STEM Candidates Are Not Just for STEM Jobs

To build the pipeline of employees for leadership positions, we need a bigger pool of qualified candidates at all levels in the company. We need people who are curious, who know how to solve problems, who are not afraid of failure, who know how to work with diverse groups, and who can lead strong teams.

These traits are often nurtured as part of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. Consequently, it would behoove recruiters to better consider recent college graduates with STEM backgrounds — not only to increase corporate diversity but to help their organizations succeed. 

How STEM Translates to Business

In STEM programs, students learn four key traits that all business leaders need to know and implement on a daily basis:

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  1. It’s OK to be curious and ask why. One of the best parts of any STEM education is that students are encouraged to be skeptical and not accept the obvious answer. They’re empowered to come up with new ideas and test hypotheses to push limits of theories and ideas. This is the key to innovation. 
  2. Everything is a problem to be solved. Students learn a methodical process for how to approach problems and derive answers. There is typically not one right answer; there are instead many answers that can be used in many different ways. Hence, STEM students learn that to solve problems effectively, they need to consider problems from multiple perspectives and explore different approaches to identify the best one. 
  3. Failure is part of the process. STEM programs train students in an agile development process. They encourage them to try, fail, learn, and try again. They teach that failure provides opportunity for useful learning experiences to apply to any job function or project. This is especially important since being comfortable with failure is key to success in business because we learn more from failure than we do from success. 
  4. We work better in diverse teams. STEM programs are designed to put different people with different ways of thinking together in groups to solve complex problems. Not only do these programs teach teamwork but they teach team leadership. They provide the foundation for effective group work by encouraging both independent thinking and problem-solving as part of a larger team. 

STEM Jobs

All these aren’t just traits that engineers or scientists must possess. Every strong leader must have these skills. That’s why it’s important not to pigeonhole STEM graduates for strictly IT jobs. For example, here are a number of careers in which STEM graduates can excel:

  • Product development 
  • Product marketing 
  • Solution architects 
  • Project management 
  • Business development
  • Strategic planning 

Prepping the Pipeline

To ensure students in STEM, especially women, are applying for — and ultimately receiving — opportunities to work in various functions of a business, schools and businesses must collaborate on building a steady pipeline of candidates. To accomplish this, businesses should realign internships and recruiting efforts to expand opportunities for graduates. Additionally, employers can identify successful employees with similar STEM backgrounds to serve as mentors. Indeed, by questioning the status quo, working in diverse teams, and focusing on solving problems — the very same skills that STEM candidates themselves demonstrate — companies can discover better ways to recruit individuals who will innovate and advance the business.

As vice president of strategy and innovation, Wendi Runyon runs strategy development, as well as innovation ideation and exploration for Schneider Electric’s Electrical Distribution business in North America. Her career spans three decades working for and consulting with companies of all sizes from large global companies to startup ventures. Wendi holds a Master’s in Business Administration from Emory University and a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Pennsylvania State University. She currently sits on the Industrial & Professional Advisory Council (IPAC) Board and Service System Engineering (SSE) Board for Penn State’s College of Engineering as well as the Diversity & Inclusion NAM Employee Resource Group Board. Wendi’s hobbies include competing in long distance triathlons and spending time with her husband and three children.

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