Skills Missing from New Grads

I took a 5 minute survey this morning about new grads and their skills.  The first question was, “What skill gaps do you find in new grads?”  Here’s my response:

It’s hard to say if these are “gaps,” per se, because they aren’t necessarily taught in college.  But skills that would help new hires achieve results faster include:
1) Professional communication.  This includes getting to the point, cutting out filler words, inductive communication, and a component of internal marketing.
2) Ability to put things in perspective.  New hires can suffer from myopia on the job.  While it’s our job to give them the broader view, it’s also their job to ask for it and actively work to fill in any blanks.

I do want to reiterate that I don’t actually expect most recent grads to have these skills.  Most seasoned employees are lacking in those areas.  But even the beginning of the presence of these skills is a great way to get ahead early in a career.

Professional communication–you know it when you see it.  This applies to email and verbal communication equally.  While young professionals will not have the expertise and polish to rival their more senior coworkers, there certainly are some other components of professional communication that can be developed early.  For instance:

  • Getting to the point.  Enough people think that brevity is a sign of a hastily conceived message.  In fact, talking or writing more does not contribute to the message, it detracts from it.  As I like to say, if it doesn’t add, it detracts.  “I’m sorry this letter is so long.  I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”  <– I’ve seen that attributed to George Bernard Shaw, Blaise Pascal and Thomas Jefferson.  I don’t really know who wrote it, but I remember it all the time when I’m writing professional messages.  There are two things any audience cares about: 1) Why does this matter to them, and 2) What do they have to do about it this very minute?  That’s it.  Anything more is unnecessary window dressing.  Besides, everyone uses smart phones these days anyway.
  • Reducing filler words.  Younger people talk faster.  Maybe because they’re worried they’ll lose the floor, maybe because they’re nervous, maybe because all their friends do and that’s the only way to get a word in edgewise.  But one of the side effects of talking faster than they can think is that they fill the space with um, um, um filler words, or things like, like, like, stutters or sentences that start, sentences that start, sentences that start over and over until they figure out the best way to convey what they want to say.  It’s not that their brain can’t think that fast.  It’s because there are dozens of ways to express something, and it’s not always easy to choose which.  Add nervousness into the equation, perhaps due to an audience or the importance of the speech, and all bets are off.  THe one sure way I know to reduce these filler words is to speak slower.

When someone starts a new job, they get new employee orientation that includes things like how to use the time keeping software, where to get a security badge, how to use the phones to turn on the lights, etc.  But what’s too often missing from this training is the global picture.  What does the company do now?  What did the company used to do, and how did it get here?  Where is it going?  Who are the clients?  But even more importantly, what does the department/team do?  How does that fit into the company’s goals and objectives for that year?  Who are the clients for that department?  Internal or external?

Though I think it’s a company’s job to provide this information, it’s also the responsibility of the new employee to ask the right questions to fill in the blanks.  Without the proper perspective, it’s hard to be motivated.  Passion for a job doesn’t exist unless and until there’s an understanding of how and to whom a difference is made.  Otherwise it’s just shuffling paper and managing data.  So as a new employee, it’s important to expect not to get the whole picture, but to go looking for it.  Ask a lot of questions, read the Intranet, check out corporate brochures, etc.  Perspective can make be the difference between job satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Wow — this turned from a quick morning post to a much longer affair.  I wish I knew who wrote that quote.

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