Category Archives: Communication skills

The declining art of conversation and Gen Y recruitment

Much has been written about the need for changes that employers should make in order to attract and retain Millenials. We have seen a veritable outbreak of company Facebook pages, inter-active web sites,  Twitter accounts, mentoring  programmes and the like. But as one client mentioned recently after a less than effective graduate recruitment job fair, an additional challenge is even more basic: to identify the best entry-level talent.

I’m not even talking about text-speak or spelling errors on CVs,  but basic social inter- action during the interview process which is generally the backbone of most hiring systems. Modern technology has impacted us in many ways. Many are positive. Some are not.

Good on paper only
The platforms that are typically used and relied upon for entry-level screening are telephone interviews, video calls, job fair meetings and regular face to face interviews.   Candidates are then frequently advanced to testing processes and more rigorous interviews.  Today, undeveloped interpersonal skills means that many capable candidates don’t present well causing increased difficulties for those in the hiring process  to make an accurate preliminary triage. Clients are reporting the growing cost ineffectiveness of job fairs as a result of this down turn in social skills.  Many candidates with pre-submitted CVs,  look great on paper but are under-performing in the face to face interview. So although we know that Millenials communicate and socialise differently to other generations, at some point they do have to engage with people outside their age group. What happens when skills core to the talent indentification process are defficient?

Diminished interpersonal skills
Sherry Turkle in her excellent article the  Flight from Conversation eloquently portrays the downsides of the trend to block out communication and conversation on a whole generation who are “alone together”.   University Career Directors both at undergraduate and MBA  level report a global pandemic of students mentally checking out of their classes and using Smart Phones and lap tops to log onto Facebook and email accounts during lectures. When I asked an MBA workshop group to turn off their phones for my session, one participant reacted as if I was contravening his civil liberties. At a recent Italian job fair a client cut a  candidate because he responded to an incoming text in the middle of the interview. It is not for nothing that Blackberries have been dubbed “Crackberries”.

But is the interview texter an unempathetic communicator or merely demonstrating multi- tasking skills?  The poor presenter might have excellent potential and skills that are simply not evident. We just don’t know.

First impressions unreliable
First impressions are made in less than 15 seconds. In a situation where social skills are under developed and candidates are unable to make that key engagement with an interviewer as they should  (poor eye contact, the ability to listen and tune into cues from the whole range of body language and voice tone) , which is critical in an interview, how do recruiters sort out the wheat from the chaff?

Here are some solutions currently being considered:

  • Online testing: One response from a number of companies seems to be a growing shift to mass online testing prior to personal screening, using outsourced organisations such as SHL , or in-house assessment centres.  Follow-up procedures include further assessment tools before finally personal interviews to evaluate cultural fit and social skills.
  • Network recommendations:  seem to be becoming increasingly important and will favour candidates with strong personal networks possibly via well-connected family members or previous experience. In today’s economic climate this is not easy to come by and as we have seen with the flourishing unpaid intern sector both possibilities put less well placed candidates at a disadvantage. This is also a demographic which networks widely via Facebook,  but generally hasn’t started to develop a professional network.
  • Modifications to onboarding programmes : to incorporate  communication skills training into in-house programmes sooner rather than later have been suggested. Whether this will provide the catch-up programme required remains to be seen.

Gen Y workers are some of the most independent-minded and tech-savvy workers employers have encountered. Changing recruitment models seems to be necessary not just to attract the best candidates, but to identify them too.

But the significant overall message to Millenial job seekers is to switch off  the lap top, iPad or Smart Phone  and practise the old-fashioned art of conversation.

Those with social skills will be ahead of the game.