I had to buy a lawnmower this weekend. Doing so reminded me that the last time I bought one was almost 20 years ago and it was because someone stole it out of the back of my truck. We got a lot of use out of it so it was sad to see it go up in an epic black cloud of smoke in my front yard. The timing was awkward because just last week I’d replaced the air filter and spark plug. It was running almost TOO WELL. I guess it was more than its aged innards could stand.
This week I also read an interesting article from Geordie McClelland about entry-level (i.e., recent graduates) resumes: http://tinyurl.com/mtkdu53.
In it he rightly points out that new grads rarely have the tangible, job-related experience base and accomplishments that a mid-career or later job seeker requires. Employers will still ask for experience, but instead you are mostly evaluated for your “soft” skills. Things like communication, problem solving, and collaboration are critical to your entry-level success. This is despite the fact that many employers still haven’t gotten the memo that a 22 year old who has been in school since age 3 generally doesn’t have 5 years of professional accomplishments or experience with the specific software and tools they’ll use in their organization. The answer, in his piece, is to structure your resume in a way that highlights your mastery of transferrable skills. Relate your soft skills to the qualifications required for the job.
So now I go back to the lawnmower I had to buy. Six summers ago my son came to me and said he wanted to earn some money. I told him that I’d pay him to keep the lawn up. The agreement was, I wanted the yards (front and back) to look neat as I left for work on Monday. If he made that happen, I’d pay him. I’d also pay for the equipment (like the new lawnmower) and supplies (plugs, air filters, gas) so he wouldn’t have any out of pocket costs. His role was to execute by supplying labor and “project management.”
It was up to him to schedule watering and cutting. If he did it on Saturday or Sunday that was cool. But if he did it too early and the lawn looked shabby by Monday that wasn’t ok. If he did it Monday after I left it was too late. Additionally, it was up to him to do all the stuff to achieve the goal of making the lawn look good. That includes edging, weed trimming, raking, and sweeping.
The only thing he gets paid for is the end result, a good looking yard. He doesn’t get paid for each step. Nor does he get a do-over if he forgets to do what he needs to do. He simply misses that pay day. This set up works well. He gets gas money for his Jeep. I get a neat yard (he actually does a better job than I do, so I’m REALLY ok with that part!) But best of all, he learns how to manage a project. He learns how to critically evaluate his work and solve any problems that may arise (what do I do if it starts raining? what if the weed trimmer runs out of cord and there is none left? how high should I cut the grass to avoid “scalping” the yard?)
This arrangement and the article I mentioned were in the back of my mind as I thought about the new Career Research class we launched this semester. Some students are put off by the class’s lack of structure. In reality, there is structure, just not what they are used to. One student put it this way, “College students just want a list of tasks to do with values for doing them.” In other words, they don’t want to manage a project. They simply want a series of assignments and then a quiz after each one.
My Human Resources career began in manufacturing. In those factories we employed mostly low-wage employees in jobs that required more organizational skills than accomplishing a series of steps. We expected them to set production schedules, acquire resources, and address productivity issues of others on the team. For that, we paid them a dollar or two above minimum wage.
Most students tell me they expect a salary well above $18K per year. Yet, if all you do is act on someone else’s list and be rewarded for each step, you aren’t even doing what companies expect of their low-wage workforce. For those of you who want less than that you can follow the pictures in fast food (a list of tasks…) to make a burger or burrito.
I work with a team of recruiters (our Career Coaches) and interact with employers to develop the Career Professionalism classes. As a result, these classes are not the same as your subject-matter focused classes because the desired outcome is different. The goal of these classes is action; securing an entry level job before graduation, or growth in your current position. To do that, you can’t just do a list of things and expect a job to appear. You don’t get a job because you memorized facts about employment; you get a job because you learn what needs to be done, you plan out your activity, you acquire the skills you need to succeed, and you execute what you need to do without someone laying it out for you.
My son gets a reward for managing his lawn project. To get to the point of doing it with ease he had to seek out resources and instructions, gather needed resources, and execute what he learned needed to be done. As an entry level sales person, financial analyst, HR coordinator, or whatever it is you seek to do, you will be rewarded for managing projects. You may get lots and lots of training, but the reality is that you probably won’t. You’ll have to learn to seek out your own answers by looking things up (Google the verb, not the noun), seeking your own training (amazing what you can learn on YouTube), and leveraging the sources of information you discovered in school (websites, subject matter experts, news sources, etc.) to do the work that is assigned to you. Because if all you’re doing is a list of things someone else lays out, you aren’t “managing” anything.