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Corporate recruiters say they see the problem a lot these days: College juniors and seniors stepping into the job market -- too casually.
Blame texting. Blame tweeting. Blame the relaxation of social norms that has left some members of this laid-back generation apt to say "hey dude" in just about any setting. Regardless of the cause, many of today's young adults are a bit thin on the do's-and-don'ts of the interviewing process.
"We call them 'Generation Text,'" said Mary Milla, a communications consultant and media trainer. "Voice mail is out, e-mail is too slow, so now they're texting, and their spelling is awful."
Of course, rookie job seekers have always been known for an unpolished mix of bravado and naivete. But nowadays, their shortcomings extend beyond basic mistakes of etiquette, recruiters say, and include goofs punctuated by some modern twists.
In other words, wear the nose ring at the nightclub, not the interview. And when you write a résumé, don't use the same style and spelling that would be found in a sloppy 140-character tweet.
Interviewers and career coaches say it can be a difficult adjustment, because of rapid changes in how people are used to communicating. But it's an adjustment that could be crucial.
College graduates are entering a particularly difficult job market. While the overall unemployment rate was 9.8 percent in November, it was 14.8 percent for workers between 20 and 24 and 24.3 percent for those between 16 and 19.
There were 2.2 million unemployed in the 20 to 24 age group in November, plus another 1.3 million between ages 16 and 19, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Melissa Kjolsing, communications manager at the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota, has noticed a few things about recent internship candidates at the medical technology industry group. "They don't review their documents," she said.
Sometimes, she gets letters addressed to someone else. Other times, the date is old, the result of a careless cut-and-paste job. Candidates sometimes have trouble answering questions about previous challenges or future goals. One person said their goal was to write for Rolling Stone magazine, not exactly a style or subject matter that has much to do with the work of the BioBusiness Alliance.
Impressed by one application from a journalism student at the University of Minnesota, Kjolsing called and left a voice mail. Three weeks went by before the student finally got back to Kjolsing -- in an e-mail with a time stamp of 3 a.m.
Kjolsing found herself wondering: "Is this somebody I can trust to come in for work on time at 7:30 or 8 a.m.?"
The student didn't get the internship.
Generation Y, loosely defined as those born in the 1980s and 1990s, does have its defenders.
Their very familiarity with social media mores and trends can make them attractive hires for companies looking to market to young people, said Ryan Paugh, the 27-year-old cofounder of Brazen Careerist, a Web-based community for business networking.
It's not that young adults can't communicate, Paugh said. "We follow different rules." Marketers understand that if you send an e-mail to a young person, they "don't want something AP style," he said. "It can be sweet and simple."
He noted that many topics discussed on the three-year-old Brazen Careerist web site -- "How to write a stellar résumé" or "Is it ever OK to lie to your employer?" -- are issues every generation grapples with.
Paugh, who is based in Madison, Wis., reckons that colleges in general need to do a better job giving graduates practical advice on résumé-writing and interviewing.
Unprepared for interviews
Milla and business partner Marta Rhyner surveyed 100 firms and found that a notable 99 percent said college graduates needed help preparing for job interviews. The survey's respondents also said that nearly two-thirds of applicants were unable to provide "succinct examples" of why they were right for the job and one-third could not provide messages relevant to the job.
Laurie Bauer, director of external communications for Allianz Life, agreed with the findings.
"I had one intern candidate last summer who couldn't articulate anything. I said, 'Tell me about yourself.' She said 'I'm a junior,'" Bauer recalled. "She couldn't tell me why she wanted to work for the company or what she wanted to do. I cut her off after eight minutes."
And it's not that the kids aren't bright enough, Rhyner said. They just have spent most of their lives under the direction of others, including parents who took them from one organized activity to another when they were younger.
"They don't see things that can be potentially negative, like a nose ring, because everyone told them they were great," Rhyner said.
Sensing a need, Milla and Rhyner created a special training program to prepare young adults for the job market, modeled after training they do at executive levels.
They charge $435 per person and limit the class size to 12. Participants will run through mock job interviews on video at the beginning and the end of the day-long class to see if their communications skills improve.
It's called "One Trophy," as in everyone doesn't get a trophy when it comes to interviewing for employment.
"These people are used to talking in 140-character tweets," Milla said. "We want to get them to talk in paragraphs."
At a recent trial class, Ryan Walden, one of the class members, was impressed.
"It really was eye-opening," said Walden, a small business entrepreneur who sells commercial breathalyzers to drinking establishments. "As a student you get used to texting, sending e-mails and informal speech. You don't know how you come off to people as a professional."
The class, Walden said, "taught me to know my audience."
David Phelps • 612-673-7269 Chen May Yee • 612-673-7434