Hiring Recent Grads: Their Story Is Not Yet Written

By Danny Cahill, the author of HARPER’S RULES: A Recruiter’s Guide to Finding a Dream Job and the Right Relationship.

Conventional wisdom says you don’t hire recent college grads. They “don’t even know what they don’t know” is the lament. I know. I love that! You hire the guy/woman who “knows everything,” and I’ll take the recent grad who is incapable of whining, who smiles, who laughs, who has so much energy it is contagious, and who is happy to be wherever he or she is.

I have never heard a college grad sigh. I don’t see them roll their eyes. And I never hear this: “I am who I am, and I accept who I am, and it is what it is. Nothing is likely to change now.” The previous generation experienced a backlash from their parent’s “live to work” ethos and adopted a “work to live ethos,” but today’s college grads, if you’ll let them, have found a new, fantastic argot: “work and live.” They do not separate the two. There is no clock to punch and no real life to start once they do. They are all in, all day.

But they need our help as employers.

 According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, hiring of recent grads was down 20% from 2008 levels last year, and this year is only slightly better. Their average starting salary is down 1.7% and only 24% of them have jobs waiting for them when they graduate. Only 51% of them work in a job that requires a college degree.

Or as the comedian Kathleen Madigan says to her college audiences: “Too bad you guys are coming out just as America is going out of business.”

I train salespeople for my staff and hundreds of other companies. And while I will hire anyone who shows me the attributesof a recent grad, I often hire recent grads, and it is the secret of my success. And let’s be bold here, I’m not talking just about your sales staff, I’m talking about hiring and training recent grads and other NOT YET unqualified people for other IT and accounting and HR jobs. Other than some technically dependent jobs (and healthcare, not saying hand them the scalpel), I’m suggesting you experience the joy of training someone who truly wants to be in the room with you.

But they have no life experience, you say. They don’t really understand business. Or the slacker lament … they don’t work hard, they have a sense of entitlement. Nonsense! While a contrarian by nature, I don’t hire grads just to be difficult. Here’s what I find:

  • TELL THEM WHAT AND NOT HOW.I was 22 years old when I started in recruiting as an English major. We interviewed all the candidates before we sent them to companies. It took a long time. I suggested we do telephone reference checks instead of interviewing. Maybe the clients didn’t care if we “screened” them. It made way too much sense for anyone who was immersed in the culture to see. It is now standard procedure in all recruiting firms. Tell the trainee what needs to be done, leave the how to them, and get out of their way.
  • SLACKERS NEVER SLEEP.They may stay at their parents until they’re 30 and they may have grown up not keeping score in Little League, but the “entitlement” tag is undeserved. Thanks to mobile computing they are ALWAYS connected. They have NO downtime and best of all, they don’t want any!! My people are on Facebook with their clients at 11 pm, setting up meetings as they walk out of the late showing of a movie while on a date. They don’t feel put upon, they feel put upon when they have to power down for the movie!
  • SYSTEMS TRAINING? SERIOUSLY? When we’re not training recent grads, we have to have one class on how to cut, and then take a break before they learn pasting, let alone the myriad of functions in our SAS system. Recent grads can teach the class within an hour, and are usually bored to tears. They grew up with this stuff! This increases productivity more than “3-5” years of experience at the same endeavor, with none of the bias.
  • THEY JUST CAME FROM A LEARNING CULTURE. Uh, college? Most of us put our plastic smiles on our faces when our mid career trainees say they “maybe a little rusty” since it’s been a long time since they had to learn a new culture/process/product/protocol, but the recent grads are dialed in to learning. They catch on faster as a result. Your business they don’t know, learning something new? Natch!
  • THEY WILL DO WHAT YOU TELL THEM.Recent grads think you’re GOD. They’re amazed at ALMOST anything you say. “Come in early and check your calendar? WOW, see I would have never thought of that, thanks, Boss, you rock!!” The mid career folks roll their eyes, they didn’t do it your way in their last job and they don’t plan on starting now. The recent grads think you’re God, the Mid career folk know it isn’t true. They know they are God.
  • WHAT IS EXPERIENCE WORTH ANYWAY?Oscar Wilde said, “experience is the name we give to our mistakes.” You say no one could do the job without five year’s experience? Really? Don’t we all know someone who has five year’s experience who really has one year’s experience five times over? And have you ever had the thrill of the recent grad, filled with verve and hope and unfamiliar with disappointment or loss, who gets five year’s worth of experience in one year?

You can tell I am a big believer in hiring recent grads. And yes, part of it is because it is how I started. I bought my company at 26 years old and never looked back. The young don’t think they are young while they are young, it never occurred to me 26 was too young to borrow money, enter into a 10 year buy out contract of the previous owner and risk bankruptcy. I was told after the fact that 80% of new companies fail. I wasn’t’ courageous, I simply had never heard that trite statistic. (not that I would have thought for a moment it would apply to me.)

It will take recent grads a while to ramp up, I don’t deny that. But the ramp up is often hilarious, they hit the ramp running, go at it happy and hard, and live in the present. We could solve all our training and most of our hiring problems today if you would do as I do and purposely hire people who are not Unqualified, but simply NOT YET qualified. Emerson said “wisdom is a function, not of age, but of soul.”

But be warned. One thing you hear about recent grads is true. They don’t “endure” life. They have no interest in the baby boomer credo, “suck it up.” They are out to enjoy their lives, and if your company’s product becomes obsolete, if your management lacks vision, if your market is limited, they will offer to fix it, cause that would be fun. And if you say no, they will move on. And you know what, they’re right to do so!

Hiring and training the young might very well keep you young, but if it doesn’t, managing them surely will!

DANNY CAHILL is the author of HARPER’S RULES:  A Recruiter’s Guide to Finding a Dream Job and the Right Relationship.  A popular keynote speaker and recruiter, he is the owner of Hobson Associates, one of America’s largest search firms.  He is also the founder of www.AccordingtoDanny.com, an online training and mentoring company dedicated to enhancing the skills and jump-starting the spirits of recruiters worldwide.  For more information, please visit www.harpersrules.com or www.hobsonassoc.com.

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