Why Hiring Managers’ Expectations for New College Graduates May Be Unrealistic

The employment market for the college Class of 2019 is filled with paradoxes. Employers are hiring at record levels, but their complaints about a skills gap among recent college graduates are widespread. Hiring managers say that many of these new entrants to the workplace simply aren’t ready to tackle the duties they will face on Day One. However, many HR professionals and company recruiters complain that the expectations of line managers and their bosses simply aren’t realistic, especially in a very tight job market.

“We consistently hear employers talk about the massive skills gap between what new college graduates are equipped to do and what employers need them to do,” said Breanne Harris, country manager for Cubiks, a talent management and assessment company based in Chicago. “The problem is that employers keep raising the bar higher and higher. At some point it becomes a barrier to entry.”

It’s the labor market version of the Goldilocks principle:

Some jobs are too big.A recent survey by TalentWorks found that 61 percent of more than 95,000 full-time jobs for entry-level employees in the U.S. required at least three years or more of experience.

“Employers are loath to hire candidates who haven’t already proven they can do the job, due to risk of a bad hire or higher churn,” said Ryan Craig, co-founder and managing director of University Ventures, an investment firm focused on the higher-education sector. “They’re trying to mitigate the risk by requiring experience, which essentially defeats the purpose of having entry-level positions.”

Some jobs are too small. Forty-three percent of college graduates are underemployed in their first job, meaning that the jobs they hold don’t require a four-year degree, according to a recent report from Burning Glass Technologies, an analytics software company. This can lead to new-employee disengagement, lower productivity and high turnover among recent hires.

And some jobs are just right.Just as Goldilocks had to go through a process of trial and error to figure out the best fit, both employers and new graduates may need to experiment with a range of options, including enhanced internship opportunities and apprenticeships.

The Internship Advantage

It’s unrealistic for employers to expect new college graduates to have at least three years of work experience when they first enter the job market. However, high-quality internships are proving to be an effective way to close that gap. “Hiring an intern is a win-win situation,” said Liz Wessel, co-founder and CEO of WayUp, a networking platform for early-career professionals in New York. “At its most basic, a company derives the benefit of an extra set of hands to help out while the intern gets valuable experience, training and contacts for the future.”

Internships are also an important way for small and midsize businesses to build talent pipelines and potentially compete for talent with larger, more-prestigious corporations.

In 2018, Emma Hyams graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in economics. While in college she had four internships with three different tech companies. After her internship with the third company, WayUp, ended, the firm contracted with her to work remotely on special projects.

After she graduated, she was recruited by several employers. However, WayUp was willing to create a job for her as an associate product manager of data tools, since it had seen firsthand her skills and interest in data analytics and product science. Hyams says she is hopeful it will lead to a career path in product marketing.

“It wasn’t a hard decision to accept the offer,” she said. “Since we had already worked together, it mitigated the risk for both of us.”

Attracting the Best and Brightest

“Many small businesses can’t flex the recruiting muscle that bigger companies have, but if you’re offering intern-geared perks, like hands-on experience, you might be able to snag quite a bit of talent,” said Mike Kappel, CEO of Patriot Software, an online accounting and payroll company in Canton, Ohio.

Patriot recruits interns from nearby colleges, and they receive the same work assignments as entry-level employees. Those who stand out often receive job offers, Kappel said.

“Many companies use a haphazard approach to hiring interns that is more expedient than strategic,” said Mary Scott, founder of the Scott Resource Group, a research and consulting company in West Hartford, Conn. “Companies that plan to convert interns into full-time employees need to bring the same rigorous criteria to their hiring of interns as they do to hiring new graduates for entry-level positions.”

One successful example of that approach is Ally Financial, a Detroit-based financial services company that relies on its internship program to help address talent shortages. Interns have filled jobs requiring specialized skills that many newly graduated finance majors don’t have.

Recruiters like those at Ally have spent years forging strategic relationships with local colleges, recruiting interns from the automotive marketing and management program at Northwood University in Midland, Mich., for example, to work on its auto finance and insurance teams. And adding interns from Wayne State University has helped the company advance its diversity and inclusion initiatives.

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