Academic journal article International Journal of Management

Career Decision-Making by Business School Students: A British Case Study

Academic journal article International Journal of Management

Career Decision-Making by Business School Students: A British Case Study

Article excerpt

The need to develop the employability of students is becoming increasingly important to universities. This is because the failure of students to engage effectively in career decision-making is likely to have a detrimental effect on their ability to compete in the graduate labour market. This paper comprises of two case studies which are illustrative of how undergraduates in a Business School approach career decision-making and preparing for the transition from education to employment. Interviews were initially carried out with 34 first year students studying honours degrees in business and business related subjects. Twenty-one of these students were then re-interviewed in their final year. The two cases were selected because they demonstrate how well motivated and academically high performing students may not necessarily be adequately prepared for the transition from higher education to graduate employment. A case study approach enabled the complex range of factors influencing the way undergraduates approach career decision-making and developing their employability to be analysed in depth. The case studies illustrate how the students, despite being encouraged on their degree programmes to adopt comprehensive and rational approaches to decision-making, often preferred to use intuition and logic. The students also lacked a future orientation which meant they focused on their immediate futures rather than longer term goals such as developing their employability. Moreover, even by their final year of study, the students did not have clear career objectives. The paper concludes that Business Schools should give more sustained attention to graduate employability and a greater focus needs to be paid to encouraging students to critically evaluate the values that underpin their approach to decision-making and career preparation.

Introduction

Maher and Graves (2008) define employability as the possession by students of qualities that facilitate and enhance employment opportunities' (p.2). The issue of graduate employability has become increasingly important to higher education institutions (HEIs) in England because the government wants HEIs to publish what Zepke and Leach (20 1 0) refer to as 'hard quantifiable outcomes' on their students' performance in the graduate labour market (see the recent Government White Paper: BIS, 2011). This means HEIs will, from 20 12, have to publish key information about the destinations and salary levels of their graduates (BIS, 201 1). The government is also asking independent organisations to publish this information in a format that will make it easier for students to make comparisons between HEIs. This is something that is currently available through Unistats (see http://unistats.direct.gov.uk), but the government wishes to see other organisations providing this service.

The students, however, present HEIs with a challenge. Surveys indicate that the main reason most students go to university is to enhance their employability (see for example Purcell et al, 2008). Yet once they are in higher education many undergraduates fail to engage in the type of career decision-making behaviour promoted by careers advisers (see Law and Watts, 2003). In other words students are failing to adopt comprehensive/rational approaches to decision-making which involve rigorously researching different career options in order to find a career that meets their personal needs and values (Greenbank, 2011). Many students also appear (see Greenbank and Hepworth, 2008a; Greenbank, 2010) to be failing to develop, through their courses and engagement in extra-curricular activities, what Brown and Hesketh (2004) have referred to as 'personal capital' - that is the skills and attributes graduate employers are looking for and the evidence (what Brown and Hesketh (2004) call 'hard currencies') to prove they have these skills and attributes.

This article begins by providing a summary of the wider study which formed the basis of this paper. …

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