Help wanted for job seekers

by Joe Nathan
Sun Thisweek

“Help wanted” should not just be a sign located on business storefronts looking for new employees.

Many job seekers need help, according to a 2012 study, a point also reiterated by people who responded to my recent column expressing compassion and concern for job applicants. Some who wrote had wise suggestions. Families and schools should do more to help people understand how to apply for a job.

One person sent me a Bellevue University study of more than 1,600 U.S. adults. “Nearly 40 percent of adults … said they’re not where they wanted to be in life.” More than 30 percent thought they would “have achieved more by now.”

Greg Meece, director of Newark Charter School in Delaware, wrote: “I couldn’t agree with you more. I receive hundreds of teacher application letters each year. Even teachers have few skills in how to best present themselves in print.”

The school now teaches these skills in a seventh-grade business education and technology class.

“It’s exciting to watch as kids, for the first time in their lives, begin to think of themselves as marketable commodities. When we ask them to create their resumes and they realize they haven’t joined any clubs or done any service projects they start to think about that. When we tell them they can’t list their moms as references they think of that, too.”

Resume-writing instruction stresses spelling, organization and design, in addition to producing a video resume.

Meece said future instruction will include interviewing skills, dressing for success, doing homework on a job or organization before submitting an application or go on an interview.

“I begin every teacher interview with the question, ‘What do you know about our school?’ ” Reece said. “Most interviewees don’t even check our website first. We hope the skills we’re teaching our middle schoolers will put them at the top of your list of 60 if they ever apply to your organization.”

Gary Gruber, an educator who works with schools around the United States, wrote: “We have not prepared students well or impressed them sufficiently with the importance of clear communication, precision and details. We have become a fast-food text nation of people who do not appreciate taking time to do things well, practice good grammar or project a more professional stance regardless of one’s job.

“That said, as you have noted, there are legions of well-qualified, underemployed and unemployed people who deserve an opportunity.”

Susan Abravanel, vice president of education at Youth Service America) in Washington, D.C., said she wanted to put the column up next to a “posted job description.”

“I often interview candidates, and many of your comments resonated directly with what I have encountered,” she wrote. “When years ago, I first reached the point where I was interviewing others, I would weed through the submitted applications with incredulity (‘I can’t believe she didn’t read the position posting!’) – or with exasperation as I read paragraph after paragraph that began, ‘I am the perfect person for your job!’ I wanted to respond, ‘Please, present your credentials and let us decide that.’ ”

Abravanel said the situation has dramatically deteriorated over the past 10 years.

“It is not only because there are fewer jobs to be had, and more people applying for them,” she wrote. “I think what we are seeing in candidates is a reflection (that) schools are not adequately preparing young people for the world of careers and work.”

She said the majority of job seekers, especially for entry-level positions, are young people who are looking for their first or second job.

“They arrive at our office doorstep filled with their own potential – but without either the skills to envision how that could fit with our needs nor even the understanding that it is something we would be looking for. While the world of work is built around teams meeting organizational missions, the world of these young people has been built around a far more individualistic – and out-of-step – process of getting them through to this point, whatever that took.  ‘Whatcha got for me?’ they ask.”

Barry Peterson, who works with young people called the column, “short, sweet, and kind.” Please consider helping people present themselves more effectively.

Joe Nathan has spent more than 40 years working with students, schools and families. Reactions welcome, [email protected] Columns reflect the opinion of the author.