Category Archives: graduate recruitment

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.

How fast is too fast? Speed interviewing.

Speed interviewing

Would you move in with someone you’d only just met?
I was recently asked by a local journalist for a soundbite on speed interviewing. This is apparently one of the latest job hiring strategies to hit the job market and is seemingly being adopted by an increasing number of companies. The process, pretty much like speed dating, allows both the interviewee and hiring company to assess their potential match. It also exposes the applicant to a large number of hiring companies in a short space of time, as they rotate within a pre-arranged group of recruiters and hiring managers. All of this supposedly maximizes the candidate’s chance of receiving an offer. Speed interviewing is also a great money saver for any employers who want to meet as many candidates as possible in the least amount of time.

Déjà vu
Because I’ve been around for a while, this type of interview process seems to me to be new speak for job fair, a system which was, and still is, commonly used to identify graduate potential at universities. I have attended many myself, on both sides of the counter. Typically, interviews last between 5 -15 minutes and allows large numbers of both candidates and employers to check each other out. At the higher end of the scale the hiring managers and employers are as much under scrutiny by the very top candidates, who usually have their pick of the best offers. As a student, I have vivid memories of the organisations getting the highest numbers, were the ones providing the best food. Apparently even today – pizza works.

I would say that the process has value to the extent that it gives a preliminary overview to both parties, based as it is, on first impression criteria only – such as physical presentation, body language, oral communication skills and so on. Any suggestion that this could be used as a substitute for an in-depth and thorough selection process – fills me with total horror. That was my sound bite! Do I think this is a valuable solution for busy people in today’s world? No I don’t. We spend about 2000 hours a year in the workplace. I think it’s a decision that should be made after careful consideration by both parties.

The thought that this process might be drifting off campus into mainstream recruitment is worrying and I spoke only the other day to a professional person in their early 30s, who recounted an interview experience which was not far removed from what I have just outlined. He described the process as “dehumanising”.

The major weakness of this process, is that a little like it’s namesake ” speed dating“, it’s based on the chemistry between the individuals involved on the day, in that 15 minutes. So in a romantic context, it is highly unlikely that a couple would opt to move in together on the basis of a 15 minute conversation, no matter how well they hit it off. If the duo do get on, a second date would probably be the next step to progress the relationship. One would hope that corporations would exercise the same degree of caution. The risk of making a poor hiring decision leading to low retention rates and ineffective onboarding could be significantly increased. For any candidate, forced under pressure to make a hasty decision, the downsides can also be notable.

Nevertheless, if the system leads to a second interview, it should be taken seriously by all concerned. If it doesn’t, the organisation in my book has question mark on it.

Candidate Preparation
§ Appearance First impressions do count, especially when it comes to speed interviews. Candidates should dress as if they were going to a full interview.
§ Research the companies you wish to target and ask meaningful questions. It could save time later and getting caught up in low value processes or missing a great opportunity.
§ Get the recruiters contact details so you can send your CV by email. Connect with them online afterwards on a professional platform such as LinkedIn.
§ Bring a supply of copies of your resume for anyone who might want one, more than the number of people you have signed up to see. You just never know.
§ Prepare and practise your Elevator Soundbites – you may need several different versions depending on the number of companies you are meeting.

If you are offered a job on the spot, treat this like you would a date. Be flattered, but extremely cautious. You simply don’t know each other well enough to make any committment.

Or putting it another way: would you move in with someone you’d only known for 15 minutes?

Will the university of life make a comeback?

Can careers be launched without a degree?

Graduates are flooding the market in ever-increasing numbers to very uncertain job prospects, many with significant debts to pay off for the privilege. Employers are sifting through thousands of applications from candidates with soft degrees covering courses as disparate as puppetry to the ubiquitous media studies qualification. Large numbers of graduates emerge from the process with seemingly limited life skills and even basic literacy and numeracy deficiencies. Companies complain about the difficulties of identifying talent and recruiters bemoan how woefully unprepared candidates from this age group are for the job search process.

Many parents are asking me the question is it really necessary today to go to university? Could their children launch a successful career without a college degree?

My answer is – that depends.


In general terms there is persuasive research that there is indeed a correlation between completed further education and anticipated future earnings. There are also specific careers where having a university education will certainly be mandatory, simply because of an absolute need to guarantee a high level knowledge base within a certain field. I’m thinking of the traditional “hard” courses: medicine, sciences, engineering or law. I would definitely not want to have an unqualified doctor perform surgery on me, or to cross a bridge not built by an engineer or have untrained chemists create drugs (although many do – but nothing legal). There has been a proliferation of soft courses during times of prosperity and certain vocational occupations where entry previously was via school-leaving qualifications and on the job training, now require a university degree. But will this change in harder economic times?

Strong educational achievements are generally perceived, not necessarily correctly, to be a formal indicator of a higher level of general intelligence, focus and diligence. Those of us that know students, understand well that university can be about none of the above for many. But whether universities produce candidates who are better equipped for the workplace or even life itself is one of fierce debate.

Not having these qualifications does not suggest a lack of these skills or potential abilities – just a lack of proof via an education system. We all know that many successful people whether in business or other sectors did not go to university. Richard Branson, Mary Kay Ash, Bill Gates, Stephen Spielberg to name but a few. We have also been served in restaurants by waiters/waitresses with a whole string of letters after their names.

Economic change

As we have switched to what Peter Drucker describes as a ” knowledge based economy” , there has been a cultural and status shift from working with a product (hands) to working with information (the head). I’m wondering if now, as employers struggle to identify and weed out suitable talent and graduates have difficulty entering the workplace at the right level, how that will change.

Delayed maturity?

Robin Marantz Henig in an article for the New York Times “What is it about 20-somethings?” suggests that this age group are delaying the growing up process. As with most age groups my thoughts are that they are simply responding to the cultural, economic and technological developments of their time. As many countries have increased the number of students that complete further education, creating certain expectations in the process, we have recently seen a reduction of entry-level jobs with the worst economic downturn for many years. Having grown up in a relatively prosperous period, raised by parents who are affluent enough to support their children financially, sometimes until their mid 20s, many are now more than a little lost when those job prospects don’t materialise. They are returning to the family nest as Boomerang Kids, as home in luxury chez mum and dad, is infinitely more appealing than a lower standard house share which is what they can afford – if they can afford anything at all.

The banking system obligingly indulged, or dare I say it, created, a pattern of instant gratification by giving young ( non-working) people extended credit lines. Remember those ads “consolidate all your debts… go on a dream holiday now” and whole businesses grew up around a new trend for taking a gap year or even years, with parents paying thousands for their offsprings to dig a well in Africa or pick grapes in Australia. Technology has made communication instant , so they are not used to waiting ..for anything much at all, which is a source of frustration.


As we move into a period of economic uncertainty where all the goal posts are being moved, workplace structures are changing and I actually suspect it won’t matter how certain skills are acquired. Further education programmes, particularly the softer arts courses, will surely be cut as countries try to address the issues of chronic national debt. One thing to focus on for sure is the acquisition of real marketable skills. This can be done equally well outside a formal education system, as well as within it. Distance and e learning are emerging forces for adding to a qualification portfolio. We are already seeing a gentle return to the creation of old school apprenticeships.

What individuals do with their different experiences is what counts and that is not related to their educational level. Many of us have interviewed enough unemployable, unintelligible masters graduates to know that to be the case. I wonder if for the first time in many years the university of life will make a comeback and lose the stigma that became attached to it.

What do you think?

Boomerang Kids – The New Executive Stress

The main challenge is to find a balance between supporting and enabling

A number of executives have  listed  in recent coaching sessions one of the major sources of stress in their lives as the return to their previously wonderfully empty nest, of unemployed adult offspring. In the vernacular Boomerang Kids.  This is not my area of expertise at all,  other than having a newly graduated son facing a desperate career  market and either unemployment or unpaidemployment (aka internships). The reality is that the thought of any part of his life  (or person) being centred on or  close to my sofa, actually fills us both  equally with horror. But it might happen yet if his best efforts fail.

After multiple mentions in coaching sessions and friends talking endlessly about the same topic, it was clear that some  in-depth  research was required.

This is what I found.

The kids
In 2007, 55 percent of men and 48 percent of women aged 18-to-24 lived with their parents, and certainly those numbers have only grown since the recession hit. In the UK, the most recent labour market survey shows unemployment growing fastest in this age group with employment prospects for the class of 2009 the worst in over 25 years. In the US The Department of Labor reports that the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders under age 27 has is at an all time high since 1983. In addition to a difficult job market, students are graduating with higher debt levels than ever before, with the cost of living outstripping entry-level starting salaries, which have been driven downward (happily for employers) by excess demand they are unable to make their rent money.

Not unsurprisingly kids are returning home to reduce costs. This is damaging to their self-confidence and threatening their budding sense of independence. Young people with high achieving parents are stressed by their inability to meet their parents even unstated expectations. They struggle with the notion that they may have to downgrade their own ambitions and take lower level jobs, as companies have their pick of top graduates from elite universities. In some cases depression kicks in. Factor in  that the kids of baby boomers have been sheltered from hard times and this is possibly the first serious recession which has impacted them. During the last one in the early 90s most of them were less than 10 so can’t be blamed.

My observation  from personal experience, is that they feel anxious, overwhelmed and vulnerable about their long-term abilities to support themselves in the way they had hoped to  ( i.e. have been used to) and with some there is also a certain sense of righteous entitlement. They now exhibit all the usual symptoms of stress. I hear stories of web loafing ,  Laurent Brouat’s great phrase for sitting at the computer, doing nothing productive and  busy-ness , my less great word for being busy when you’re  really not  being productive  at all; erratic schedules (late mornings and even later nights) TV marathons, erratic eating and so on.

The parents
So what is going on for Mum and Dad at this point, my beleaguered executives, as Junior heads home? Any one or all of a number of things.

For the most part this is one of the most stressful period of their lives. If they still have a job they are under severe pressure, or possibly at risk. Otherwise they are unemployed with everything that implies. Pension pots are reduced, their property has decreased in value. Costs are rising. Any plans to downsize and travel in retirement are looking like pipe dreams and the future has become a black hole of anxiety. They might even now have to defer retirement. When in more buoyant times they could have funded their returning child to some degree, that will now put a strain on the family budget. A young adult is now living, or even taking over, their home and creating tension which is percolating into their professional and even marital lives.

For senior executives used to managing teams and being in control, they now have a “team member” who somewhat inconsiderately is not responding at all, or if they are, it’s in a non business fashion.  My C level  execs are contending with door slamming,  feet on coffee tables, pouting and petulance without being able to call HR to fire the kid. Sensitive issues  they would deal with correctly and constructively in the office escalate in the family environment. Two executives reported serious stand offs with their child as tensions  rise. Tendencies to helicopter manage the young person’s job search efforts or activities intensify as does the stress.

Managing transition
The bottom line is that Gen Y and the Boomers are both in transition – but just not the ones they hoped for. Mum and Dad had planned to move effortlessly into their well deserved golden years and Junior was all set to blaze a glowing trail along the career path of choice. Instead, both generations are dealing with stress and anxiety not just about their present lives but their futures too. Result = massive tension and discord.

So is there a solution?
Of course – but the ideal way according to the experts if not always easy and centres on not reverting to the traditional roles  as the carer and cared for, which is what we tend to do in our role as parents. It actually does involve a more business style approach ,including negotiating and agreeing clearly defined ground rules and boundaries.  Pretty much like in the office – but easier said than done at  home for many. It obviously also varies between cultures – in some countries young adults traditionally stay at home longer. So the litmus test is presumably is it a problem?

The main factor according to Diane Viere  a specialist in setting boundaries for adult children, is to learn to make a distinction between “enabling”, doing something for young adults that they could do themselves and ” helping”  them,  i.e.-supporting them constructively on their road to independence. She also advises us parents to beware of the need to control – something we are used to doing in our professional lives.

How to do that?

Close the bank of Mum and Dad:  It may be tempting to bail your kid out financially and protect them with all the luxuries and security of the family home, but this will not help them in the long run. It fails to teach financial responsibility and as most actually want to be independent will end up damaging their self esteem. The best solution is to support them re-structuring their debts thus giving them life skills. It is inadvisable for parents to co-sign credit cards, leases or other loans. If your child misses payments,your credit rating could be damaged. Make a formal contract with them if you need to.

Don’t sacrifice your own financial future. Decide how much you want and can afford to help. Some parents provide more financial support than they can actually afford. One executive I deal with who was the guarantor on her young  adult’s rental agreement found that her son had defaulted on his payment for 6 months. It was Mum and Dad who scrambled around to find the cash, cutting into the pension fund to prevent legal action. Young adults have many years to build their financial security, while you may be only a few years away from your retirement date. Ironically, if you are not careful, you could end up depending on your children for help in your old age.

Home does not = hotel: Insist on responsibilities, which may include paying rent and/or payment in kind, such as taking on household chores. This can often be negotiated. One method is to ask the returning child what he or she believes would be reasonable rent. This is also the area, when not clearly laid out, that can result in the most misunderstandings, as adult children return to old habits of expecting to be taken care of.  If the returning adult is old enough to stay out late, drive a car ( possibly yours) and have adult relationships – they are old enough to take out the trash and cook dinner.

Set out guidelines: covering curfews ( I  am no stranger to the young adult clock and trust me,  it’s not like mine!  ) visitors ( ditto – or like me you may find kids in your kitchen having breakfast at 3 in the afternoon ), smoking  (it is perfectly acceptable to have a house rule ) vehicle usage. Another professional runs a tight ship in the office and was frustrated because her graduate sat in front of the TV all day and refused to do tasks that he considered demeaning ( cutting the grass or washing the car). Mum however did this when she got in from a 10 hour day in the office.

Agree a schedule:  one young grad I recently coached started his day at 0930 and  seriously,  was genuinely taken aback when I expressed surprise at  what  looked very much to me like a lie-in. After coffee, his day kicked off at 1000.   This is not the real world. They need to be up, dressed and good to go in job searching mode for 0900. Looking for a job is their job. It’s about self-discipline and structure. Not only  does it help with getting a job,  but structure and action do reduce anxiety. This is  all hard to monitor if parents work, but a goal I urge entry-level coachees to strive for.

Encourage goal setting: encourage the grad to set him or herself realistic and achievable goals (remember all those SMART/SOLVE workshops you attended as a manager) . Recognise achievements without being indulgent.  They are not in kindergarten. Getting out of bed and making coffee does not count!   Encourage physical exercise , volunteering,  plus social and professional networking.  Gen Y are light years ahead of us in technology, but are sometimes reluctant and inexperienced when it comes to physical actual networking.

Set a deadline: Kids should not be given an open-ended invitation to move back home. A deadline is important; it enables you and your child to measure the progress he/she is making towards becoming independent. If your boomerang kid has a job, perhaps the deadline could be based on a date: After X number of months, he or she will have saved enough to meet X, Y, and Z financial goals and then can move out. If your child is unemployed, perhaps the deadline is based on finding a job or paying off a certain percentage of debt.

Charge rent: Even a nominal amount is advised by the experts, so the young adult feels he or she is contributing something. It’s a good idea to write up a rental agreement and stick to the payments on a regular basis. Whether you do this on a scientific basis of a percentage of actual bills or on a felt fair basis is up to you, or simply operate a barter economy. Chores for cash.

If your Boomerang Kids are unemployed over a  long period without success in their job search, then seeking professional support is a must. Most countries operate programmes for young people  within the community. If they are graduates  they may still may be eligible for support from their alma mater colleges.

With all these strategies firmly in place, the executives should then be able to get on with their own lives… right? .

Watch this space!

Unpaid Internships: Opportunity or Exploitation?

Job opportunities for the class of 2009 have dipped even lower than the last major drop of the early ’80s. Career prospects are looking bleak for entry level candidates. Many graduates are now scrambling around trying to figure out what they can do to create some sort of future for themselves, while at the same time coping with blows to their confidence, financial security and independence. Many are applying to take Masters Courses to try and gain further qualifications in the hope of achieving a more competitive edge in 2010. Others are taking non graduate or temporary jobs.

A final group are looking at internships to try and build up some work experience.  However, many are finding some employers are expecting these young people to work without pay. That’s right for nothing. I have mixed thoughts about this. On the one hand I can see how any opportunity is better than none. It is also a difficult time when highly experienced older people are being laid off, or being asked to reduce their hours and salaries or to take unpaid extended holidays. The skill sets of these young people are currently not great – but they do represent future investment, not just for companies, but for whole economies.

Who can benefit?
What bothers me is who is actually able to take advantage of these unpaid intern schemes? It seems that only graduates in financially advantageous situations can profit from this development, where they are able to support themselves for 6 months with no income at all. With student debt  rising ( in the UK the average is reported to be £15,700, but according to the National Union of Students goes up to as much as £26k) already loans are going to take up to 12 years to pay back. Alternatively, more affluent parents are stepping in to financially support their graduate offspring in their efforts to gain any type of work experience. Other families are reaching deep into their pockets to pull out money they can’t really afford, thus jeopardising their own financial futures.

Free labour?
I recently coached a young adult, the son of a service employee, a talented quadri- lingual business graduate, who interviewed in a London based, international holding company for an intern position.  The young man’s salary demand was a subsistence allowance, which would barely cover his living costs. However, the employer made it clear that the expectation was that the position would be unpaid. The graduate clearly tried to negotiate some sort of basic compensation, but was unwilling to risk bad relations and any future employment opportunities by pushing too hard. But he simply couldn’t afford to take the job.

I would have thought, and hoped, that showing you can negotiate for yourself, is an indication that you can indeed negotiate for the company.  Unwilling to get deeper into debt and his family unable to help to support a period in a high cost city like London, he was obliged to walk away. I researched the company and I promise you, they are far from being in the red.

How far do they self advoate?
The dilemma that these kids experience is how hard do they self advocate? How far do they go and how much debt do they get into, just to have something on their CV?  Having run graduate recruitment and entry level schemes in my career, I know that this level require training and supervision to be fully and correctly utilised  to gain any valid experience. Without that, unless they are very lucky, they will end up doing routine,  low level clerical jobs.

Corporate gain
To me that is pure exploitation of the market for corporate gain.  There have always been certain sectors where interns are expected to work just to have the experience: fashion and film are just two that spring to mind. But there was usually some sort of opportunity in the distance. With full economic recovery projected as being in 2014, how long will the class of 2009 have to wait?

It also means that  less well off graduates, despite having equal qualifications will  struggle to compete with graduates from more affluent families.