grads must sell selves to new world of work
By RON McGOWAN
Globe and Mail: Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - Page
For the past hundred years or so, urban society has taken for granted that
most people would get an education, then use their learning to land a job with a
stable organization or company.
We're a society that remains fixated on that 20th-century social artifact -- the
job -- when, in fact, it is being replaced by other forms of employment in the
new world of work.
According to a September, 2003, report from York University, almost 40 per cent
of Canadians are earning a living as temps, part-timers, contract workers or
self-employed consultants, and their numbers are growing. In trend-setting
California, just 33 per cent of the work force has traditional jobs, according
to a study by the University of San Francisco.
"There's no big company anywhere in the developed world that's going to
guarantee anybody lifetime employment any more," U.S. management expert Tom
Peters said in a recent interview.
That's also true of small companies, where most employment opportunities are to
be found these days.
This is the century of off-shoring, outplacement and self-employment, and it's
time to wake up to that reality.The jobs that have gone to places such as India
and China are never coming back.
To find work, today's graduates must be much more entrepreneurial and
sales-oriented than grads in the past.
But they're getting little help in developing these skills. Many of the
administrators and career counsellors at colleges and universities have no
experience in the current volatile, challenging workplace.
It's ironic that the people charged with preparing grads for a life without
long-term employment guarantees are themselves safely ensconced in stable jobs.
Because they don't know any better, most grads approach finding work in much the
same way as their parents and grandparents did. The traditional résumé is seen
as a sacred cow when in fact it is more like a dinosaur.
Instead of a résumé, grads need to be shown how to create marketing letters,
brochures, websites and PDF files that focus on the needs of the firms they're
They must also understand that the key question in the mind of potential
employers is: "How will hiring this person make my life easier?"
Grads know how to look for a job in the newspaper or on the Internet.
What they don't know is how to sniff out the hidden work opportunities that are
never advertised and that represent most of the action.
It is no longer just master of business administration graduates who must think
like entrepreneurs and successfully sell themselves.
People who major in English, art history and psychology have to do it, too, even
if it makes them uncomfortable.
Selling oneself is not about acquiring the gift of gab. Potential employers
don't need a sales pitch.
They want someone who can demonstrate a knowledge of their organization and
industry and the challenges being faced.
For that, good communication skills are vital. Professional sales people are put
through months of intensive training before going in front of a customer. Grads
need to go through the same process.
The onus is also on grads to learn how to research a company before applying for
work, and to be confident they have the skill set that will be helpful to that
Parents who have been downsized find out in a hurry just how much more difficult
it is to find work in today's workplace and how ill-prepared they are to do so.
Students at some universities are already preparing for the new workplace
through Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship Inc. (ACE), a non-profit
organization that provides training on entrepreneurship, along with mentoring
from local entrepreneurs and ACE alumni.
Unfortunately, it has chapters in only about 20 per cent of Canada's colleges
Also helpful is Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), an international non-profit
organization with connections to ACE. It is represented in more than 1,500
universities in 37 countries.
Every student, regardless of faculty, should get involved with these
organizations to help develop their entrepreneurial skills and outlook.
Students also need to shift their thinking about when to start looking for work.
It is an outdated approach to wait until they're close
to graduating or after they've left school. They should work seriously at it for
all of their final year.
Or better still, develop a strategy throughout their college years and sharpen
it as they look for summer jobs.
Effective networking is another necessary skill.
But beware of many so-called networking events where you have a better chance
of being hustled by someone selling life insurance or mutual funds than of
connecting with a decision-maker in your chosen field.
Being active in groups such as ACE and SIFE will go a long way toward developing
meaningful networking skills. Toastmasters International is another group
students should belong to. If there isn't a chapter on campus, they should set
Some chambers of commerce and professional associations offer student
memberships, and those near graduation should get actively involved. Where such
memberships are not available, students should approach the executive members to
set them up.
Administrators and faculty at colleges and universities also need to do more to
connect with potential employers, especially with small businesses.
They need to work more closely with local chambers of commerce, professional
associations and groups such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Being passive members of such associations doesn't cut it; they must be actively
involved in running them to avoid being isolated from the real world.
Co-operative programs have proved successful because
they connect students to the world of work throughout their educational
experience. Faculty members also need that connection. Too many of them have
been in their jobs for 10, 20 or more years and are out of touch with the
environment their students are heading into.
To avoid this, administrators should stop hiring faculty on a full-time basis.
Instead, they should hire consultants, contractors or small-business owners as
part-time faculty. Thanks to years of downsizing, these people are available and
students would be better served by having access to them.
Most colleges and universities already have some type of annual career or job
fair, but these need to be given a much higher profile. That means putting more
money and resources into them and encouraging small businesses to participate.
Our ancestors were self-employed people who earned their livings as contractors,
trades people, craftspeople and small business owners. When the concept of a job
was introduced to them, they thought it was a crazy idea.
It's the ultimate irony that the job, which our ancestors saw as abhorrent, is
something we've become addicted to, and are having great difficulty withdrawing
from, now that it is in decline.
Ron McGowan is a consultant in Vancouver and has recently completed the 2004
edition of his book How to Find Work in the 21st Century.