Counseling recent grads trying to get jobs…tough work

Ok, here is one of the toughest and most frustrating parts of my work with university students: Counseling them on how to get a job after graduation. (Really they are alumni, but I still call them my students if they are coming to me for help)

Here is how many of our conversations start:

Student: Sir, I would like your help, please. I am trying to figure out how to get a job.

Me: OK, well, tell me what you have done so far.

Student: I made up a resume, searched and check the newspaper every day (the student’s face starts to look quite bleak at this early point in our conversation).

Me: So, what is the problem with your job search?

Student: Well, most of the jobs except telephone sales require relevant experience. And I have sent out 30 resumes to some possibilities that don’t require experience and I have never received one interview (at this point frustration is evident in their voice, facial expressions, and body language).

Me: What other reasons do you think besides experience might be resulting in you not hearing from potential employers? (No, I am not just asking questions to torment the poor student – I use questions as the foundation for most of my teaching and counseling).

Student: Sir, there is SO much competition from graduates at other universities. And I am new to Canada. And I don’t have straight ‘A’ grades. And I don’t know anyone (by now there are even tears peeking out around their eyes, and even possibly a quavering voice)

~~~~~~~~~~~~ TIME OUT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Why is this so painful for the students, tough on me and so darn frustrating for both of us? Well it is clear why the student is so hurt by the process. For me, it is because I have had the same conversation a zillion times in my teaching career! And seeing the pain the students are in makes me just plain ache inside in sympathy for their unhappiness and feelings of inadequacy, rejection, inability to be part of the great employment machine, be valuable to the world, and be a whole human being.

Why do I feel so strongly for these students? Well for one thing, I really like seeing students energized in life and not beaten down by it. But another reason I feel for them when they are really hurting is because…at one time I was in their exact situation. Yup, I felt the same way when I was a recent grad. I just wanted a chance to succeed at a good job – why wouldn’t anyone give me a chance to do so?


Now, some 20 years later, I can look back with gritted teeth and recall those horrible feelings. And with my eyes closed I can even dredge up remnants of them and relive the intensity of the feelings for a brief time.

So what? Is painful job hunting just something you go through? A rite of passage? A trial by fire?

No way. The terrible gut wrenching pain of feeling beaten, worthless and left out should NOT happen to young people looking for jobs. These people are the future of our organizations. They are the future of our society operating effeciently, effectively, and fairly.

Unfortunately this sad tale will repeat itself as long as students are taught that life is about following processes and not also about building relationships and constructing and focusing on goals. Yup, there I said it: They all have the same problem: They are trying to use their dominant process orientation to get a “job”. And to boot, the world of the 21st century is not even much about “jobs” anymore, either.

“Huh? Not about jobs? Hang on, you are losing me – but I want a job!”

Yup. And that is the problem. Let’s review some of the language going on in the earlier conversation. What success orientation are these words and phrases:

– “…how to get a job”
– “resume” and “…sent out 30 resumes”
– “searched”
– “require relevant experience”
– “never received one interview”
– “competition from graduates at other universities”
– “…I don’t have straight ‘A’ grades”

The language is a dead giveaway of their thinking. The student is trying to work through a job hunt process that is at best useless (some ridiculously small number of people become employed by applying to advertised jobs), and at worst degrading and humiliating. But because it is a seemingly normal, recognizable, and logical way for organizations to get their employees (“If I was a manager, I would of course advertise my jobs and hire this way!”), these highly process oriented students want it to work. And they want it to work so badly that they are willing to suffer mental torture and pain until the system finally delivers them into a nice job at a nice organization with nice people and nice instructions to follow and a nice amount of pay that arrives every 2 weeks in their nice bank account.

A friend of mine went 6 months in this manner and chewed through some $20,000 of his savings waiting for the system to deliver him his job. A graduate from a year ago contacted me recently – she had been waiting for over a year now.

What Can Be Done?

Yes, there is hope. Really. Here is how it works: First you get the students to understand that the world is not about jobs, but is about problems and goals. Then you help them understand that they can be part of the team that solves the problems and achieves the goals if they put themselves in contexts where they can present themselves in this way. Then they find themselves gainfully employed.

Simple! Isn’t it? Well no, of course not. But understanding that private companies see “jobs” as expenses is the first step. Then seeing that organizations exist to solve problems and achieve goals (profits in the private sector) is important. Finally, understanding that placing yourself in the appropriate context where you can interact with people whose job it is to solve problems and see that goals get achieved is the last thing you have to do. Assuming you have some shred of confidence, ability, motivation, and sincerity, indicating that you are a catalyst for the solving of problems and achieving of goals will result in you becoming employed. Employed doing just that: helping to solve problems and achieve goals for your organization.

Really, it is that simple. I have job hunt success stories to match each horror story I hear.

Simple it is, but easy it is not.


Because most students have not developed, or been encouraged to develop, abilities in all three of the success orientations. More importantly, they have had their relationship orientations discouraged (“don’t talk in class”) and their goal orientations squashed (tests, bells, assignments, etc.) again and again over their entire educational career. It is no surprise that upon graduation from their post-secondary education they are faced with a new playing field and a lack of skills for playing in it.

So how exactly would many of them know that they had to network at conferences, chat and discuss online, mingle at association and industry meeting and trade shows, shake hands at chamber of commerce meetings, etc.? How would they know that they would have to seek out the goals of individual organizations and find out the exact needs of managers – and then let them know that they could fulfill those needs.

Well, in my role as some form of career counselor, I have to start somewhere helping my students understand these ideas and ways of doing things. So I created a process of my own. One that leads them down a mental path they haven’t been down since they were children and before they had their natural inquisitiveness, sociability, abilities to think, and confidence beaten out of them by process oriented school systems. A path back to being able to figure out for themselves how the world really works.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ END TIME OUT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Me: So, if you were a manager, what do you think would be the problems you would face in your day to day job?…

A very strong process orientation

I had a philosophical disagreement this week with another faculty member. Basically this instructor believes that students should follow a template for completing their graduate thesis work. “I do consider the process resembling a ‘paint-by-numbers‘ approach” is a direct quotation.

Further arguments used in favour of a standard format approach included:

1. “…most of the IE [international education] students in the MBA program do not have a good command of the English language, and they are not used to working in unstructured settings.”

2. “…the standard format provides them with more focus and structure, and generally…results in a better grade for the student.”

3. “…grades are given for specific tasks [tasks=structural components being present is the implication], and the marker is asked to judge how well that task was accomplished.”

I respectfully disagreed and left this a philosophical difference – which it really is. Obviously a process orientation dominates my peer’s way of thinking. Rather than provide a line by line rebuttal, which would fill a book, I thought to leave my notes here with a few questions in response:

1. How do people learn to work in unstructured settings? By being given structure or by being given a “safe” and supportive environment in which to find ways of generating their own structure? And at a Masters degree level, should we still be giving structure – any structure – to students? When Masters degree graduates get into the real world, will they be taking up positions doing highly structured work or will they have to be the ones who create structure for others to follow? If the latter is the case, then shouldn’t they be getting ready now in our post-secondary institutions?

2. By following the standard format we may get better grades (from this one instructor only!), but will we be successful in life by always being followers? More importantly, what if the standard format leads us to an incorrect output? What if life is not about standard formats but about change, uncertainty, and finding your way through tangled and often conflicting messages? The “standard format” for the American Way of Life, for example, is consume as much as you can, have as big a house as you can in the suburbs, and maximize the size of your SUV. What is the output of this standard template? Global warming, huge disparities between the rich and the poor in the world, economic imperialism, and more. Perhaps people should focus less on following someone else’s standard template in life and more on creating their own?

3. In the end, do grades matter? Will anyone look at your grades once you graduate? Will the bottom line of your company reflect how well you as a manager, for example, followed a standard template? Does it matter how much “stuff” you have collected at the end of your life following the American Way of Life? Will you look back bitterly and wish you had not judged your own accomplishments (and lack of them) by the limited criteria of a standard template?

All interesting questions. And all part of where philosophies and views of the world differ. Success orientations play a part by being both a cause and by being a result of these ways to thinking.

First Thoughts: Success Orientations in the movies

I love observing human behavior and trying to figure out why people do the things they do. Maybe it is because I find the contrast between the logic of science and the seeming illogic of human behavior so fascinating. I use the word “seeming” because once you dig a bit deeper into human behavior there is almost always some sort of clever logic going on, even if it is based on shaky foundations.

So when I see a TV show or movie that makes me tilt my head like a dog does when he is trying to figure something out, I delight in digging deeper to see how the script writer and director worked to put together certain behaviors.

A delightful case in point is a new series running on the SciFi channel this summer called “Eureka“. The setting is the Pacific Northwest in a town full of scientists gathered by the U.S. government. The environment and the government installation where most of them work is top secret and high security. Due to the off-the-wall nature of some of the scientists and their creations, the scene is set for strange and interesting drama. I chose this one series out of zillions of examples because part of it was filmed where I live – so it hits close to home, so to speak.

What is particularly interesting is the characters emerging and how they fit the success orientations model so perfectly. Here are a couple of examples:

First is the new Sheriff Carter, scripted to be a primary goal and secondary process oriented lawman. This is the typical old-west Sheriff updated to the 21st century – get to the heart of the crime even if it will kill you (goal orientation), do so within the bounds of the law and due process if you can (secondary process orientation) and relationships can just go and hang themselves. In the series he is divorced from his wife and at odds with his daughter, who has barely seen him since birth since he works all the time achieving goals.

The not-so-normal sidekick to the Sheriff is an extreme process oriented deputy named Jo, played by an ex-military, gun-loving toughie. Jo is so process oriented that she cleans her guns constantly, and uses the want ads to find a date, allowing the Sheriff’s daughter to help her sort out the illogic of matchmaking. When at odds with the Sheriff, she uses processes to keep him from achieving his goals as in the 4th episode when he wants access to cool sci-fi weaponry but she won’t let him until he passes a knowledge test. Besides being “relationship challenged” goals are secondary to her process orientation. When the phone rings she waits for the Sheriff to answer it, regardless of how long it rings, again struggling with him in the establishment of process dominance. Process oriented people love controlling the processes to be sure they achieve success. Jo was at odds because the normal promotion process didn’t pay off: She was passed over for promotion to Sheriff. Perhaps it wasn’t because she couldn’t shoot a gun but because she was so grossly weak in terms of relationships!

When authority figures come into contact with the public in the daily completion of their duties they have to have some relationship orientations skills at the very least but at best can use all three orientations well. This balanced individual is typically extremely effective at their job.

Our media is packed with examples of different orientation mixes playing themselves out. Good script writers put different mixes at odds with each other for the purposes of conflict, drama, love, and comedy.

OK, a promise to myself: I won’t start to dissect everything I watch. BORING. Just enjoy some of them, like the new Battlestar Galactica series where the really goal oriented Commander Adama is at odds with his relationship-starved son…