Newswise — College students today are more entitled than they were five years ago, according to a national survey of 402 college and university career development professionals. But respondents do not see this as a negative indicator of students’ overall professionalism. The study was compiled by the Center for Professional Excellence (CPE) at York College of Pennsylvania.

“Fifty-three percent of our respondents reported an increase in students showing a sense of entitlement, while only 6.3 percent noted a decrease,” said Matthew Randall, executive director of the CPE. “It is interesting that despite this notion, 34.7 percent feel that the percentage of students exhibiting professionalism has increased over the past five years, compared to 21.8 percent who believe students are less professional. It seems that career development professionals are less likely to consider a student’s sense of entitlement as a reflection of his or her overall professionalism, and instead feel as though it is a separate phenomenon.”

Changes in Students Exhibiting Sense of Entitlement

Changes in Students Exhibiting Professionalism

The 2014 Professionalism Survey is a continuation of previous surveys compiled by the Center for Professional Excellence. Past surveys have focused on the status of Professionalism in the Workplace for recent college graduates by also polling human resource professionals and managers across the country, and Professionalism on Campus with faculty members at colleges and universities.

Seeing an increase in professionalism is unique to career development officials, as previously gathered data from the other two groups suggests college graduates enter the workforce with much to learn in the way of professional decorum.

“Career development personnel have a different perspective to analyze students’ professionalism. Typically they’re only seeing them for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, and the students they generally work with are those who actively want to improve their employability,” said David Polk, PhD, whose firm, the Polk-Lepson Research Group, was commissioned to conduct the survey. “They typically see the students at their best, while the other groups are seeing the entire spectrum. That being said, it’s still encouraging that over a third believe graduates are more professional than before. This could bode well for employers who expect ‘workplace-ready’ applicants for their job openings. Many of them believe colleges should play a role in preparing students to be professionals.”

But what is a professional? Career development practitioners believe the most important qualities associated with professionalism are communication/writing skills (56.1 percent), being prepared (49.7 percent), proper appearance (21.3 percent) and being ambitious (21.1 percent).

Qualities or Behaviors Describing Professionalism in Students

Respondents who noted a decrease in professionalism attribute the decline to technology’s negative impact on communication and interpersonal skills (25.4 percent), minimal parental expectations (22.2 percent) and change in culture/values (20.5 percent).

Respondents who have seen an increase in professionalism most often cite institutions becoming more aware of the importance of teaching professionalism (51.1 percent) as the driving force. Two-thirds (66.3 percent) of the career offices surveyed have increased their focus on professionalism in the last three years. The result is that 83.3 percent of offices surveyed provide programs that specifically focus on developing the qualities of professionalism.

“College and university career development offices continue to evolve. ” said Randall. “What once was largely a middle-man to connect employers with students is now a training partner teaching students everything from proper dining etiquette, to appropriate attire, to engaging in small talk. Today’s leading edge career development offices realize that equipping students with the right suit, resume, and interview responses is not enough. They also assist students with developing a personal brand, leveraging social media, and cultivating key professional behaviors.”

Programs on Professionalism

Although career development professionals are spending more time stressing these “soft skills,” many of the programs are not mandatory. College-to-career and career preparation courses are offered for academic credit by 43.1 percent of responding institutions. Therefore, students must otherwise take initiative to enroll in these programs. Student engagement increases as they approach their anticipated graduation date.

Mean Percentage of Students Engaged in Programs/Services

“All of the students who stay engaged with the career development offices have one goal in mind: getting a job offer,” Randall added. “With sometimes hundreds of applicants per open position, it can be an incredible challenge just to land an interview. When you’re finally given the chance, make sure you avoid the most deadly interview mistakes of showing up unprepared (68.5 percent), wearing inappropriate attire (54 percent), arriving late (33.8 percent), and lacking proper communication skills (27.7 percent).”

Deadly Interview Mistakes

Ultimately, respondents feel that students are most responsible for their own professional development. When ranking seven entities on a scale of 1 to 7, 1 being most responsible, 70.5 percent of respondents named students first. Following them are career development offices (2.90 average), faculty (3.11 average), parents (3.34 average), and employers (5.43 average).

Ranking of Who Should be Responsible for Professionalism

“As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water…” said Randall. “Career development offices can offer tremendous services to prepare graduates to enter the workforce but they’re useless if no one takes advantage of these opportunities.”

A nationwide sample of 402 career development professionals was surveyed. The maximum margin of error with this sample is +/- 4.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

This is the fifth consecutive year that the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania has conducted a survey on the state of professionalism. Full survey results are available upon request.

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