The Class of 2010 – What New Job Applicants Need Most

Although the economy is recovering and salaries for top-earners are rising, long-term unemployment is soaring. This bifurcation in the labor market is also happening in the “first job market” for newly-minted college graduates.

Please share this with your friends who are in college.

It’s college graduation season again. Last year, at the height of the recession, I was hoping to hire some top new college graduates at a bargain price. As explained in my blog entry on The Class of 2009, I was surprised to find that salaries for the very top college graduates actually rose at the height of the worst recession since The Great Depression.

While most students couldn’t find any first job, the demand for the very top students—those with both great writing skills and great technical (e.g., HTML, Web design) skills—soared as companies sought to cut costs and increase productivity.

Prior to 2009, a Fortune 500 company might have needed 1,000 newly-minted college graduates each year to fill entry-level positions in sales and customer service. Today, thanks to the Internet, SMS texting, and automated call centers, this same company might only need 105 newly-minted college graduates for such positions: 100 “normal” graduates for traditional positions, plus 5 superstar top graduates to design the systems and to write text for the websites, the SMS texting programs, and scripts for the call centers.

In today’s technological world, top college graduates are not worth twice the price of an average student—they are worth ten times the price.

Top new college graduates are now getting multiple job offers at starting salaries of $60,000-$120,000, while most students with average skills are being left out in the cold.

Last week I received an email from a college president asking: “When you hire a newly-minted college graduate, what do you most look for?

I answered: “Writing ability.” Most newly-minted college graduates lack good writing skills. Good writing requires clear, logical thinking a knowledge of grammar, and the ability to spell.

Sometimes, in the middle of a job interview with a student prospect, I ask the student to sit down at a computer (not connected to the Web) in the next room and write 300-600 words about our interview. Far too often, I am both shocked and dismayed to discover that  few of them can write a clear paragraph.

Good writing skills used to be what distinguished Ivy League graduates from the rest—because most Ivy League students came from prep schools that taught writing. This is no longer so.

Just last week a graduating senior from an Ivy League college blew an interview that I had set up for her because her email mixed homophones like “their” and “there” and contained misspelled words (which, apparently, were not corrected by her spell checker).

Earlier this year I spent weeks helping a college senior get interviews with a top private equity firm. In the e-mail that the student sent to the firm’s senior partner confirming the initial interview he wrote “higher” instead of “hire.”After canceling the scheduled day of interviews, the partner sent me a note saying “this guy would get laughed out of here for writing like this.”

The real blame here is with the teachers. Students in cases like this have no idea why they are failing in the job market. They simply do not know what they don’t know about their own shortcomings.

Our nation needs to develop a post-bachelor’s, standardized writing test, to be administered to all U.S. graduating seniors and all job applicants. Such a test would enable employers to discern the qualified applicants, would enable students to discern their own shortcomings, and would help educators teach what they should be teaching to most help their students.

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