I just got back from a College of Business Advisory Board meeting at my alma mater, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. Thanks to the State of Illinois, I got my BS and MBA degrees from there— a good education, cheap. Serving on this board is one of the few things I do to try to give back a little. It’s fun, plus I get to hang out with some neat people. Several are independently wealthy investors. The bulk of the members are presidents and CEOs of a wide variety of organizations. A few others came from powerful public sector positions. Then there are all the professors and administrative staff, some of which are old friends and some new.Of course, it’s appalling to learn how woefully behind the college is with respect to information technology infrastructure. We also heard all the complaints about how the university overall (run mostly by English majors, I think) doesn’t understand why business and engineering professors cost more than those in the school of journalism!One of the best aspects of these trips is the chance to interact with students. I guest-lectured in three or four classes and sat in on some roundtable discussions with students where I (and others) answered their questions on a variety of job search issues. We were repeatedly asked for our opinions on the kinds of skills that employers are searching for today. Here’s some of what we told the young soon-to-be graduates.Do what you like, not what you think pays the best. This is good advice that most of us got early on. If they don’t like what they are doing, at some point they won’t want to do it. Then they’ll have to go back to square one and do something different later in life. That may not be the way to win the game! We told them to pick what they like and build on it. They won’t have to force themselves to get up every day! Nobody knows exactly what they want to do, but don’t let the employers know that. Rarely do people know precisely what they want to do when they are getting out of college. Yet they often know the kinds of things they don’t want to do. That can be helpful in narrowing down the options. And they often know the kinds of things they like to do— for example, drawing, working on a computer, or dealing with people. We advised these young folks to be positive, act like they know what they want, but be flexible, too. It’s not easy. But the worst thing is to land in front of a potential employer at an interview and sound like you don’t have a clue! Take a good look at smaller companies. The big firms are the biggest on-campus recruiters. But many times, smaller firms offer a more wide-ranging career experience. That’s what we told the young people. And let me add that this advice was given by several panelists who started out in large firms themselves! Move fast, walk fast, talk fast, and do fast. This was echoed by all of us. Young people looking for jobs (or in their first jobs) would be served well by heeding this advice. Do everything fast! Nothing is worse than someone who moves like a slowpoke through the halls, especially a young person. You wonder, “What’s wrong with her?” Have a good work ethic. Everyone likes to see job candidates who worked during their school years. It just sends out the right signal about your ability to stick with a job and get it done. If a young person can go to school and work at the same time, that also shows time management skills. No one wants new employees who have to get used to the idea of working on top of learning how to actually do the job! Master basic computer skills. If they cannot turn on a computer and navigate their way around Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Exchange, or Excel, they are going to have a hard time at first as a new employee. Today, these skills are expected of everyone. It’s essential. Young people need to know how to type, know how to find information on the web, and know how to do a mail merge letter. If they can’t do these things, they will be at a disadvantage.So there you have it— advice to the youngsters from the “Golden Oldies.” If you’re hiring young people in your firm right now, see how they stack up compared to this advice. And if you have kids getting out of school soon, pass this along to them!Originally published 10/04/1999.
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