COLLEGE GRADUATES HOW DO YOU STACK UP TO EMPLOYER EXPECTATIONS?
Robert D Oberlander
Recently I was talking to a young college graduate who was seeking a job. He had just lost his third job in the matter of only a few months. He was intelligent and qualified, and had even been told that he was doing a good job. Nevertheless, he had lost his job again. This young man had a lot going for him, but he wasn't getting it all together. There was one thing he didn't know, and it was hurting him on every job: He didn't know what employers were looking for. What is it that employers are seeking? Dr. Frank Endicott, retired director of placement, Northwestern University, researched this question among companies seeking students and college graduates. In 1975, he presented his research to the 26th annual meeting of the Western College Placement Association. The companies studied ranked in order of importance six factors they consider when hiring college graduates. The findings are most interesting. The single most important factor on all counts and for all groups is personal traits. This is followed by grades, specialized courses, part-time employment, participation in activities, and the number of broad liberal arts courses taken. Let's look at each of these areas more carefully. The first and most important factor in the minds of employers was personal traits. By this employers mean maturity, initiative, enthusiasm, poise and the ability to deal with people. An interesting note concerning this finding was that even in research conducted 30 years earlier by Dr. Endicott, personal characteristics were found the most important job determinant. There was no change in 30 years! This is a remarkable finding in light of the numerous visible changes that have taken place in education and society. Dr. Endicott, in his book A College Student's Guide to Career Planning, comments: "It is difficult to identify and define the personal characteristics of a person who works well with other people. We generally consider such a person to be kind, courteous, understanding, helpful, pleasant, and fair, with a good sense of humor. Negative qualities are more easily recognized. These include arrogance, conceit, shortness of temper, domineering behavior, and discourtesy, plus a long list of irritating personal habits." In addition to the above, evidence of qualities related to leaders hip is commonly sought. Specifically these include the willingness to take responsibility, the ability to carry a project through to conclusion, initiative, ability to make decisions, respect for others, and again, the ability to work well with various types of people. An individual's effectiveness as a person and as a successful employee is related to his self-confidence, poise, enthusiasm and emotional stability. Frequently, shy and retiring individuals find themselves at a distinct disadvantage. Dr. Endicott stresses: "Personal appearance is important to employers. Physical characteristics, except extreme obesity, are generally much less important than dress. Within the general limits of neatness and appropriateness in dress there is room for a considerable amount of individuality. The notion that employers insist upon the gray flannel suit and the dark narrow tie is a myth." He also states: "Effectiveness in speech is a strong asset. The inability to express one's ideas clearly is a weakness which shows immediately and there is much to recommend courses in speech as part of the program of study for college students." Second to personal traits in terms of importance were grades. Grades were found to be especially important for jobs requiring a background in science, mathematics, engineering and accounting. Here employers preferred those students scoring in the top quarter of their class. College grades were somewhat less important for jobs in sales, merchandising and general business administration. Ranked third in Endicott's research were specialized courses. Specialized training for the particular job being sought or held is obviously a necessity for most positions. This specialized training is frequently strengthened by students' summer and part-time work experience. While pregraduate employment is not always directly related to one's specialized training, it is important to the employer in that it has exposed the student to true employment experience. Also of importance to the employer was participation in activities. It is frequently in extracurricular activities that a student is able to develop those qualities of leadership that are an important prerequisite for many jobs. In addition to providing leadership opportunity and experience, social activities directly reflect one's ability to work with others, the capacity to get along with people. Ranked sixth in importance by employers was the number of broad liberal arts courses taken. Here the employer is seeking a breadth of education — broad knowledgeability outside the individual's area of expertise. Frequently the combination of specialized training and broad liberal arts background can open the way for administrative or managerial opportunity. Howard Figler of Carlisle College and author of career-planning books states that those who have a broad education have a special commodity — flexibility. Flexibility, he adds, is essential in rapidly changing job markets, and in a society where jobs sometimes turn inside out within five to ten years. Those with a liberal education are capable of adapting a seemingly unrelated combination of talents to a constantly evolving job description. Knowing what employers are looking for in positive strengths can be very helpful to a prospective employee. It might also be useful to examine some of the shortcomings reported by employers as well. Dr. Endicott, surveying 182 companies employing college graduates, listed the following shortcomings mentioned by employers: 1) Overemphasis on management positions. Expect too much too soon. Reluctant to accept routine training assignments. Unaware of competition for advancement in industry (68 companies). 2) Unrealistic idea of what is expected in business. Inadequate understanding of business (4 8 companies). 3) Lack of ability to write clearly and concisely. Poor writing skill (46 companies). 4) Poor oral expression. Inability to speak effectively (45 companies). 5) Lack of specific goals. Failure to determine career goals. Failure to investigate possible fields of work. Unaware of opportunities in business (23 companies). 6) Overemphasis on degree. Failure to recognize the value of experience and on-the-job training (19 companies). 7) Immaturity. Poor social adjustment (16 companies). Whether you are seeking a position or are comfortably established, by recognizing what employers want — as well as what they do not want — you can build, strengthen and maintain a solid, cordial relationship with your employer.