Pardon me as I take a trip down memory lane. Join me if you can. Close your eyes. Think back to when you were starting out as an early career professional. Think back to your interviews and the things you learned from those experiences. What did you learn?
Now think back to the early career professionals you have interviewed recently. What have they said? What have they done? More importantly, have you been left shaking your head wondering where they come up with some of this stuff? Recent data tells us that the time-to-fill metric is at an all-time high for numerous professions (Dice Holdings, 2015). Recent SHRM research indicates there is great confidence among HR graduates that they will be able to find work but when HR hiring managers were queried about the time it takes to find a good candidate the pessimism is evident. This all points to a major disconnect between hiring managers and what early career professionals believe. In fact, during our research we identified a great chasm (almost as big as the Grand Canyon) between competencies believed critical by early career professionals and those believed critical by mid-career, senior, and executive professionals.
For me the real question is what leads to the great chasm—is it a fundamental difference in values or is it something more perfunctory like the impact of smartphones, Facebook, the iCloud, and the uber-culture at Google? My experiences seem to suggest it is actually the latter rather than the former. Raise your “virtual” hand if you have ever had a millennial hold their hand up to let you know your conversation is not important enough to put their phone on silent while you are interviewing them for a job. Nothing screams “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark!” like talking to the hand. Something is rotten—there is a mismatch between what hiring managers and candidates believe are indicators of professionalism. This brings me to the crux of this blog. Dear Early Career Professionals, please avoid the following mistakes when seeking work:
1) Shut off your phone!—The iPhone is a wonderful invention and would be almost perfect if I could fit the 6-plus in my pocket. That said, every implement has its time and its purpose. Communication is a core competency for HR professionals but demonstrating your ability to communicate with someone else and ignore the person in front of you is not proficiency.
2) Don’t make friends!—All kidding aside it is great to develop rapport with people interviewing for a job. The problem starts when you start to treat interviewers like they are your best friend and divulge personal information nobody wants to know. Too often I have heard tales about how you had a rough weekend because you were at a college friend’s wedding and almost hurt yourself doing a keg stand. Nobody needs to know that you make questionable decisions and if you let me know I will use it against you. Besides you probably need better friends if you are doing keg stands in a bridesmaid’s dress.
3) Don’t think the interview has boundaries!—I have heard HR recruiters say, “The candidate did great in their interview but I ran into them in the elevator after the interview and they shared that they really only interviewed here because they were milking their employer for more money.” This is a quintessential rookie mistake. Never let your guard down. You should always manage impressions no matter where you run into potential employers. Don’t be the guy who ran into his recruiter at a tailgate party and kept screaming “WOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” to the point of exhaustion. You will be remembered but not for the right reason.
4) Don’t expect it all!—The world tells you not to settle. However, first jobs rarely deliver on everything you want. They typically deliver on only the things you need (there’s a Rolling Stones reference in there somewhere). The point is don’t make yourself unemployable because you expect too much from a first job. I have seen too many talented professionals cost themselves invaluable experience because they need 80% workplace flexibility or a clear path to senior management. You’re just starting out and experience is the most valuable commodity you can acquire.
5) Answer the question and don’t be afraid to noodle through an answer!—A lot of young professionals come out with some form of communications polish. I am amazed at the number of people who have rote answers to questions about prior job experience, but where I learn most about people is when they have to answer a question they aren’t fully prepared for. I am most disappointed when a candidate pivots back to their strength rather than trying to find an appropriate technical answer for the question. Give a little effort and show me you can reason through a problem. It goes a long way.
These tips provide a good start but aren’t the only things worth sharing with early career professionals. Can you think of a time when early career professionals could use a little guidance to make a better impression? Early career professionals, what do we do that makes you rethink our organizations? Together, I am sure we can all find a way to close the great chasm.