Developing graduates who are job ready from day one

Ensuring today’s students are job and book smart is essential, says Dr Nadine Page, senior research fellow at Hult International Business School

Universities and business schools are under increasing pressure to ensure graduates are job ready. By this, we mean ensuring students are equipped with the skills and competencies they need to be prepared and effective contributors from the first day in the workplace. 

Today’s increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) work environment demands both technical and behavioural skills from graduates – they need to be ‘book smart’ and ‘job smart’, as well as able to continually adapt to ever-changing and unpredictable circumstances. Universities need to design and deliver courses that meet these needs and, as our research suggests, if they do, they will help their students deliver better outcomes as they move into the workplace and progress with their careers.    

A growth mindset

A growth mindset is a cultivated approach that helps individuals to cope with and manage change, adversity and uncertainty

At Hult International Business School, we designed a curriculum to have deliberate behavioural change and development at its core. The Leadership Skills track of the Hult MBA prioritises behavioural skills development alongside the teaching of technical skills. Fundamental to the course is the teaching and structured development of a growth mindset – the belief that human attributes, such as intelligence, talents and abilities are malleable and can be developed with concerted effort and practice. A growth mindset is a cultivated approach that helps individuals to cope with and manage change, adversity and uncertainty – skills that seem especially relevant in the present volatile economic, technological, and political work environment. 

We recently evaluated the impact of the programme in graduates who are now at the early stages of their careers, and found that students with an increasing ability to demonstrate a growth mindset during the programme continued to distinguish themselves three years past graduation. They also attributed their development to their management education experience. One student described how “… the growth mindset, … really made a huge difference. I was a person that had an extremely, extremely fixed mindset.”

Purpose, passion and practice

In terms of demonstrated skills and competencies, we identified aspects of cognition, affect and action – broadly categorised as purpose, passion and practice. Graduates described a clear sense of purpose both personally and professionally, high levels of self- and organisational awareness that directed active learning, a readiness and preparedness to face challenge, and a clear vision for future aspirations and development. They were passionate about adding value to their organisation and driving success, regardless of the obstacles that they faced along the way. 

Behaviourally, graduates were learning-oriented, and included using workplace interactions to gain insights from different areas of the business, connecting with colleagues and continually developing their capabilities. Noticeable was the agility and adaptability they described to different circumstances and cultures. This not only makes them effective at work currently but also ready to respond appropriately to future challenges in a global workforce. 

Entering a VUCA world

As universities and business schools seek to be responsive to employer needs and prepare their graduates for a VUCA world, our research supports the re-focusing of university and business school curricula towards the development of interpersonal skills and competencies. Business schools can ‘intervene’ effectively and concentrate on nurturing the job-readiness of their graduates. Integral to this is the development of a growth mindset, to help students achieve better outcomes when they move forward into the workplace.  

In the end, the re-focusing of universities and business schools on the development of interpersonal skills is beneficial for meeting the present demands and expectations of employers. By embedding the development of a growth mindset at the core of the curricula, graduates will have a skillset that makes them job ready from day one, and ensures they stay job relevant in the future to achieve better outcomes in an unpredictable world.