Non Profit and the Public Sector; Arts and Creative Professions; and Entrepreneurship and Innovation. At the end of this program, each participant will have a guaranteed financially-supported internship for summer 2019 with one of 120 partner organizations.

Now that Oberlin and its alumni, who are providing the funded internships, have put in the hard work to provide these opportunities for students, it’s time for students to step up to the plate and take advantage of them.

It is essential that we put more energy into promoting and polishing ourselves for the career market. Oberlin students are innovative, compassionate, and social justice-focused. There are so many spaces in which we could do enormous good and make a tangible difference to real people. But in order to enter those spaces and put ourselves in positions to make substantive change, we must accurately and fully present what we are capable of. If we continue to see career preparation as a form of “selling-out,” we will struggle to enter the sectors that need us most — the tech or finance industries, politics, governmental work, and the corporate world.
Many of these fields aren’t seen as particularly “Obie,” yet they can all benefit from the holistic perspectives that Oberlin students bring to the table.

We aren’t advocating for Oberlin to become a pre-professional school. However, we also recognize that it will become harder and harder to remain competitive with our peer institutions if our graduates continue to struggle to pitch themselves and enter into the job market.

Let’s make the most of this opportunity and show the world what that Google executive already knows: Oberlin students have incredible things to contribute to the world — all we need to do is show it.