It’s college graduation season again and another wave of millennials is leaving the campus setting and journeying out into the workaday world. But are they prepared for the workplace? And what do prospective employers look for when recruiting from this youthful demographic?
Students with a strong academic record are preferred for hiring, according to experts surveyed by the Business Journal, but employers do not automatically tap new graduates based solely on the strength of their grade-point averages. Ryan Gatto, regional vice president in the White Plains office of Robert Half International, noted that his clients have particular demands when considering new college graduates. “They are looking for students with very good GPAs — usually a minimum of 3.0 — and who can show the ability to work as part of a team,” he said. “And they want someone with problem-solving skills.”
“Students think if they have an A in a class, they are a perfect candidate for a job,” said Pamela Pirog, chairperson of the business department at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. “That is not true.”
The notion of the typical millennial as tech-savvy can help job applicants in some situations. At Stamford-based Pitney Bowes, for example, the company is particularly interested in millennial candidates with a talent for creating high-tech solutions. Elizabeth Glaser, Pitney Bowes director of global integrated talent management, said that a team of millennials is now at work developing a proprietary software program for the company’s digital commerce business.
“They are the future leaders of our organization,” she said. “The baby boomers are exiting and Generation X is not as large — the millennial population is much more sizable.”
Some corporate recruiters are concerned that millennials who are too dependent on smartphones and digital media might be ill-prepared and uncomfortable at communicating directly with potential employers and co-workers.
“I see young people out together for dinner or at the beach or having lunch and often they are not talking to each other — but they are all looking down at their phones,” said Karen Russo, chief talent officer at K. Russo Consulting, an executive recruiting agency in Riverside. Russo said the acronyms and emojis commonly used in social media communications are creating offline language problems.
“Texting is another reason why using basic grammar, capitalization and spelling is not considered important,” she said. “Hence, all of the acronyms and abbreviations — but the use of this new language in a face-to-face social situation puts many at a disadvantage.”
But Beth Farrell, who joined Pitney Bowes as a marketing specialist last August and graduated from college three years ago, laughed dismissively at the stereotype of her cellphone-obsessed generation. “Every generation is on their cell phone,” she said. “We’re in a digital world and the cell phone can make it easy to help you with work.”
The speed-driven protocol of online messaging can leave some young employees with unrealistic expectations in their workplaces, according to some in the employment recruiting industry.
“The challenge comes from the instant response and feedback they get from being on websites,” said Gatto at Robert Half. “They also look for that in their careers. But depending on the career path they choose, they will not get that instant feedback from their work or from their managers.”
“They don’t want to pay their dues,” said Allison Madison, president of Madison Approach Staffing in Elmsford in Westchester County. “They want the high-power position out of the gate. They take the job and are impatient to learn — they just want to take the corner office.”
Traditional networking too can present challenges to young employees who prefer online connections. Attorney Eric L. Green, partner at Stamford’s Green & Sklarz LLC, observed that some younger lawyers do not make an effort to mingle and establish person-to-person contact with their peers at professional functions.
“When I started out, I paid my own way to the American Bar Association tax section meetings,” he said. “My network from that has grown exponentially. Today, I can call most senior people at the Treasury Department and get them on the phone. I never thought that I’d say it, but maybe belonging to a fraternity in college is a good thing — it forces you to talk to people.”
Joseph D. Roberto, chairman, president and CEO of PCSB Bank in Yorktown Heights, rued that some of today’s college graduates are coming to the workplace without the maturity and focus needed for this chapter in their lives.
“We’ve seen that in some of the temporary summer help,” he said, referring to his bank’s summer intern program. “It seems that they are just not ready to be part of the professional arena.”
Roberto has hired several millennials that first came to his bank as summer interns. And the bank offers tuition reimbursement to millennial employees who pursue higher education after putting in a full day’s work.
“We will reimburse for all college courses,” he said. “We will provide full reimbursement if their scores are 90 or higher, a little bit lower if they score between 80 and 90, and even lower if they score between 70 and 80. We use this as incentive for them to succeed.”
To help students achieve success in their later careers, many colleges and universities try to prepare them for the workplace and the intricacies of professional life. Videotaped sessions that simulate job interviews, for example, are frequently used to provide students with an immediate understanding of the strengths and deficiencies in their presentations.
Sacred Heart University in Fairfield hosts network etiquette receptions with alumni and local professionals to give students a preview of what to expect when dealing with business peers of different generations. But Sean Heffron, director of the student experience at Sacred Heart, noted the introductory networking doesn’t always go as planned. “Some students sort of rush the food and stand there eating,” he said with a sigh.
Russo said the attitudes shown by some young prospective employees might be a response to a professional environment that is not as rigid as it was years ago, while the trends toward casual attire in the workplace and telecommuting may contribute to many graduates not appreciating the value of behaving like a business professional.
“Since many jobs can be remote, people forget that knowing when to dress appropriately, professionally, or at least in a clean manner is important,” she said. “The soft skills are the issue here.”
The erosion of corporate loyalty has been accelerated by a new wave of graduates for whom job-hopping is the only way to approach a career.
Phil Kuchma, owner of Kuchma Corp., a construction and real estate management firm in Bridgeport, said one of his greatest problems in hiring is the transience of younger employees and the fear that today’s new hire will be gone in less than a year. “They tend not to commit early in life to stay in a particular place,” he said. “With my generation and generations before mine, people got a job with a company, either blue-collar or professional, and felt relatively certain they could work there until they retired. There is not that type of loyalty for employers today.”
Kuchma also observed that smaller cities like Bridgeport tend to have problems attracting and keeping millennial employees, who seem more interested in the larger metro markets. Fran Pastore, president and CEO of The Women’s Business Development Council of Connecticut, echoed that concern when recalling her problems in finding a millennial candidate to fill a vacant program manager position in her Stamford office.
“In Connecticut, there is not a glut of people looking for work,” she said. “We had a job that pays $50,000 open for about eight months, but we had less than 10 qualified applicants. And we sent our job description to just about every college and university.”
At Pitney Bowes, Glaser said the company is cognizant of the transitioning difficulties that some millennials face when taking on their first full-time jobs and often provides a “buddy,” a slightly older colleague who can guide a new employee through the ways of the workplace.
“This is purposely different from mentoring,” she said. “Mentoring is part of the development plan we have for employees. The buddy helps with the early onboarding process.”