|By A.D. Freudenheim||
16 June 2002
What the hell is wrong with kids these days? The job market is no longer booming and the effects of the declining financial markets have been brutal on businesses and individuals alike. Yet most of the job applicants I have met recently act as though this was the same market the U.S. had in the 1990s, a seller's market where companies were so desperate for employees that even a pulse could qualify the most blasé of interviewees. Those days are over, but applicants still seem to feel that the decision to take a job is predicated on the job selling them - rather than on interviewees selling themselves as right for the job.
The last several months of recruiting has brought to our office scores of young people for whom the interview process appears to be similar to meeting friends for drinks; the notion of a job is approached very casually. Although many have done some preparatory research about the firm (and candidates are told to peruse the company web site prior to interviewing), few come prepared with a list of questions about the job or the business. Interviewees sit and expect us to tell them how great our jobs are, how wonderful the firm is, and how much they should want to work here - and to a certain extent, we do that. What is missing is the return on this investment; rare are the candidates who come prepared to discuss exactly how their skills and interests would make them a good fit and a great hire. An answer to the question "Why should we hire you?" needs to be stronger than "Because I need a job."
Never mind that candidates show up looking like they are going out on a second date, not a first-round job interview: men come without ties, often without jackets, and only occasionally in a suit; women arrive wearing short skirts, tank-tops, and casual sandals. Unless the job opening is for a runway model or actor, appearance should not be the biggest factor in any hiring decision - but it does matter. Clothes help define who we are, and they can (and should) affect a person's attitude to life; it is possible to slouch in a business suit, but it is more difficult not to feel self-conscious while doing so. Yet among the candidates I have seen, "dress for success" seems to have no meaning; either that, or the definition of success does not include being hired for a job.
I work for a small consulting firm, and we have high standards for intelligence, creativity, and communication skills. Although we are not an incredibly formal office, as an agency that serves a broad variety of clients we also look to hire people who can present themselves well, and can handle a variety of tasks or demands on a daily basis. Recently, our focus has been on finding entry-level people, typically those just out of college or with a year or two of experience under their belts. Given this, I think our threshold for hiring is realistic; we are not looking for 23-year-olds who are prepared to run the company, we just want them to be prepared to do the job of an entry-level account executive. We want them to want to work with us, not just because they need a job, but because they want this job.
So, again, what the hell is wrong with kids these days? Strictly speaking, I am probably too young to express this sentiment - and it makes me sound prematurely fuddy-duddy. Nonetheless, I have never appeared before a potential employer unprepared to answer questions about why I want to be hired. I have always been ready to ask basic questions about the job and the work environment, no matter how nerve-wracking this kind of preparation may be. Nor have I ever shown up for an interview in anything other than a suit (even with, or despite, my earrings) - even when I have known that wearing a suit was not a requirement of the job.
Many of the kids whose resumes have come across my desk look terrific on paper: they have been to good schools, have sought out a great variety of resume-building internships and experiences, traveled widely, and often show a strong commitment to something other than simply making money. Ultimately, though, I have approached every interview with one basic, underlying assumption: I need to show a potential employer that they need me more than they need anyone else, and I that I come prepared to do the job to the best of my abilities. If interviewees cannot say this to themselves - and cannot walk into my office prepared to articulate their skills and qualifications - then all of the schooling and internships, the travel and general worldliness are meaningless. And it always leaves me asking the question "Why are they wasting my time?"
Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.