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Thursday, November 10. 2011
I got a spanking in the comments on my college post yesterday from Dos Amigos, and perhaps did deserve it. (Well, everybody deserves a spanking anyway, just on general sinfulness principles.)
So let me inquire of our readers:
If a person comes to you with a college degree in hand, what, if anything, do you feel you ought to be able to expect them to know (besides how to bait a beaver trap)?
I have made it clear what I expect, and I am on our interview committee. Beware of me, new grads, because I am a demanding SOB who will ask questions you might not anticipate including math tricks to check your wit and quotes to check your knowledge, and will expect no less of you than I have expected of myself!
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Clarifying question...by 'beaver' are you refering to a woman or the animal?
If woman, I do know about bating that kind of trap.
The above aside, how much space do I have to list it all?
Beginning with Statistics, basic thermodynamics, the phsyciology of the kidney, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and a lengthy explanation of the metaphor of the cave?
I've interviewed approx 25 fresh outs since March. The positions are all (analytical) chemistry. Mostly chem, some chem e, some bio. A few w/ MS, most w/ BS/BA.
What I expected:
Knowledge of chemistry, particularly analytical chemistry. I'm shocked at how many people don't even prepare for the interview by reviewing their chemistry. Too much of a mindset that passing a test confers knowledge.
Ability to anticipate and prepare. Few candidates prepared by researching our company or our particular product. I didn't expect them to know everything, or much at all, but most had done no prep work. That ability to project ahead, "What might I need?" should be a big part of a college degree.
Decent communication skills, verbal and oral, in English.
Evidence of listening and comprehension skills.
These positions are expected to develop into challenging jobs, working independently on open-ended questions. So we look for that. I don't know if that's a requisite for every college graduate.
To date we've made 4 hires and did or would have made offers to 3 others if circumstances were right. That's about a 30% success rate from among the resumes we even considered.
In my role, I've interviewed entry level positions at various organizations for the last 15 years.
I've only ever been completely 100% happy with 5 of the 30+ people I've hired. I've had mostly 'wins', but it's always the losers which you're constantly reminded of.
Typically, I don't care if they even have a degree. Every person, save one, I've interviewed had a degree. The only one who didn't, I wound up hiring and she was the most conscientious, hardest working person I ever had work for me. She was a winner, and mainly because she just knew what she had to do to make people recognize her abilities. She was diligent, always on time, had good things to say about others, offered solutions with minimal complaints.
That said, since most people do have a degree, I really want to see a few things. First, are they curious or inquisitive? I can usually tell by how quickly they ask me questions about the job or items I have on my desk and office. Second, are they willing to have an opinion? I'll usually ask them a question about themes in the industry to see if they shrug them off, or have thought about them. Third, can they do basic math? The job requires it - so they better know how to do it. Finally, can they work with a computer? It astounds me how many young people have never worked with any Microsoft Office products - let alone worked on a computer using anything beyond the internet or a game!
In the process of the interview, I can tell if they've done preparation based on their responses, and I can tell if they can communicate well (enough). Sometimes, well enough is all I'll get from HR.
The jobs are sales support and operations - so I'm really looking for someone who is hard working and learns quickly. Figuring that out prior to their arrival is a crapshoot. I had a straight A student, high achiever, who absolutely melted down a week after start.
Then I also had the kid who I offered the job to who replied "that's not enough for me to get my own apartment in Manhattan." I gave him 24 hours to figure out if it was more important to have a job that allowed him to get his own apartment or to just have a job. He's still at that company, and doing well by all accounts.
I expect them to know how to read.
A good work record trumps degrees for me unless it's something specialized/vocational - like engineering.
Oh, and a 4.0 almost guarantees a resume going into the garbage. Too much dishonesty is required to get an A in every course from every professor - especially from the communists and the creeps.
I only look at STEMs. If they are C students, they can minimally do the job, but they are distractable. B's are reliable. A's are mostly valuable right out of the box, but beware the prima donnas.
The most important STEM skill by far is the ability to communicate well, spoken and written. Including two-way communication.
The second most important skill is to be able to work and produce in a team environment.
With those two, if your knowledge base and enthusiasms match our needs, we can hire you.
Let's have a quick-witted, intelligent, and challenging conversation about what you like to do, what you want to do, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and have you got the domain knowlege to be productive on day one.
As Forest says, they need to be able to read and understand basic English, at least enough to read memos and safety material. Basic math skills as well (basic algebra would be a benefit but at least enough to calculate percentages and interest rates, decimals and fractions). The capability to write coherently and to know how and when to use a dictionary or thesaurus. A minimal background history of the field is also necessary (who or what founded the industry, how has it developed over time, to what other industries or practices is it related).
And basic geography is essential, both of North America and of the world - i.e. New Mexico is a state. Canada and Mexico are foreign countries. You do not need to speak Spanish or to obtain a visa to do field work near Clovis, New Mexico!
Out of curiosity, what is the difference between verbal and oral communications skills?
In this instance "verbal" is simply a minor misspelling of "written".
tbh the last several job interviews I've had I had no time to prepare, getting the invitation through a headhunter only hours before the interview (usually a call at 9PM if I was able and willing to schedule upcoming interview at 10AM the next morning, leaving precious little time to get a decent night's sleep).
Quickly taking in the company website, specifically looking for the name of the person I was supposed to meet, was often the best I could manage.
Of course I'm not a fresh college graduate, having 15 years of work experience after getting my bachelor's in physics, but don't discount the possibility that a candidate indeed didn't know he had an invitation until it was too late to prepare properly (I always mention that though, if it happens).
As to what I'd expect from a fresh graduate:
- basic language and math skills.
- basic understanding on physics, chemistry, or whatever he or she studied.
- and above all an eagerness to learn and help out the team.
IMO you're in college to learn to learn, not to learn to perform a job (though the process of learning to learn should teach you some things useful in performing a job in your chosen field of interest, mostly I'd consider it just the groundwork on which a company can build a professional of value to them).
Maybe my expectations have been reduced beyond what was once considered reasonable.
Ha Ha Barrister.....take my words with a grain of salt but thanks for not getting offended. As a high school Tech Ed/Shop teacher, I see brilliant young folks who cannot spit out the proper answers in State test booklets so they're considered dummies. As the National Honor Society Advisor, I've seen many "braniacs" who cannot get out of their own way over any practical consideration so I'm not surprized at all that the folks going off to colleges are well behind in skills such as 1) giving a shit 2) reasoning 3) Accepting/considering alternative opinions. Each of those attributes apply to my best shop students but are woefully short in academic students.
Still, I think that there are many fine students among American Universities and any standardized test will fail to uncover true abilities. Besides, a standardized test will only measure a snapshot of a moment's thought. For instance, Barrister would have been marked off for failing to pay greater attention in his referrrence toward me as my name is Dose Amigo, not Amigos but alas, a moment too quick on the keyboard and a test booklet can falsely show someone who's obviously very bright as prone to missing details. I've got a feeling that Barrister doesn't miss too many details.
I'll tell you how I'll assess a young person's true knowledge and it will start with 18 holes of golf. I'll learn more about a person's character in 18 holes than I will working beside them for five years. Then we'll move on to repairing a small automotive problem such as changing out a thermostat. After I'm certain that they can do computational math, write well and speak with a degree of eloquence, we'll get out there and set that beaver trap!
The people I hired in my management days got a warm reception with cookies and tea or coffee in a relaxing atmosphere, low light in the office painted in light, comfortable colors and a very comfortable interview chair. I'd put them at ease chit chatting about this and that. You can see the tension just drain out of them. This technique had value - once people think you are on their side, you get some really deep background without them even knowing they are giving it to you.
Then you get medieval on them. You smack 'em with the what makes you think you're qualified for this job question. Hand them a circuit drawing that made no sense and ask them to solve for capacitive reactance. Ask them to spell vacuum while talking about something else - believe me, you would be surprised at how many people get that wrong when they are under pressure. I had a circuit diagram of 100 resistors all in series/parallel configured in a loop and asked them to build an equation that would solve for total resistance of the circuit at any given value. I loved that one. And my favorite question of all usually asked right out of the blue - "can you work well with senior women engineers"? That one usually provoked an interesting response - had one candidate walk out on me. :>)
I looked at it this way - if you had the technical resume, then you probably had the chops for an entry level engineering job. I wanted to know how you worked under pressure because manufacturing engineering is a pressure job. There is no real way to test that in an interview, but you can get a sense of the personality and expertise - it's all a crap shoot.
Heh - true story. Towards the end of my industrial working career, I was asked to take on a small outside engineering consult. I said sure - have them give me a call.
A day or so goes by and I get a call from the firm's Engineering Manager. He invites me out for a round of golf - 18 holes at a very exclusive country club/golf course.
I told him that I didn't play golf. The silence was deafening. You could literally hear the gears in his head spinning and grinding as he tried to figure out how he could get in a round of 18 at this exclusive golf course on the company dime.
I finally let him off the hook. I told him that my oldest son was a scratch golfer and I thought I could prevail on him to play while I just rode around and enjoyed the sun shine being an outdoorsy type and all. And I'd buy lunch.
Problem solved although he was rather pissed when my son spanked his sorry ass. But that's another story.
I don't know about that. My sister-in-law got 4.0 in every class she took but she also worked/studied very hard for a Classics degree from Berkeley. On the other hand, I've met few others like her.
LOL!!! Yeah - I hear you. I stumble and mumble and tumble all the time. When I do a post here, I have two permanent editors, BD and Bruce to clear things up. :>)
"Dose Amigo" had two good points. First, college-bashing posts here tend to be the Barrister's province. Second, nobody knows everything about all topics.
OTOH, Barrister makes a good point about expecting a fundamental grounding in common topics. (But what's with 'mechanical engineering'? Why not information theory?)
When I was an engineering undergrad, one of my professors gave the best description of the purpose of our being there. He told the class, "The goal of this education isn't to teach you what's in the books. It's to teach you to teach yourself." Amen, Prof.
My corollary is that you can't teach yourself without being able to think for yourself.
Now identifying that quality is a tougher goal for an interviewer. But I think you can tell the ones who can think -- and re-evaluate -- on their feet from those who can't with a bit of clever questioning. For example, give 'em 10 minutes to prepare a 2-minute speech proving the world is a globe. (It can be done.)
I could bore most people to tears on most STEM topics and with scientific/engineering biography. And I'm a fair shake at the Bible, history (American, Roman, European), and Roman/Greek mythology.
But I don't know jack about classic English literature and never cared to. Never needed it, never missed it and the lack hasn't cost me a dime. Shakespeare... feh. (American literature is a different case - that I do enjoy and know a little about.)
P.S. I don't know anything about beaver traps either.
Funny how in all this not one word about military (in the sense of another four year institution) knowledge, skills, or abilities. Not saying there should have been, necessarily, just interesting that there wasn't.
To what are you referring, honey? He spelled "beaver" correctly.
Fixed that for ya'. Shows you what a GED can do.
"bating". Although all you MF folk know more about hunting and baiting than I do so perhaps that is the correct term of art, dearie. If so, accept my humble apologies.
No apology necessary, darling. If he took a bat to the trap, the spelling would still be wrong. It seems i's and r's get dropped along the way from time to time. Inattention to detail I suppose...