Situations and how business evaluates post secondary education


In 1985, my daughter and son celebrated their 8th and 5th birthdays respectively. In that same year, McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business invited me to its annual Mock Interview Night as a guest interviewer. At the time, I was fully involved with IT executive search and was the only independent, non-corporate recruiter on DeGroote’s roster. The relationship would continue for almost 30 years.

Each trip to DeGroote brought my children’s high school graduation one year closer. I started revisiting résumés and interview notes, employer search-related documentation to me and my search-related documentation to them and to the candidates I had interviewed on their behalf. I accumulated impressions of the DeGroote students I had interviewed so that I could share them anonymously with my children. All of this was in anticipation of my first serious discussion with both of them about life after high school.

Both children landed on their feet and both have prospered.

If you’ve been visiting this space since its inception 6 months ago, you’ll know that every post has dealt with a particular situation. A psychologist might have used “stimulus” or “group of stimuli” instead of “situation” because everything we humans do is a response to something.

Most situations or groups of stimuli fall into two broad categories: problems or opportunities. Sometimes the choice is perfectly obvious: 55:55:20 – Swigert: “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” Sometimes not so obvious: “There’s this black, sticky, foul-smelling goop coming up out of the ground in my backyard and there are no pipelines within 1000 miles of here.”

If living in 2013 appears to be more of a challenge than we’re used to, it’s because we have situations coming at us from every conceivable direction, and we do mean every conceivable direction (Chelyabinsk meteor). The common thread that flows through all 84 Personal Due Diligence posts to date is that every one deals with a particular situation. In each case, the writer brought his or her unique point of view and personal business history to bear on the subject that was the topic of his or her post.

PDD is committed to taking as much risk out of the work and life choice process as possible. Because we’re business people, we tend to be biased in favour of trying to see opportunity where others might not. We do it by looking at situations from every possible angle and ferreting out information that others might miss. We do it out of discipline and out of an ability to see what others can’t or won’t—but not at the expense of calling a spade a spade.

We’re also acutely aware that no situation evolves or exists in a vacuum. There are always circumstances to be taken into account, many if not most of which involve human nature. Today, human nature appears to be very wrapped up in the concept of money first and people second. It’s why business is being conducted the way it is and likely will be for some time.

In an interview about RBC and iGate this morning, a local Toronto radio host asked his guest whether management’s first obligation is to make money for RBC shareholders and whether or not a corporation has an obligation to the community in which it operates. For the RBC response, go to the horse’s mouth. Odds are that it will continue to operate precisely the way it and organizations like it have been operating. That’s the environment and the environment is the situation.

My PDD beat and passion is education. A big part of the reason is that young people in their late teens and early 20’s are being asked to confront situations and choices about “institutions of higher learning” that didn’t apply in their parents’ day. That’s because the environment then was very different from what it is now. Today it’s all about money, the kind that drives trade schools, community colleges and universities and without which none of them can operate. It’s the same kind of money that young people who borrow to educate themselves will have to repay after they return their caps and gowns. It’s how business measures the usefulness of education.

In case you were wondering, the average education-related debt the typical student carries today stands somewhere between $20,000 and $27,000.

At the beginning of this year, the media featured stories about lost generations; graduates who couldn’t find work in their “chosen field”; unpaid internships; prospective employers who call candidates back for 6 interviews then hire no one; and student stress, to name but a few. What we’re not hearing about is how they executed their job searches.

Conventional wisdom would wonder about whether they looked at the prognoses for employment in their “chosen field” before they began their respective programmes. They might find clues about whether they did or not in their answers to questions like the ones that follow.

  • Can you describe the kind of work you’re looking for clearly and concisely?
    • Are you absolutely certain that that kind of work is available within close proximity to you, or anywhere for that matter?
    • Can you explain in one sentence how you propose to solve a problem you know your target has?
    • If not, what’s your Plan B?
  • How powerful is your cover letter?
    • How well does your résumé make the case for your suitability?
    • Is it 100% error free?
    • Did you use the grammar checker and spell checker in your word processing software?
    • Did you use proper English?
    • How well does your résumé stack up against best of breed?
    • How certain are you that you’re communicating with the right person or people?
    • Do you have their names?
    • Have you followed up with them?
    • What was the result?
    • How many applications have you sent out?
    • How many responses have you had?
    • How certain are you that your application arrived?
  • How many interviews have you been granted?
    • What was the outcome?
    • When you attended your interviews, how much attention did you pay to how you were dressed?
    • Were your shoes shined?
    • Was your shirt or blouse freshly pressed?
    • Was your suit freshly dry-cleaned?
    • How was your personal hygiene?
    • When the interviewer asked you what you wanted from your relationship with their company, what did you say?
  • Have you prequalified your references?
  • How close have these positions been to your perfect job?
  • What vehicle or vehicles are you using to make yourself visible?
    • Assuming that your qualifications are similar to those of other candidates, what have you done to make yourself stand out?
    • How extensively have you used social media in your campaign?
    • How much feedback have you solicited about your social media persona?
    • What have people said about how professionally you use e-mail?
    • How well do you understand the fundamentals of networking?
    • How easy is it to reach you?
  • Can you afford to be “employed” as an unpaid intern?
    • How much education-related debt are you carrying?
    • Do you know which of your target employers offer full-time employment with benefits?
  • In one sentence answer these 2 questions:
    • Why should anyone hire you?
    • Who should that someone be?

These questions are directed at the last cohort of graduates who find themselves in this situation today. There are things we can discuss with them that could improve their situation today. The difference between their circumstances and those of the young people and parents who are about to put enrollment money down is that there’s much to be learned from the experience of the last cohort. Enough to label the situation facing the next cohort an opportunity.

If any of what you just read resonates with you, please contact us. Now.

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