Like many business owners, I have read the stories, listened to the news and poured over the economic forecasts. Everyone says this is one of the worst times in history to graduate from college.
Students have unbelievable loans. Many are moving home to live with parents. Some say there are no jobs. But I know of at least one job that a media production company has unsuccessfully tried to fill for eight months. It’s my company! And I know other Michigan companies that have similar stories to tell about openings and the lack of prepared graduates.
We’ve been in business for 25 years. Our customers range from the Fortune Global 500 to small business — and business is good. That’s why we decided to add one or two additional staff. Who knew it would be this hard? We’ve tried everything: ads online, LinkedIn, Facebook, professional organizations, college placement offices.
Here’s an interesting fact. Within a 70 mile radius of our office there are more than 20 colleges and universities with communications programs. However, we’ve had very few inquiries about openings.
So where have all the graduates gone? I am not sure.
They are not at our door and the few who are have disappointed. They have poorly written resumes with misspellings throughout. Their cover letters use text shortcuts. Appearance is an issue. One job seeker showed up on his bike, ready for an all-terrain ride instead of trying to make an impression.
One recent graduate looked promising so we hired him. After 60 days, he sauntered into my office and announced he was moving back home. The job was just too hard. That’s why they call it work. This experience cost us dearly. We wasted time interviewing him. We wasted money moving him. We wasted effort on training. The cost of hiring the wrong person is significant. So it’s important to get it right for both the employer and the potential employee.
There is no doubt that the job market is challenging but job seekers need to take initiative and market their talents and skills. So what does it take to get noticed and hired? It takes a lot but here are a few things to consider.
I believe graduates should look outside the usual suspects. Everyone goes for the companies with recognizable names or prestigious addresses. Some of the best job opportunities are with smaller, entrepreneurial companies. We can create a position when we find a talented person. I have done that on a number of occasions. One individual who cold-called our office was so impressive over the phone that I interviewed and hired him — even though we did not have an opening. Today, he is the VP of production. Employees who get in early and grow with a company can have a very profitable career and even end up as a shareholder.
While the right skill-set is important, the right attitude — a willingness to work hard and learn — is the most important trait I look for in a new employee. I look for individuals who are “all in” on the job. They will do whatever it takes to get the job and keep it. It’s critical that they can think, be problem solvers. I ask lots of “what if” and scenario-based questions to see if they can think quickly and creatively. Business moves too fast to hold someone’s hand or direct every move — even at entry level jobs. We need employees who are self-directed and can work as a part of a team.
I’ve seen job seekers boldly walk into an interview with their list of wants. They want a regular schedule. Don’t want to travel. Want a higher starting pay. I don’t expect to find the perfect fit with a new employee in terms of skill level and experience. I do want someone who really wants to work and has a passion for the job.
The ability to communicate is also high on my list. When we interview potential employees every member of our team has the chance to meet and evaluate them. It’s only fair since they will be working and collaborating closely with them. We also do group interviews. This can be intimidating for the job seeker, but you really get a chance to see how they relate and their personal style. We have washed out a number of skilled applicants because they simply could not carry on a conversation — maybe too much tweeting and texting. My staff has also turned thumbs down on candidates because they did not believe that they would be a good fit, work as hard as the rest of the team or have the right attitude about serving customers.
I have lunch with our next prospect this week. It looks promising but if it doesn’t work out we’ll keep looking. Small business owners want to hire recent graduates because they can bring fresh ideas and energy to our work. They are a good complement to more experienced workers. And, who knows? We might even find that one individual who becomes a part of our exit strategy.
A few months ago, I sat around the table with a group of Michigan business owners. How many had openings? Almost everyone. There are jobs but it takes effort and the right attitude to land them. At my company there are also some pretty sweet benefits — great customers, interesting work, paid holidays, a company- funded retirement plan and yes, even medical benefits.
Cynthia Kay is president of Cynthia Kay and Company, a media- production firm in Grand Rapids, Mich., that serves small businesses and Fortune 500 companies.