Each week my Chicago church sends out an e-newsletter with reflections on spiritual matters and information about upcoming events. This week’s reflection by my pastor, Craig Mueller, contained some ideas I thought relevant to college students preparing to go into the professional world. The following three paragraphs contain his thoughts.

“Earlier this week I heard a story on NPR on maps. Simon Garfield, a map expert noted that it’s easier these days to use GPS on a smart phone than it is to look at an actual map.

“Garfield regretted that one of the losses is that we lose the beauty and romance of maps. But his concluding comments had a spiritual ring to me:

The other thing we lose, is a sense of how big the world is. Because now we look at our map, there’s a real sense of, ‘Get me to where I want to go.’ Now you get the feeling, actually, ‘It’s all about me’ … It’s a terribly egocentric way of looking at the world. So I think the view of where we are in the world, in the history of the world, is changing. And I think in a way it’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest impacts of the digital and technological revolution – is how we see ourselves in the world.

“As 2013 begins, it is good to reflect on the way we see ourselves in the world. Most of the time we are apt to reflect on our own financial situation, health, emotional landscape, and to-do list. Everything depends on how we are doing as an individual. It is a bit like looking on a Google map and seeing the dot in the middle showing where you are. Everything revolves around you.”

Here is why I thought these ideas are relevant to college students.

Whenever I get a chance to speak with executives or with people who do hiring, I ask them what they most look for in new employees. My goal of course is to get information to funnel to the Kemper Scholars I work with, giving them insights into how to further their professional careers.

Recently the answers to the question have had a consistency around two points: they want people who can communicate clearly, interestingly, and correctly (“Not at all a given with today’s college grads,” one executive told me.); and they want people who can work as part of a team.

A great deal has been written about the need for communication skills, so I will not add to that right now. And the desire for employees who can work as part of a team is nothing new either. As I asked them to clarify, however, I heard some new things.

One executive compared her difficult search for team players with the paralysis in American legislative bodies. “People see themselves and their positions as the center of things. They demand that others adapt to them and not vice versa,” she told me. Sounds remarkably like what I quoted above above, right?

When I asked whether employers therefore prefer graduates who have been part of sports teams, the answer I got was “Maybe in the past. But now athletes are as likely to be grandstanders and hotshots as team players.”

Since most of American academia does not create situations where students must complete course assignments as part of a group, I suggest undergraduates would be wise to find teamwork opportunities on their own. These are most likely to occur in internships, jobs, and extra-curricular organizations. Volunteer at an organization like Habitat for Humanity where everything is done in work teams. Learn how to operate as part of a group without being the leader. And when you do these things, take time to reflect on how people work best as groups and how setting aside your personal goals can get larger ones accomplished.