HIGHER EDUCATION – Cream of the crop – Business leaders offer wish list for today’s four-year college students

A fresh crop of job candidates has just been unleashed. You may already be working alongside the most recent college graduates to hit the market. Are you ready? Are they?

We asked several industry leaders who hire newly-graduated young professionals to share some insights into what career-bound students need to know about transitioning from college into the so-called “real world,” and what it will take for them to succeed.

Are today’s candidates as equipped as they could be?

Jeff Lasee, recruiting director for The H.S. Group of Green Bay and Appleton, says no:

“We are graduating some very bright individuals who have the fundamentals in their area of study, but lack the knowledge of capitalism required to turn those skills into profits for employers.”

Lasee says too many graduates are going into the business world without as much as running a cash register at a fast food restaurant.

“The summer parks and rec job isn’t going to help their career get off the ground,” Lasee said, but the front-line business exposure is very valuable in forming their basic understanding of dealing with people and handling money in a for-profit business.

Tom Lyga, talent acquisition and campus relations manager for Oshkosh Corporation, says most graduates he hires typically come well equipped in some, but not all areas.

“Technically, our schools do a great job with training and education. For some candidates though, the areas that need more focus involve soft skills such as interpersonal communication, crafting official corporate communications and some basic workplace etiquette,” he says.

“Soft skills are extremely important to us as well,” echoes Peter Helander, Little Chute’s Heartland Business Systems and Avastone Technologies principal. “Some grads are still struggling in basic, effective written and verbal communication.”

For Jill Dequaine, attitude plays a big role in deciding which interns and graduates will get a job at Schenck SC.

“I’m looking for students who have a passion for their major and who take an active role in creating their future,” says Dequaine, human resources generalist. She says the time to get serious about the transition should happen at the start of college, not the final year. “I’d say to students, ‘Choose your major because it’s what you want to do. Be excited about it, get involved with it, and take every opportunity to learn about your career of choice.’”

Tom Veeser, RN, MS, chief nursing officer of Affinity Health System/vice president of patient care of St. Elizabeth Hospital, says that health care industry students are passing the state board exams at a higher rate than they did three to five years ago.

“But I do feel that today’s candidates should have more complementary skills to be best prepared for the changing world of health care. For instance, we could use more IT and informatics training, budgeting and health care financing awareness, and more population health knowledge to care for patients across the continuum,” Veeser says.

What about acquiring a foreign language, global awareness or certain leadership skills?

Tom Lyga: “I always look for the more well-rounded candidates. Joining an organization and stepping up to a position of increased responsibility to demonstrate their aspirations to reach the next level and broaden their horizons. Those are the candidates who will be hungry when they join your organization—and those are the ones who will make a difference from day one.”

Tom Veeser: “In the health care industry, we do look for those who can grasp Spanish and Hmong languages. Leadership skills are also a high priority, even if it is something as simple as being a team captain. We consider as many leadership disciplines as possible to ensure our patients get the resources they need and care they receive is optimum.”

Peter Helander: “Global awareness, whether through a foreign language or other classes that focus on diversity, teach not only the differences among ‘protected statuses’ but help understand the importance of respecting their viewpoints, regardless if you agree or disagree with them. This simple lesson truly turns into a basic trait for successful leaders.”

Jeff Lasee: “Globalization and changing domestic demographics are making a foreign language a big plus in today’s economy. There are situations where it will put you ahead of the competition. Stick with the broad-based languages like Spanish, German or French.”

What’s new or different today about the recruiting/hiring/interviewing landscape from your own first job interviews?

Jeff Lasee: “Today’s job search landscape is completely different than it was 20 years ago. You no longer can sit back and just apply to the want ads. In today’s market, it is completely acceptable to reach out to an organization or individual to network or to inquire about employment. In the job search today, proactive networking is more important than your resume.”

Tom Lyga: “We are no longer placing ads and hoping for a good response. Technology has allowed us to become more sophisticated with our recruitment efforts by employing web-based postings and candidate searching to video-interviewing. Using social media such as LinkedIn allows us to be more aggressive in our searches, pursuing passive candidates who we might have missed in the past.”

Tom Veeser: “At Affinity, we are working to diversify our workforce in our recruitment strategies. The health care industry needs the nursing candidates to match our population, so the trend is toward hiring more Hispanics and more men. We are hiring more non-traditional students, but even the traditional 20-somethings are now more willing to be flexible than in the past decade.”

Peter Helander: “The economy is certainly different. We receive many applicants who are not qualified for the position they are applying for, which adds costs to our direct cost structure. That’s why we’ve strengthened our internship program. These students are our future, and it’s a win-win for both the student and our organization.”

Jill Dequaine: “We spend a lot of time on campus coaching students through mock interviews, meeting them at career fairs and offering assistance with their resumes. This gives us an opportunity to know students on a more personal level and to learn if they will be a good fit. College students want to learn about the culture of our firm. They really want to feel as though they fit in with the company long before an interview. They are evaluating us just like we are evaluating them.”

Are there particular soft skills, technical expertise, attitudes or other items you wish students would have before asking for an interview?

Jill Dequaine: “I tell students that I’m interviewing them for an entry-level position, but I’m really trying to see if they have what it takes to be the next shareholder. Do they possess leadership skills? Can they communicate effectively both verbally and through email? Are they involved in their campus accounting club? Do they volunteer? Are they holding board positions? Are they confident and dressed to impress? These are important.”

Tom Veeser: “We’ve actually eliminated intelligent and excellent candidates because of poor writing skills! They really hurt their chances when they show up for interviews unprofessionally. Unlike the Baby Boomer candidates, many of today’s young people are less willing to start at the bottom and prove themselves.”

Jeff Lasee: “Our experience has been that most fresh graduates fail in the interview process in the areas of attitude and approach. They don’t have the experience or track record yet so the hiring decision is heavily weighted on these two areas.

The approach to take is not what’s in it for me, but what’s in this hire for the employer. The interview is about what the company needs and your ability to fill that need; not what the company can do for you. Companies are looking at each hire from a profit and loss perspective. If a candidate can’t demonstrate how they add value, and back it up with quantifiable examples, they are done.”

Tom Lyga: “Companies today are mostly using behavioral-based interviewing techniques. I wish more grads would better prepare for the interview by practicing responses to behavioral-based questions, research the company and use that information in the interview, practicing a full-blown interview ahead of time. Finally, they should always follow up with either a handwritten or typed thank you note – dropped off in the mail so it arrives within a couple days – to everyone he or she interviewed with (and maybe even that receptionist who helped you get set when you arrived).”

Peter Helander: “It is becoming more evident that most of the students’ communication occurs through text messaging. Being able to communicate on a professional level without filler words is important. Be confident, but not overbearing. Communication abilities are huge in our industry, not only talking at the technical level, but being able to help the customer understand the situation at a basic level.”

What do you wish students would grasp as they transition from college to the workplace for the first time?

Jeff Lasee: “I wish they were more aware that companies do not hire people, they buy results. An employer is not hiring you because you have a degree. They are buying your knowledge, time, effort and ability in the form of your work product. They need to leverage this work product for profit or use it to reduce cost. Knowing what the company needs from your work product and over delivering effectively is what sets the top performers apart from the rest.”

Tom Veeser: “Entry-level candidates need to be obsessed with quality at this level, and provide great service. They not only need to be good stewards with finances, but they need to see themselves as future teachers.”

Peter Helander: “Many students today are joining the workforce with a sense of entitlement. They need to keep in mind that at times they may not always agree with decisions that are made, but they need to keep an open mind to listen to all sides of the topic at hand.”

Tom Lyga: “There are often some unrealistic expectations on how fast they will ascend the ladder or even where in the organization they will start. Some get transfixed on that next big job instead of focusing on performing their current job to the best of their ability. My advice is to bloom where you are planted. Develop your reputation first by having a can-do attitude, focusing on your attention to detail because your initial job will more than likely involve a lot of detail work, and finding your supervisor’s priorities and making them yours. Be patient. Become a desired commodity first, then watch for opportunities and get your supervisor’s support when the time is right.”

About our career experts

The interviewees in our Cream of the Crop article frequently recruit, interview and hire graduates with four-year college degrees. We’ve included their profiles as well as links to their job sites.

Tom Veeser, chief nursing officer for Affinity Health System since 2005, is responsible for standardizing the nursing processes, policies and environment of all Affinity Medical Group clinics, Calumet Medical Center in Chilton, Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh, and St. Elizabeth Hospital and Franciscan Care & Rehabilitation Center in Appleton. Visit www.affinityhealth.org/page/about-jobs.

Jeff Lasee, recruiting director for The H.S. Group of Green Bay and Appleton, attracts top managerial and executive talent for clients nationwide. He draws upon more than 12 years of executive search experience with The H.S. Group. Visit www.thehsgroup.com/recruiting/current-search/.

Tom Lyga is talent acquisition and campus relations manager for Oshkosh Corporation. Oshkosh Corp. is a designer, manufacturer and marketer of a range of specialty vehicles and vehicle bodies. Visit www.oshkoshcorporation.com/careers/.

Jill Dequaine is PHR human resources generalist at Schenck SC in Appleton. She specializes in recruiting, orientation and on-boarding new personnel at Schenck. Visit www.schencksc.com/whyworkatschenck.aspx.

Peter Helander is principal at Heartland Business Systems and Avastone Technologies in Little Chute. Visit www.hbs.net/Careers/Current-Openings.aspx and www.avastone technologies.com/en/Careers/Careers.aspx.