Hiring Today’s Graduates
A recent Wall Street Journal article by Bret Stephens, To the Class of 2012, reminded me once again of the troubling evidence that today’s youth are “becoming” less and less employable in a more and more knowledge-based economy. I guess, to put it most concisely, today’s youth simply are not “becoming” at all. They are not developing, or being developed, into the productive citizens that our country needs to ensure a strong economy. And sadly, it doesn’t appear that the people who should be developing them – parents, teachers, and even college professors and advisors – are doing their jobs either. Woe to today’s recruiters and training professionals.
Of the many stories I’ve read, it seems that true work experience, work ethic, and useful knowledge (and the ability to apply knowledge) are what’s lacking in today’s graduates. And I think it’s safe to say that this applies to ALL graduates: high school, college, and even PhD grads. I read another story recently, Even a PhD Couldn’t Keep This Man Off Food Stamps, which plays the “violin of sympathy” for a PhD graduate who cannot find a job. Apparently he is surprised that with a PhD in History his job opportunities are limited. Really? During all his years of studying, do you mean to tell me that it never occurred to this guy that his PhD would likely limit his employability to, umm, “teaching History”?
Here are some of Stephens’ insightful quotes that capture the mood for today’s recruiters:
* “…in our “knowledge-based” economy, knowledge counts. Yet here you are, probably the least knowledgeable graduating class in history. A few months ago, I interviewed a young man with an astonishingly high GPA from an Ivy League university and aspirations to write about Middle East politics. We got on the subject of the Suez Crisis of 1956. He was vaguely familiar with it…(and) he didn’t know who was president of the United States in 1956. And he didn’t know who succeeded that president.”
* “Many of you have been reared on the cliché that the purpose of education isn’t to stuff your head with facts but to teach you how to think. Wrong. I routinely interview college students, mostly from top schools, and I notice that their brains are like old maps, with lots of blank spaces for the uncharted terrain. It’s not that they lack for motivation or IQ. It’s that they can’t connect the dots when they don’t know where the dots are in the first place.”
* “Your prospective employers can smell BS from miles away. And most of you don’t even know how badly you stink. To read through your CVs, dear graduates, is to be assaulted by endless Advertisements for Myself. Here you are, 21 or 22 years old, claiming to have accomplished feats in past summer internships or at your school newspaper that would be hard to credit in a biography of Walter Lippmann…”
* “In every generation there’s a strong tendency for everyone to think like everyone else. But your generation has an especially bad case, because your mass conformism is masked by the appearance of mass nonconformism.”
So is it really all that dire? Don’t we complain like this about every generation that is entering the workforce? In recent years I have been in a position to see these youth entering the workforce, not to mention the fact that I also have a teen of my own who is getting close to entering college and the workforce. I wonder if I am just too close to the situation and have acquired a jaundiced eye.
My wife regularly hires people in their teens and mid-twenties, and when I trained new-hires not so long ago, I saw a regular stream of today’s youth coming in the doors. We gained solace from each other’s railings about the utter lack of work ethic in today’s youth and their simple grasp of what it means to work: be on time, work hard, work selflessly, be polite, work your shift, don’t call in sick on a monthly basis, “act like” you’re in a professional setting.
So if it really is that bad, what’s a recruiter to do? And what’s a training professional to do with the new-hires they are given?
Stephens sums up that answer pretty well. He says, ”…the best of you don’t do this kind of thing at all. You have an innate sense of modesty. You’re confident that your résumé needs no embellishment. You understand that less is more. In other words, you’re probably capable of thinking for yourself…There will always be a market for people who can do that.”
It is up to recruiters to see through the “BS” and hire those modest candidates who can think for themselves. And I can say from experience that it is the training professional’s job to decide, when they do come across the “BSers,” whether the BSers can be converted into productive employees or not, and whether it is worth the company’s and your time and effort to convert them.
Read Stephens’ story To the Class of 2012 (Attention graduates: Tone down your egos, shape up your minds)
And don’t miss the story Even a PhD Couldn’t Keep This Man Off Food Stamps.