Over the last couple of years, there has been sufficient media coverage on the search for jobs by new college graduates, the creation of jobs in America, the unemployment rate, and preparation needed for more citizens to be prepared for high-tech jobs.
Nonetheless, there are still hundreds of thousands of college graduates, at every level, and in all disciplines looking for something close to an open job door to launch their careers/lives, and/or to move out of their parents’ houses. Moreover, there are mid-level workers, steeped in the nexus of family responsibilities, searching for new jobs to earn more money or to acquire a better quality of life. Further, there are Baby Boomers who are phasing out of jobs, or seeking to re-imagine how to live a quality retirement life by engaging in new interests with monetary payoffs.
Recently, I have been watching our daughter and other college graduates negotiate the hurdles to enter the workforce. While some aspects of securing a job that works for you, as well as your working for it, have remained the same, there are significant challenges many new graduates face in order to convince those searching and interviewing that they are a good fit for the organization–at least for the near future. Being a good fit for a job seems to mean that the prospective employer or current employees think that they can work with you, and you can work with them–at least for the time being. The inherent limitations on the searching for a good fit approach for recruiting talented employees should be explored further–but for now, it still seems to be the norm.
As research reveals, most employees change jobs or careers numerous times in their lives, so fit in an organization can change over time.
Yet, while watching new graduates attempt to sell their skills, enthusiasm, tech savvy, and innovative ideas to organizations, I have been reminded that establishing at least the illusion of fit for a job is a very complex undertaking. It involves a variety of factors such as others’ perceptions of the prospective employee, past experiences of the current employees, and other factors not within the control of the job seeker. Further, strategies for projecting fit can be different from organization to organization and at different stages of your career and life.
For example, establishing fit when you are a new graduate, usually includes creating a strong impression that you will bring energy, a fresh perspective, technological skills, and the ability to work with others. During interviews, graduates will be challenged to exude confidence, knowledge, and flexibility as they respond to questions from highly relevant to arcane. In mid-career, prospective employees might want to project knowledge, energy, good judgement, good team skills, and a repertoire that will benefit the organization. In many ways, searching for a job can be compared to speed dating–you have a limited time and toolkit to assess and be assessed for fit.
Not surprisingly, many new college graduates who are attempting to enter the workforce claim that even with good academic records and a few visits to their campus career centers, they do not really believe they are prepared to convince employers that they are the right person for a specific position. Many students agree, though, that understanding of the concept of fit can be enhanced by actually observing organizational culture and participating in internships or volunteer experiences.
Some aspects of projecting fit are visual and auditory. Students often need assistance transitioning from campus chic to work attire–in order to convince interviewers of their fit. Even though many workplaces are allowing casual attire, there is a range of casual wear that is considered acceptable in the workplace. New graduates might not understand that range, but they can learn it quickly with a little assistance from career centers, mentors, and internship experiences. Additionally, many of us have observed bright, caring, and talented people lose job opportunities because of their ill-fitting communication skills, both written and verbal–OMG!
To help students make a transition to an appropriate, and comfortable workplace fit, at least a few universities that I know of have charged their career service offices with maintaining a career wardrobe collection of ties, business jackets, and other accessories to help students make an acceptable visual presentation in interviews. Further, these career centers have consistently worked with students to employ the staid version of English–probably a necessary standard to establish comfort and fit when conversing with prospective employers.
Moreover, in terms of written communication, recent graduates often are unsure of how to craft an appropriate resume and how they should represent themselves (i.e., choice of pictures) on LinkedIn and other social media sites. If I had a dollar for each student or young professional who was convinced that the same generic one-page resume is the only option for all job opportunities, I would be extraordinarily rich. There are so many other options available for students to demonstrate what they know and can do, such as online portfolios and personal websites which portray leadership experiences, writing samples, and positive stories.
During an interview, inadequate communication skills and body language (such as posture, eye movement, and so forth) are often ways that prospective employers eliminate prospective employees. New graduates and anyone seeking to change jobs need to be prepared for online Skype, Google Hangout, or other such teleconference interviews and interactions. Organizations use them to both save money while assessing communication skills of prospective employees. Often, potential employees are eliminated from the competition because of their micro expressions, lack of eye contact, use of space, or comments during an online interview that could suggest that there could be an issue with fit into a particular organization’s culture.
As previously stated, students who have had the opportunity to participate in the workforce through intensive internships or cooperative experiences demonstrate greater confidence when discussing their abilities and potential contributions in interviews because they have already had opportunities to sit in conference rooms and observe and mimic the behaviors of more seasoned employees.
Nonetheless, it has continued to surprise me that even the most talented graduates lack self-esteem and worry incessantly about the competition for desirable jobs. Apparently, performing well academically does not necessarily translate into confidence in securing jobs or the overall strategies for competing for jobs.
Recently, I read an article about a new graduate who went to an unbelievable number of interviews and sent out approximately 100 job applications. Needless to say, the job search rejections left the new graduate disappointed, but she refused to give up, and eventually secured a job through her network contacts, assisted by an extended family member. Networking and discussing career aspirations with seasoned employees still seem to help graduates secure entrance into tough job markets.
So, how can colleges, career centers, and mentors help? It seems that as long as human beings are judging who will be a good fit for their organizations, it will be important for those who are helping graduates and young professionals to explore and understand the concept of fit from various angles– including knowledge, communication skills, attitudes, attire, and workplace expectations. Sometimes, it is important for the graduate to determine early in the interview process that a company is not a good fit and to pursue other better options.
Yet, I admit, the perception of fit still seems a bit flawed to me. Hopefully, those candidates selected because they appear to fit will actually help lead organizations to a more innovative and productive future!