Monday, August 11, 2008

In my day..........

I’m a proud Gen-X kid. I grew up in the 80s, I have had lots of jobs and I had to work to get to where I am. Until recently, I felt quite good about what I have been able to achieve in my life.

Introduce Gen-Y to the workforce. Employers have no choice but to hire them, but how do you do it? I have always thought of first impressions as being extremely important, particularly regarding the pursuit of employment. When I interview or screen a candidate, their resume, cover letter or email, followed by the first interview should give an interviewer enough to make a decision. Second and third interviews are often a technicality.

A few years a go we used to have a problem in our Graduate recruitment program cutting down the number of suitable interviewees. Now we struggle to find a handful we want to interview.

Gen-Y presents a problem here. The resumes are not particularly good. They often interview like an American used car salesman (bravado but no substance) or arrogantly, like they already have the job, their emails and letters make them appear semi-literate, and more and more of them are being caught lying on resumes in order to inflate their experience.

The interview – the bravado is easy to deal with, but it is frustrating. Experience still counts for a lot in most industries, and trying to sell yourself based on “front” won’t fool the experienced interviewer. The arrogance of some Gen-Ys in interview can have a twofold effect. If they get a job they can’t do, because a naïve interviewer believes the hype, then failure may not be far away, and this will cost the candidate and the employer. On the other hand, the arrogance could be well placed, but an experienced interviewer will be justifiably concerned about the candidates cultural fit.

Emails and cover letters – my education has been concentrated around the Arts. I studied literature & media, and I read copiously (not “get rich” and “self help” books written by shyster American gurus). Perhaps my expectations of the level of literacy of a University Graduates are a little high, but I hope for correct spelling, capitalization and punctuation. I would also expect a little research into the company and industry to which the individual is applying. Unfortunately I am often disappointed, and frequently perplexed. I find myself asking “how can a person achieve a Business Degree without being able to communicate in writing?”

Just to be clear, an application letter written in “text speak” (Gr8, Lol, smiley faces etc) are not acceptable. Addressing selection criteria does not mean cutting and pasting the job advertisement into your letter. My favourite, remember to change the name of the recipient, the company, the industry and the job title in your application letter. If the company you are applying to is in Telecommunications, be sure to remove statements such as “I have always dreamed of working in banking”.

The resume – many people have problems with resumes. What to put in, what to leave out, what do I put in if I am a graduate with no experience? The golden rule is DON’T LIE. Lies have a habit of catching up with you, particularly if you stick around for a little while in the same or related industries. I know one person who lied about his age and experience back in the 90s. It took a while, but word got around. He made it to a fairly senior role before it bit him on the ass, but because he was in a senior and high profile role, he looked even more foolish and had a lot more to lose.

There is a fine line between exaggeration and lying, and it is mainly this kind of subterfuge that is employed by Gen-Ys. The best example of this is another person I know. This person is quite junior, with maybe three years commercial experience. Impatient to make it to the top, this person exaggerated their most significant work experience and inflated the importance of their previous roles, which were a casual/summer job during University and a money making hobby. As they stayed in the same industry, it did not take long before it was discovered that this person over-sold their skills and experience. Unfortunately, they were interviewed by an inexperienced interviewer, who did not find the lack of referees from their longest employer as unusual.

As this is still going on, there has been no resolution. What can be said is that the employer is working out how to deal with the situation, and the person in question will not easily find another similar position.

Ambition and enthusiasm are brilliant traits in an employee. Ruthlessness and bravado can only get someone so far at the beginning of a career. Not everyone can be a millionaire and retire at 40. It isn’t possible.

I have been overtaken in my career by less qualified people who are years younger than I am because they were willing to do things that I would find deplorable, but if we Gen-Xers are to compete in this job market, we may need to sharpen the knives, forget our loyalties, play the politics game and work smarter. At least there will be more substance behind the exaggeration, and at least we can spell.

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