Students are often concerned that employers will not consider candidates with degrees from online colleges, and this seems sometimes to be true. According to research by Beecher Tuttle,
“Top employers themselves are resoundingly silent on their views of online degrees. A media relations representative at global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company said the firm doesn’t recruit people with M.B.A.s earned online. Ten large financial service companies declined to comment and a spokesperson for Ernst & Young said, ‘In considering our current pool of candidates and recent recruits, it does not align with the information you are seeking.’”
Fortunately, online college graduates can counter some of these negative attitudes by emphasizing the valuable skills and knowledge they gained not only in their degree programs, but also in the very act of being an online student. Online students learn more than subject matter content: they learn highly sought-after professional skills that can be highlighted when on the job market.
What Do Employers Want?
Dr. Bruce Johnson points out that one of the major concerns of today’s employers is the “skills gap”: employers are concerned at the lack of critical thinking skills and workplace preparation among recent graduates. As a professor, I deal with these problems every day, as students enter my courses with poor writing and communication abilities, poor critical thinking skills, and deficiencies in reading and comprehension. This is a problem that starts way before they get to my college classroom, and the brief semester in which they are enrolled in my course does not give me enough time to teach them what they need to overcome these problems. In fact, the face-to-face class, while offering many benefits, does not even provide enough time to allow much correction and revision of basic writing skills.
How Do Online Courses Develop Professional Skills?
The nature of online courses, which involve writing as the primary form of communication and interaction, may offer students more opportunities to refine some skills that are highly valued by recruiters and employers. More experience writing with regular evaluation and feedback can help students sharpen the clarity of their writing, expand their written vocabulary, and revise their work. All of these skills can be translated, on a resume or during an interview, into the ability to create clear professional communications, such as memos, business plans, grant proposals, etc.
There are, in fact, many ways that online courses can provide students with opportunities to develop valuable workplace skills. For example, marketing consultant Kristi Hines argues that blogging teaches marketing skills, which can be translated to the workplace. Researcher Linzi J. Kemp found that “Through the use of multimedia resources in the online environment, students are exposed to the study of teamwork, test their skills in the security of a study area, and actively engage in the principles of management including communication, negotiation, planning and decision-making.” Some of the more general aspects of online coursework can also help students develop career skills.
You may not have considered some of the daily activities of your online course responsibilities as potential job skills. Here are three valuable skills that online students develop during their learning experiences:
- Time Management: While time management is a skill necessary to the successful completion of any college program, including traditional face-to-face learning, online education emphasizes deadlines through the structure of the Course Management System (CMS), many of which simply lock a student out if they do not meet a deadline. The CMS does not respond to tearful pleas for mercy, and it notes the time of submission. Dartmouth College offers a useful website with time management tips, and with online practice, this experience will translate to valuable job skills.
- Communication: The Society for Human Resource Management points out that “verbal communication skills were identified as the top “soft” skill sought by employers when recruiting college graduates, according to the Job Outlook 2011 survey, released Dec. 8, 2010, by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).” In the same article, China Gorman, CEO of the talent management company CMG Group, further notes that “being able to clearly articulate—verbally and in writing—your ideas and results to your boss, your customers, your peers and other colleagues will mean the difference between career growth and career stagnation.” While traditional face-to-face classes give students opportunities to develop in-person communication skills, the format of online courses relies on communication that largely takes place via e-mail, chat boards, and blogging, may resemble more common forms of workplace communication, especially as the workplace relies more on virtual communication than ever before. Students in online courses will be able to develop these skills in ways that employers value.
- Teamwork: Many online courses include collaborative learning exercises in which students must work together to accomplish course requirements. One study argues that team-building is the most important factor in successful team work, and “too often this team building is lacking in online environments.” However, online courses often involve collaboration at a distance, which is also common in many workplaces, especially in companies that have multiple locations around the country or the world.
How Can You Utilize These Skills to Get a Job?
If you are a graduate of an online college, you can incorporate your acquisition of these skills into your resume or discuss them in cover letters to help get the attention of potential employers. Explain to employers that the same time management skills that allowed you to balance your schoolwork, jobs, and family life will also help you balance the multiple responsibilities of the position you have applied for. Similarly, you can discuss group projects that relied on clear communication and collaboration, to show that you are a “team player” who can keep the larger goal in mind while balancing the different strengths of colleagues. All in all, the same skills you use to succeed in your online courses will be required in any professional position. It’s up to you to make sure employers realize this!