A collective sentiment felt from master students is that they are not sufficiently prepared for the transition to the job market due to an existing information gap in career orientation. Based on personal experiences and observations, this may have detrimental effects on a student’s wellbeing, giving uncertainty and can hinder their transition to the job market leading to missed opportunities. This information gap may be caused by a lack of specific information for the field of interest by the university career events that are currently too generic. To tackle this issue, our group designed a minimum viable product as a one-on-one mentorship program allowing students to be in contact and meet with industry representatives or employees in their field of interest. The meetings are meant to guide the students in career paths, provide information of what is expected, how to prepare, opportunities and advice. To support the need for our MVP, scientific evidence, expert opinion, survey and successful pilots provided evidence of the necessity to implement our MVP to improve student’s career orientation. To conclude, our MVP of a one-on-one mentorship program between a master student and an employee in the field provides great opportunities to help students seeking more information and guidance about career choices.
The purpose of this report is to introduce our mentorship program, designed to facilitate one-on-one meetings between motivated students and industry representatives. Our program is tailored to bachelor’s and master’s students who feel unguided and unprepared to enter the job market, particularly those who lack the necessary skills, knowledge, and connections despite having completed their coursework successfully. This includes students who may have limited work experience, a weak professional network, or may not have taken advantage of their institution’s career services. Additionally, first-generation students and those lacking self-confidence or feeling overwhelmed by the job search process can benefit from our program. Furthermore, the program can be particularly helpful for students transitioning into a new career or industry, as it pairs them with mentors who have expertise in their area of interest, offering personalized guidance and support. We recognize that students often hesitate to reach out to professionals on their own due to a lack of knowledge or fear of seeming uninteresting. Our mentorship program aims to bridge this gap and provide students with an opportunity to connect with experienced professionals who are willing to guide them.
Our mentorship program offers students the chance to connect with experienced industry representatives who have volunteered to act as mentors. Through this program, students can gain valuable insights, expand their network, and receive guidance as they progress in their career. The program is conceptualized as a long-term opportunity, allowing students and industry representatives to develop a relationship beyond a single meeting. Ongoing communication and mentorship provide students with the opportunity to continue learning from their mentor, while industry representatives can provide continued support and potentially hire talented students in the future.
During our brainstorming sessions, we identified that students often have questions regarding the soft and hard skills required in their desired industry, the steps needed to land a specific position, expected timelines, salary ranges, and the daily routines of professionals in that field. For this reason, we provided students who participated in our pilot program with an instruction sheet containing practical information and possible discussion topics (see Appendix 1). However, the instruction sheet is only intended to provide a starting point for discussion, and we encourage students and their mentors to discuss any relevant topic they wish. Once the pilot meeting has been completed, the student is asked to fill in a post-evaluation survey to collect experiences and improve the product (see Appendix 2).
The mentorship program offers numerous benefits for both students and industry representatives.
For students, our mentorship program could offer a unique opportunity to connect with experienced professionals in a more personal and meaningful way than a typical job interview. Unlike a job interview, these meetings would take place in a comfortable and informal setting, where the mentor is specifically matched with the student based on their interests and career aspirations ahead of time. This removes any social barriers that may prevent students from reaching out to professionals on their own, such as not knowing who to contact, feeling too intimidated to approach someone, or feeling like they are bothering the person in question.
Another benefit for students is the possibility to expand their professional network and gain valuable insights into their chosen industry. They can also receive guidance and support as they navigate the often overwhelming job search process. Mentors can inform students about the skills they need to work on and possible ways to do that, build their confidence, and provide real-world feedback that can be applied to their future careers. Additionally, the mentors can inform students about various invaluable career development opportunities, such as vacancies, internships or the possibility to get involved into research projects.
Beyond just career-related benefits, mentors can expose students to new ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking, broadening their understanding of their chosen field and helping them to become more innovative and adaptable professionals. Moreover, students can gain confidence and self-assurance through the mentorship program, helping them to feel more prepared and qualified to enter the job market.
Participating in a mentorship program offers a host of benefits for industry representatives as well. By connecting with motivated and talented students, they can identify potential future employees and leaders within their organization. Additionally, participating in a mentorship program can help industry representatives increase their visibility and reputation within their industry, positioning themselves as thought leaders and attracting new clients, partners, and employees. Moreover, serving as a mentor can also be personally fulfilling for some people, as they can have the opportunity to guide and support the next generation of professionals in their field and offer the word of advice they wished they had received when they were in the student’s position. Furthermore, mentoring provides an opportunity for professional development, as industry representatives can share their knowledge and expertise with students, hone their coaching and leadership skills, and stay up-to-date on the latest trends and best practices. Lastly, participating in a mentorship program can also provide valuable networking opportunities for industry representatives. By connecting with other mentors and program organizers, they can expand their professional network and build relationships not only with students, who will be future professionals in their field, but also with other industry professionals.
To conclude, we believe participating in a mentorship program can be a win-win for both students and industry representatives, providing valuable learning and networking opportunities for both parties.
The collective sentiment of feeling unguided in terms of career orientation united the different members of our Leadership Lab group. We felt unsure about various topics, including, but not limited to, career opportunities within subfields of our field of study, the skills and traits desired by employers and the application process. Seeing that the majority of graduates end up transitioning from academia to the working field, our group decided that addressing such a problem would be of great benefit not only to us, but to future alumni graduating from the University of Groningen (RuG). The fact that we, as proactive honors students who made use of the university’s career center, faced this challenge emphasized the relevance of this issue. In other words, if we are struggling with career guidance despite our proactivity, it is very likely that other students are facing the same challenge.
To be specific, our aim is to assist students who are feeling insecure and unguided in transitioning from their studies to securing jobs that they desire.
While each individual student follows a unique path in transitioning into a desired career, the development of the majority of students is dependent on the social conditions in which they function. The mental health and self-motivation of these students can be enhanced depending on the extent to which their social conditions satisfy their innate psychological needs: competence, autonomy and relatedness (as per the self-determination theory [SDT]). In contrast, failing to satisfy these needs can thwart motivation, with repercussions such as alienation, apathy and rejection of growth as well as responsibility (1).
The importance of the problem statement (mentioned above) can be corroborated by the SDT, especially when examining the three different psychological needs. For example, the current disconnect between employers and future graduates wrests these students from relatedness as they are unable to nurture a sense of belonging and connectedness with their future supervisors and colleagues. Additionally, seeing that each graduate individually traverses a unique path when transitioning into the industry, such graduates can feel alienated during the process of transitioning. This is especially exacerbated by the absence of a body where unemployed graduates can come together and share their experiences and challenges that they face in securing their desired career.
In terms of autonomy, research has shown that students exhibit an increase in autonomous motivation and perceived competence when supervisors provide them with both autonomy support as well as structure (2). To achieve this support, supervisors usually begin by attempting to understand, acknowledge and respond to their students’ perspectives. In doing so, these supervisors are able to provide relevant opportunities to their students, thereby allowing them to transition into taking more ownership and initiative. Therefore, the provision of choice is an essential component to promoting autonomy across students. Indeed, law students who had autonomy-supportive instructors during their training had higher grades, and they reported having more autonomy in post-graduation employment (2). Clearly, these findings highlight why it is important for the RuG to provide options when it comes to career guidance for students interested in transitioning into the industry.
Lastly, competence as a psychological need is the need to feel effective and capable in achieving desired outcomes. This need is best satisfied when students are provided with well-structured environments that offer optimal challenges, constructive feedback and opportunities for growth. Indeed, research has shown that positive performance feedback results in higher perceived competence, which translates into increased motivation (3,4). This being said, the disconnect between academia and industry can hamper students in taking on challenges and seeking opportunities for growth tailored to their desired careers.
While the aforementioned points focus on the problem from the student’s perspective, it is important to understand that its effects extend to employers themselves. In the realm of informational technology (IT), for example, employers are reporting dissatisfaction with graduate’s employability skills (5). This finding is quite intuitive; a disconnect between employers and potential employees usually leads to a mismatch between acquired skills, and the actual skills required to be an effective force in the industry.
When examining the problem at hand, our group approached various experts, each with experience that was relevant to a specific component of the problem analysis. These experts came from different backgrounds and worked at different institutions/companies; Marte Otter works as a career officer at the medical faculty of the University of Utrecht; Charles Ruffalo is the founder of the Giving Back Foundation, and is the current leader of The NetworKing; Karima is a medical student who was involved in setting up an alumni organization for medical students at the University of Leiden.
Our initial meeting was with Otter, who has around a decade-long experience in tackling career guidance within academia. She explained that her university was actually initially convinced that a career officer, like herself, was not needed. Their conviction was based on the assumption that since medical students were sure about studying medicine, they would also be sure about their future career paths. The sole reason that they wanted to hire her was because it was obligatory to have a career officer for each faculty. Interestingly, her experience as a career officer went against the assumption that the university had made; within the first year, she organized workshops and spoke to around 500 different medical students, and it appeared that almost all students required guidance, some needing it more than others. For example, some students were proactive and had a specific goal in mind, but were unsure about how they should move forward. Others were feeling lost in terms of what they actually wanted out of their medical degree. For this reason, Otter believes that it is incumbent upon a university to provide career orientation guidance to its students. Specifically, she believes that a tailored approach, instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, is required to accommodate for the diversity amongst students.
Seeing that the foundation that Ruffolo had set up was connected to the industry, our group wanted to focus on his interactions with employers when we met with him. In short, the Giving Back Foundation was designed to link representatives from the industry (i.e. employees) with high school students, with the goal of providing long-term mentoring/guidance for these students (up until their first post-graduate job). We were specifically interested in learning more about whether there was an actual incentive behind the industry’s involvement in the programme. To our surprise, Ruffolo explained that many different firms are interested in such mentorship programmes because it brings them into direct contact with potential future applicants, thereby making them less dependent on external recruitment agencies when recruiting new employees. Furthermore, the mentorship programme allows employees to develop their coaching skills, something which is usually a part of the HR philosophy of various firms. To back up his claim, Ruffolo mentioned that firms pay large sums (€65,000 per year) to participate in the Giving Back Foundation mentorship programme.
To investigate what fellow master students experience in relation to future career goals in industry or academia, we set up a survey to inquire about their experience and “preparedness” after their studies. Out of 39 responses, 59% wanted to transition into the industry; 36% did not feel prepared to transition and 41% responded that they were weakly prepared with only 15% stating they felt prepared to transition into industry. 50% stated that the current university career events offered by student associations were not sufficient to guide them through the transition process. After pitching our mentorship program idea, most respondents from the survey said it would be a useful and great idea and that they would subscribe to this mentorship program if offered to them. As for what the topics the students want to discuss during their mentor meetings, potential career paths, job availability/opportunity, salary ranges and work-life balances rated the highest in preference. This highlights that students crave more information and that an information gap still exists. The results from the survey strengthen our position and our need for our carefully developed MVP, as master students think there is a gap in the current system to guide them towards their future career goals. Therefore, our group has enough evidence to conclude that the one-on-one mentorship program has sufficient back-up to be seen as relevant and shone light on the need of it being implemented. It has the potential to make positive changes to master student’s choices for their future. A conversation fills the gap by providing the student with insights, advise, a point of connection to the job market. We thank the respondents for their valuable opinion and we truly stand behind our MVP for the betterment of successful career decisions.