Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011, 4:12 pm

Amp It Up!

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Dawn Klingensmith, CTW Features

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Recent grads get failing grades in minding professional P'd and Q's.

For the first time since 2007, employers report a double-digit increase in hiring projections for the class of 2011, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In a spring update to NACE’s Job Outlook 2011 Fall Preview, employers indicate they plan to hire 19.3 percent more graduates in 2010 and 2011 than they did in the preceding academic year.

But this sunnier outlook has not blinded employers to perceived shortcomings of young jobseekers, who have tended to fall short of traditional standards of professionalism. Jobseekers who take measures to counteract negative perceptions of their generation’s work habits will have the brightest prospects of all, says David Polk, a behavioral sciences professor at York College of Pennsylvania.

That recent grads bring to the workforce an outsized sense of entitlement – expecting rewards without putting in the effort – is the chief complaint against them, says Polk. His research on behalf of the college’s Center for Professional Excellence has shown for two years running that young folks’ professionalism is “less-than-desired.”

Two other “common and troubling” deficits are in accepting personal responsibility for decisions and actions and being open to criticism, Polk adds.

Too often, entitlement manifests right off the bat. When interviewing or starting a job, recent grads perhaps should avoid asking about opportunities for advancement, which employers interpret as, “How soon will I get promoted?”

Asking such questions is not the sign of a go-getter but rather of a short-cutter who is loath to pay dues, Polk says.

Promotions and raises are rewards for “consistent delivery of quality over time,” he explains.

Young workers should define success as what’s good for the organization and pleasing to their supervisors. The only way of knowing is to observe and ask, says Nancy M. Mellard, executive vice president and general counsel for the employee services division of CBIZ Inc., a national business services firm headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Ask about the corporate culture – what is valued there and what’s expected of you specifically,” she advises. “Don’t come in there thinking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s not how you get ahead.”

It sounds counter intuitive, perhaps, but asking for help is part of accepting responsibility for a project, its outcome and the asker’s career, says Natalie Smith, a vice president with the Richmond, Va.-based public relations firm CRT/tanaka.

Though important, showing passion for their work can at times be challenging for employees. “You’re not automatically going to land in a job that you’re passionate about all the time,” Smith says.

That’s neither an entitlement nor a realistic expectation, she adds.

With each new project, it’s an employee’s responsibility to find something to be curious if not passionate about. “That curiosity factor is critical. If you dig around you can find something interesting so there’s not that disconnect,” Smith says, “and you’ll be more likely to want to do a good job.”

Poor communication skills and lack of ethics are other perceived weaknesses to address, Polk says. He recommends students engage in public speaking whenever an opportunity arises. And it can’t hurt to take an etiquette class, either, he adds.