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Back To School: How Recent College Graduates Can Use MOOCs to Land A First Job

With 1.8 million college graduates entering the job market this year, the competition is fierce for new applicants. According to a report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), most companies expect to hire only 2.1 percent more college graduates from the class of 2013 than they did from the class of 2012. With the competitive nature of the job market in general, recent college graduates may have an experience deficit that shrinks their opportunity to compete with experienced job seekers.

MOOCs for college graduates

Dave Goehring via Flickr

College graduates typically have three paths forward: graduate school, post-college certificate programs or an internship/employment.  If landing an internship or employment is the goal, what can a recent college graduate do to improve their prospects?

MOOCs, short for massive open online courses, offer a creative, productive use of time while in the midst of a job search. (They are also a good resource for career exploration for recent high school graduates, as Debbie Morrison describes in a previous article.) The price is right (they’re free), the schedule is flexible and MOOCs can augment your portfolio of experience.

Searching for a MOOC

If you’re a recent college grad on the job market and considering taking a MOOC, consider your overall job search strategy. What is your vision for your first post-grad work experience? What would the requirements be? Be realistic about the type of positions you are vying for. Review the experience you’ve had while in college, both academic and work-related, and compare it to your vision. What are the gaps? What skills or experiences will give you a leg up against your competition?

Next, conduct a search on MOOC platforms, such as Coursera, Udacity and edX, and don’t forget less well known platforms like NovoEd, Canvas and CourseSites (or even a lot of MOOCs from outside the United States). Look for classes that will supplement your portfolio and that relate to your vision.

But there are so many options. How do you begin? Here are two sample paths forward when considering a MOOC.

MOOCs for humanities or liberal arts grads

An online review conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities reports that 95% of employers surveyed look to hire college graduates who can contribute to innovation in the workplace. They say the capabilities that contribute to a candidate’s ability to be successful include “soft skills” like the ability to communicate clearly, think critically and solve complex problems. Employers look for grads with intellectual and practical skills and with the capacity to apply analytical and problem solving skills in real-world settings.

Let’s say you are a recent liberal arts grad with the career goal of becoming a management consultant. Your education has prepared you well in terms of soft skills required for this type of job. A creative way to attain a competitive advantage over other aspiring junior analysts is to enroll in a MOOC that helps you learn more about the business world you’ll be working in.

For example, Coursera offers a course called Design Thinking for Business Innovation. This course promises to introduce cutting-edge design thinking processes and tool kits for solving problems. Innovative consulting firms like IDEO use this type of approach in working with their clients. A student completing this MOOC will likely get an introduction to the language of applying a structured methodology to solving real-world problems.

Another option is to build skills in a different subject to explore alternative career paths. The edx platform offers several introductory courses in computer science and related areas that can be a first step in a new career direction with significant employment opportunities. MOOCs remove barriers to explore new paths with open access learning experiences.

MOOCs for computer science grads and others with technical majors

Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers (KPCB), a leading venture capital firm, recently released a report on Internet trends pointing out that this year there are 122,300 openings for the recent 51,474 computer science graduates. In the United States Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Qualcomm report 10,000 job openings for grads with these credentials.

Computer science and other technical majors with an interest in employment with large companies have an abundance of opportunities.  However, if you’re a budding entrepreneur, the course How to Build a Startup, available on Udacity, may provide the background needed to set a foundation for success. This course illustrates a step-by-step approach to launching a company with the goal to minimize the risk of failure.

Computer science grads can also advance their knowledge in a key area like functional hardware verification or artificial intelligence for robotics through specialized courses offered by edX. Additional subject matter expertise can provide a recent grad a competitive advantage in the job search process.

These are just two examples, but any recent college graduate might see similar opportunities in MOOCs. [pullquote position=”right”]A business major might be looking at the job market and wishing they had found time for a class in international affairs. An education major might be thinking about creative ways they could apply their training if they had more knowledge about management and leadership. Taking a MOOC could be a useful path forward for these recent graduates.[/pullquote]

How can a MOOC add to a college graduate’s employability quotient?

Employers aren’t looking just for a degree. They want to know you are going to succeed in the job and that they won’t have to be hunting for your replacement in a few months. Employability from that perspective is not just the ability to put in the time to earn a degree but the ability use what you learned to tackle real-world problems. Here is some ways that MOOCs improve your “employability quotient.”

1. Continuing your education through a MOOC shows initiative and “outside the box” thinking. Enrolling in a MOOC demonstrates due diligence in acquiring necessary skills to be successful in your career. This also shows you have a proactive approach to expanding knowledge base.

2. It demonstrates engagement in a broader dialogue about a subject matter. Taking a MOOC exhibits interest in being part of the conversation and provides exposure to language used in prospective career industries.

3. It extends your professional network. Your classmates in a MOOC are local and global. MOOCs are an opportunity to interact with others interested in the same field. Network to find out why your fellow students are enrolled in the course and to find out about employment opportunities.

In summary, because they are free and have no application or admissions process, MOOCs are a great opportunity for recent college grads. Think of them as a valuable, low investment resource to enhance your skills and marketability in an increasingly competitive job market.


Dianna Sadlouskos (1 Posts)

I am a higher education consultant with twenty years experience in the higher education industry. I work with universities and community colleges on campus-wide strategic planning and operation improvement initiatives. My guiding principle for each engagement is to help people and organizations work smarter and more efficiently. I'm interested in how innovative teaching and learning technologies like MOOCs will transform the overall student engagement and experience with institutions.