With a sparkling new degree in hand and a well-deserved sense of accomplishment after four (or five or six) years of hard work, college graduates understandably feel excited to take on the challenges of building a career in the information technology sector. Most of 2017’s grads also probably feel that their alma mater has fully prepared them for joining today’s IT workforce, providing the skills and insights necessary for them to get their dream job.
Many of the people in charge of those dream jobs disagree.
A 2016 report from PayScale revealed a disconnect between how prepared grads think they are and what hiring managers actually think. While 87% of grads feel like they are ready for the big-time, only 50% of hiring managers feel the same way. This concern about Millennials’ “skills gap” is even greater among Gen-Xers and Boomers who are in charge of hiring, with only 47% and 48%, respectively, believing recent grads are prepared for full-time employment.
So, what are today’s grads missing? Why are employers so dubious about the skill sets of budding young professionals in the IT industry and throughout the up-and-coming workforce?
Most of the concerns aren’t about technical competence or ability – the “hard skills” involved in performing a job’s essential tasks. Rather, employers see shortcomings in “soft skills” – things like emotional intelligence, communication and interpersonal skills, and personal management. That brilliant new employee may be at the top of their game with their head down, burning through lines of code hour after hour, but when they get up from their desk, can they have a human conversation with their coworkers or superiors? Do they show respect and an openness to collaborating with others, or does every interaction seem like an imposition? Are they responsive, open to suggestions and constructive criticism, and willing to learn? In sum, do they conduct themselves professionally?
The truth is, even the best universities may not spend enough time preparing graduates for the realities of the modern workforce. And companies moving at lightning speed don’t have the time to train people in basic workplace etiquette, attitude, and protocols when they expect new hires to hit the ground running.
The biggest “soft skill” employers found lacking is the ability to effectively communicate, both verbally and in writing. Because Millennials spend so much time communicating through technology and digital media; their verbal communication skills are rusty. Instead of picking up the phone and calling the client or setting up a meeting, it is their inclination to text because it's more efficient in their mind. But for those who didn’t grow up using their thumbs as their preferred way of communication, having a younger employee communicate through texts can be seen as disrespectful or lazy.
Texting and emails have also led to an unfortunate casualness about spelling, punctuation, grammar, and other fundamental aspects of effective, professional written communication. Younger employees don't always understand the premise behind formal email communication, nor can they navigate work disagreements or lead a conference call. All of these tasks require strong communication skills.
In addition to effective communication, hiring managers also cited the following “soft skills” as ones they look for when evaluating candidates:
Remember, the interviewing process isn't just about learning more about what's on a resume, it's also the time to see how candidates interact with others and present themselves in a professional setting. IT staffing companies in Dallas or wherever your career takes you will tell you that no matter how at ease you may be when communicating through a screen, if you can’t hold a conversation or act like the professional you are seeking to be, you’ll have plenty of time on your hands to text about how hard it is to find a job.
What makes you stand out from the crowd?
Previously we’ve gone over the construction techniques for résumés such as how to make sure they contain the right components, and that they end up in a familiar and easy-to-read order. You know you should review them with both a spelling and grammar checker and, as added protection from your own biased eye, always get somebody else to read it for you.
Development vs. Support
Whether you're a member or an overseer, the various aspects of the IT team can often be seen to be in conflict. It's entirely understandable—and it's also unnecessary.
This is not to diminish the importance of the folks down in the server room who keep the entire infrastructure running—their world is too esoteric for most executives to understand, so they manage to escape a lot of the conflict. Their problems are generally tied up with budget, and prying loose the funds necessary to upgrade equipment.
The U.S. Department of Defense doesn't post guards at the entrance to the subterranean bunker in Cheyenne Mountain for show. They're there to keep out individuals that don't belong.
Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) does the same thing for businesses that are seeking employees. It may not be a stunning revelation, but HR departments are faced with a deluge of résumés every time they offer a position. Most HR professionals will tell you that, at the very least, half of the applicants are unqualified for the job.
Every single career interview, the details, the results, and the interviewers' opinions, are all recorded for posterity. The minutiae of your claims are organized, collated, and sorted. Every discrepancy, such as saying you worked at IBM from 1996 to 2005, and another résumé claims it was from 1995 to 2007, is noted. Companies combine data in The Cloud about you John Smith, and you Jane Jones, to spot inconsistencies.
Prediction: Hot, and likely to get hotter. No, we're not talking about the weather (though it really sounds like Dallas, doesn't it?); what we're really talking about is the DFW job market.
Business expansions, and companies coming into our area for the very first time, resulted in about 100,000 new jobs last year. Right now we have 2½ available jobs for every 1000 residents—that's higher than most major cities in our country including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, and New York City.
Any psychologist will happily tell you that human beings are risk takers. Given a choice between the status quo and a perceived advantage, we will make some effort to better ourselves.
In studying simian culture, we discovered that apes, gorillas, and chimps all strive for advantage over their peers. We even see active lies, misdirection, and deception to accomplish personal goals, proving that they are not simply human traits, but actually part of an intricate survival mechanism that ultimately benefits the whole group.
By the same token, we see instances of everything from group cooperation to accomplish difficult or complex tasks, to "Bad Boss" dominance of subordinates purely for self-aggrandizement. Anthropology, how human society works, has benefited greatly from the study of our hairy ancestors. It is wasteful to ignore what we have learned - especially when it comes to how it applies to technical jobs and how we can make or break a good working environment.
How does your IT hiring process work? We've talked in this space before about the cost of hiring. Typically you can expect to spend between 100% and 300% of the salary for that position while acquiring a new worker and over the span of the first year.
Where does all that money go? If someone unexpectedly leaves a position, and you don't have a person queued up to replace them, it can lead to a lot of unplanned expenses. One of the biggest is paid overtime, with other workers taking up the slack.
Likely as not it will be shared among several workers (at time-and-a-half), working together, sometimes simultaneously (two workers at time-and-a-half), and unavoidably upon occasion, at cross purposes. Even if you can draw somebody from a different pool of workers to cover that position, somewhere down the line, that replacement worker needs to be covered as well. It's a cascade effect so you can't really escape the cost.
What it really takes
My favorite T-shirt reads: "Of course I don't look Busy… I did the job right the first time!" This is a distinction that a lot of people don't make. There is an immense difference between being busy and being productive at your Dallas IT job, and we need to stop fooling ourselves into believing they are one and the same.
There are few things more aggravating to a productive employee than being obliged to "look busy.” This is especially true when you have important work to do that might be better served by simply sitting quietly and thinking. Your time to pause and reflect is very important—you can be extremely productive just “thinking."
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: People do not quit companies; they quit bad managers and bad supervisors. When faced with criticisms like "You have so much potential. You could accomplish so much more if you weren't always sitting around doing nothing!"—particularly when your production is three times anybody else in your position—it drives you one step closer to the exit.
Flexibility—The Right Fit
There are two ways to think about flexibility as it relates to the best jobs. The first is how well you fit the job; the second is how well the job fits you.
In the first case, you would analyze the requirements for success in a particular position. If you have the ability to conform to those requirements then there is a good possibility that you can be successful there.
In the second instance you must determine if you can live with imposed lifestyle changes. Too much travel? Would relocation affect spouse's job? Higher salary, but the location has a greater cost of living?
Being flexible is important but knowing your priorities is the most crucial part of finding a job that works well for you. When working with a Dallas IT staffing agency, make your preferred job criteria clear to your recruiter.