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Almost four in 10 managers avoid hiring recent college graduates because they judge them to be unprepared for professional life, according to a December 2023 survey of 800 U.S. directors and executives involved in filling open jobs.
One in five employers say a recent college graduate brought a parent to the job interview. Twenty-one percent of employers surveyed said they had a candidate refuse to turn their camera on for a virtual interview. Employers also complained that the interviewees struggled to make eye contact, dressed inappropriately and used inappropriate language.
The results of the survey don’t come as a complete surprise to Michael Connors, an accounting and technology recruiter in the Washington area who prepares recent college graduates for job interviews.
“At the end of the day, there seems like a lack of seriousness,” he says. “Do they even want this job, or do they just go through the motions?”
Connors has never had a candidate refuse to turn on their camera. But he has had students show up for a scheduled online interview in unprofessional environments, like outside a shopping mall.
Both Connors and Diane Gayeski, a professor of strategic communications at Ithaca College in New York, agree that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the growth and maturity of recent college grads.
“Their senior year in high school was very disruptive. They didn't have the typical graduations, proms, parties, that sort of thing,” Gayeski says. “They typically were not able to work that summer before college. And even when they got into college, things like guest speakers, internships, study abroad — those kinds of things were really not available to them.”
The result, she says, is that students are less confident about their ability to engage in the working world.
“Part of college's ability to make students ready for their careers are the things that they experience outside the classroom, such as engaging with people who are different than they are, and being able to work on projects that are in the community, and engaging in internships. And all of that just didn't exist,” she says.
Thirty-eight percent of the employers surveyed say they avoid hiring recent college graduates in favor of older workers. And they’re willing to pay the older workers more or increase benefits like allowing more telework.
Nearly half of the employers say they’ve had to fire a recent college graduate. Sixty-three percent of employers say some of the recent college graduates they’ve hired can’t handle their workload; 61% say they are frequently late to work; 59% say they often miss deadlines, and 53% say the young, new workers are often late to meetings.
“They would have a much better chance managing their workload if they were in the office more,” Connors says, referring to how working from home part of the time might be setting young workers back. “These folks, they need mentorship to be able to learn and progress in their careers.”
Gayeski says she’s seen an increase in mental health issues with college students, which professors try to accommodate by becoming less strict about class attendance and more flexible about assignment due dates.
“I think the thing that employers are picking up on that has changed a lot is the level of anxiety and the willingness to admit mental health challenges,” Gayeski says.
“For some employers, that comes across as soft or trying to get out of things. I've seen a big difference in that. It's almost a badge of honor to admit mental frailties and then want to take care of yourself, because that's what [students have] been told to do,” Gayeski says.
Even though Gen Z’s lack of professional readiness worsened during the pandemic, Connors says it’s a trend he’s been seeing for several years.
“Somewhat of a failure to launch in a lot of ways,” he says. “Some of these recent grads are maybe being coddled too much, and you know, the world is an unforgiving place oftentimes. And I think the quicker people learn that, the better they're going to be long term in their career.”
If they’re even worried about their career. Connors says some of the young people he works with seem to have a lot of entitlement around a work-life balance.
“This generation is more concerned about their hobbies and having flexibility around that,” Connors says. “And they are less money driven or career progression driven, as far as where they're at and where they want to be long term. Everybody just kind of seems to be living in the moment.”
Half of the employers surveyed say the recent college graduates they interviewed asked for unreasonable compensation. Gayeski believes that might be the result of young people being more aware than previous generations.
“They also have heard a lot in college about how corporations exploit employees, and they're looking at the salaries of these billionaire owners,” she says. “And, you know, they feel like they want to be treated fairly.”