Lessons from the Pros
The current US job market is messed up.
There are tons of recent graduates who are flocking to graduate schools to procrastinate entering a brutal job market.
Even more are suffering through “internship” after “internship,” mere pawns in the plans of huge companies trying to game the economic system. If one is only hired for half of the year or less, they are a part-time worker and not entitled to the benefits of a full-time worker. Thus the booming internship market, filled with talented recent graduates who are being jerked from one part-time job to the next handling meaningless tasks and struggling to pay off mountains of college debt on $15 an hour max wages.
Companies are essentially arguing that the US education system is a sham, it doesn’t prepare students for the working world. They don’t want the students who have been taught classic literature and how to think outside of the box anymore. They want automatons who can whip a professional-looking powerpoint together in fifteen minutes tops and then use Excel to build a financial model in the next fourty-five minutes.
Most college students choose a liberal arts degree, and no they probably are not ready to create financial models and marketing decks with the flip of a wrist. Instead, they are strong communicators, ready to think outside of the box and challenge the status quo, they want to do bigger things than create 60 powerpoints in 30 days. But…I don’t see why they can’t be ready to do both.
We can’t expect universities to provide job skills training like how to create marketing decks, how to conduct sales calls, or how to create a financial model, and I don’t think we would want them to go down this road either.
The current argument is that this is the role that internships play, but I speak from experience when I say that most internships do not offer the chance to learn many useful skills and instead consist of more the busy work that even entry level employees feel that they are above.
I believe that there is a better solution available for these job market ills. Clearly what we have right now is not working as well as it should be.
I was thinking recently about this problem and tried to think of a job market model that works better, and whether we could somehow statistically compare general job market candidates.
The best examples of efficient, comparable job markets (although also not perfect) I could think of were professional sports markets. These professional players, while in college, were simultaneously attending classes and participating in events that directly measured skills they weren’t learning in the classroom (hitting baseballs, throwing footballs, making free throws, etc.). Additionally, they routinely spent their summers in front of scouts, competing against their peers or attending camps to improve their skills.
Currently, there isn’t a good method for comparing regular job candidates outside of resumes and cover letters. But, imagine if these candidates were challenged every summer against their peers to create timely and interesting journalism pieces or value companies and pitch an investment strategy? I’m fairly certain that if these types of competitions and camps existed not only would employers send their HR “scouts” to watch, but performance metrics could evolve to compare candidates as well.
These camps and competitions would give the candidates huge challenges at which most would probably fail, but it’s precisely these sorts of challenges that keep them coming back for more and give them the incentive to practice what they have learned at home and at school.
Now the material that these students are learning in school has an additional dimension. Students are actively thinking how can this class be leveraged to help me succeed in the future, not just how can I breeze through college and graduate with a reasonable GPA.
Resumes, transcripts, cover letters, and interviews would all still have their place in this system, it would just be one of diminished value. Professional football teams still evaluate players based on their college careers, life off the field, personalities, etc. but the combine and college pro days give scouts another metric by which to evaluate candidates. It gives them a chance to find some diamonds in the rough, and to test all candidates on an open field, not restrained by what conference in which they played, what system in which they played, etc.
Resumes and cover letters are an old, dated, inefficient method. Moneyball has shown us the power of using statistics to evaluate performance rather than traditional, “soft” measures. It’s time that the rest of the world caught up with the world of sports and adopted to the new era of performance evaluation.
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