Survey: College grads unprofessional

College graduates in caps and gowns


Steve Chiotakis: It's hard enough for recent college graduates to find jobs in today's tough economy.
Now there's a new survey out, which says prospective employers think they're unprofessional. Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: The 500 business executives who took the survey complained that young employees fresh out of college were disrespectful, didn't have a good work ethic and weren't professional-looking.

TODD MCCARTY: Is there a belly showing or not? Piercings or tattoos that are more broadly shown than they need to be?

Todd McCarty is senior vice president of human resources for Readers Digest. He says he could live with the piercings and tattoos. But text messages and e-mails with typos? That drives him crazy.

MCCARTY: No punctuation, bad spelling -- it's not getting the message clearly across.

David Polk conducted the survey. He's a sociologist at York College. Polk, who's 61, says part of the problem is the same thing baby boomers used to complain about -- the generation gap.

DAVID POLK: We threw away the tie-dye shirts and bell bottoms. We're out there calling the shots and quite frankly we've gotten conservative in our old age.

And Polk says tattoos and piercings could become the norm after the boomers retire.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.
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“They cannot take constructive criticism...but even soft-shoeing the criticism is like a deep wound to some of these "kids." It's like they've been told they are wonderful their whole life, but the real world has higher standards and a harsher glare."

The fact that you would refer to them as "kids" shows a major problem on the baby boomers side. They see 20-30 year olds as kids instead of adults. Could this be partly because they have children who are the same age? This disposition results in the baby-boomer not fully respecting the millennial. Do both sides start off with the indifferences typically found in a parent-child relationship?

The criticism problem is a major product of our education system (run by baby-boomers), which now requires teachers, coaches, administrators to be overly hyper-sensitive to feelings. Truth must sugar-coated and delivered in a pretty little package. Everyone has to get a trophy for merely participating. No one can fail; “no child left behind” right? As a teacher my principal would make me change grades so that kids wouldn’t fail, even if they did next to nothing.

Cultural communication is also to blame. Communication nowadays has to be indirect, empathetic, sympathetic, and pre-announced/mixed with positive flattery.

There are “problems” on both sides.

Many of the recent college grads I've dealt with have a poor work ethic and very thin skins. They cannot take constructive criticism or want to be told how to do something or be corrected. I'm one of the kindest, nicest bosses around (having learned from many terrible bosses how NOT to manage), but even soft-shoeing the criticism is like a deep wound to some of these kids. It's like they've been told they are wonderful their whole life, but the real world has higher standards and a harsher glare. At the same time these grads don't ask questions in order to learn but instead make assumptions, often getting it wrong in order to not appear stupid.

When I interview job candidates I try to set up hypotheticals that show me whether the person has initiative and is willing to ask questions and learn on. I don't want to hold anyone's hand or re-do their work.

I've noticed that many of these kids also have the attitude that they can go straight to the top without taking the steps to learn and grow. Perhaps that is the legacy of the dot-com era -- the idea that you can go straight out of college and make millions. The number of people who have actually done that is low, but the attitude remains.

In terms of dress or hygiene. I expect the person to be clean and dressed appropriately. Flip flops are fine for home, but not at work.

About 6 AM this morning (Friday). You did a story about a problem with new graduates and their lack of appropriate behavior in the interviewing process. You interviewed a corporate VP who mentioned the problem of tattoos and piercings, but said, "(He) could live with it." He also mentioned inappropriate clothing (exposed belly); lack of punctuation, poor spelling in correspondence; lack of respect in general; and other problems. But your story only focused on the tattoos and piercings. These other problems are far more serious than mere body decorations. You people can do a better job than that.

Alas, there is a natural aristocracy based upon talent, merit and class. Piercings, incorrect grammar, sub-par language skills, personal hygiene, "I'm an individual" fashion, and lack of wit all scream low/no class. It don't matter what generation you are from, or trying to be with. As it was before, so shall it ever be.

I constantly hear Baby Boomers complaining about my generation not being exactly like them. Many Baby Boomers raised the older "Millenials." Maybe they need to think long and hard about what they did as parents to produce such an unacceptable generation. Times have changed. Tattoos and piercings are no longer considered "unprofessional" or taboo. Also, forgive me, but I don't understand why I need to buy some expensive suits if all I am going to to be doing is sitting in a cubicle in front of a computer all day developing back problems. Baby Boomers complained that their parents were stuffy and entitled, now they complain that Gen Y is too liberal and entitled. If you don't like the product coming out of the modern American school system, maybe you should consider what you can contribute to make it better, rather than just complaining about it all the time.

For me, I don't have a problem with tattoos and piercings outside of work, but even as liberal as I am on many things, in the office, I'm not so loose.
Corporations are by their nature conservative. (Which one wants to see unpredicable change in anything that directly affects it? Corporations almost don't want any change at all.)

Even when I was graduating college more than 10 years ago there was lively conversation on campus about proper attire/appearance and what should/should-not be allowed as a discriminating factor. I don't think similar conversations are so different now.
Conservatives by their nature take time to change. Give us business types time to accept differences a little more. While they're at it, the newbies can learn something of the existing culture and acclimate.
(I had a co-op about a year ago who seemed to struggle a bit with appropriate focus and business etiquette; is this indicative of the whole population? No, but with some employers, it might be stereotyped somewhat unfairly.)

I can live with tattoos and piercings, and I am willing to hire people who need help with writing skills if they are willing to work hard to learn what is needed. What I didn't see addressed in this, and what I see in my engineering office with lots of 20-somethings, is the feeling among some that things should be given to them instead of worked for, or that courtesy to people of differing backgrounds is not important. I am ready to fire a young, talented engineer because he thinks the office should be his social club and that his opinion of other people is always right and should be shared.

As someone who is part of the millennial generation and in the work force I find that the vast majority of college graduates working in their respective fields are professionally dressed, come prepared, and offer new perspectives. As far as punctuation goes, that seems to be an easy fix for a supervisor. Either approach them about the issue or provide them with training on proper memo typing, etc.

I retired from a blue collar job in '94 so I don't have a complete picture as far as the young, college grad type of individuals out there in the job market...however, I am a bit perplexed as to how young people I see, college grads or not, are tattooing body parts that are generally not covered up (neck, arms, even their heads and faces) and piercing their lips,noses, eyebrows and many (thankfully) other body parts we don't see. But like all of us, need income. Unless you work in a tattoo parlor, I would guess that getting good paying jobs would be difficult. They may as well tattoo "Don't Hire Me" on their forehead. There will likely come a time, when all these people grow up, tattoos and so on will be accepted in the business world...but till then...unemployment or low paying jobs may be the norm. Tattoos are permanent. That is my biggest problem with them for me.

I have always believed that when one goes to work that professional attire and deameanor are very important. But, I also understand that it is not what one LOOKS like or how one spells that matters. What matters is the quality of the output. If these kids can perform, then by all means let them. Let them perform in the environment that allows them to do so. As long as it does not detract from anyone else's ability to perform their own duties.


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