Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Vainer than Vayner?

Hurrah for UBS - or at least for the company mole who pricked the pomposity of possibly the most narcissistic of the Generation Y currently hitting the job market.

Yep, we all know about Aleksey - the media is almost as full of him as he is of himself.

But doesn't his gargantuan self-love and lack of self-awareness not reflect many of the youth we see coming through our doors - not looking for a job - but expecting one to land in their lap?

I interviewed some graduates recently for a graduate trainee post. All had amazing CVs with achievement certificates scrolling from ceiling to floor and tales of internship with the bluest of blue chips and pinnacles of media professionalism......yet they were applying for a ground floor job in a PR agency in Buckinghamshire.

On paper, they all looked great - shame we don't work that way. One guy ranted at me because I cut his interview short. He hadn't prepped for it, knew nothing about the company or what it did, and seemed to think his life was going to be one long round of parties (not 'til you make AD matey!). Another girl with staight As at A level and a predicted 2.1 for her degree couldn't string a sentence together - not great in a people business. One, who claimed a spell on the Guardian may well have been telling the truth - she certainly couldn't spell; had a vocab less than my 12 year old; and had read deeply and widely.....in chick lit.

We struggled to get a final four - none of the candidates could write a decent basic news release and none had much of a clue about face-to-face or even phone to phone communication technique. What was more worrying was we didn't sense they had much energy or appetite to learn.

When the final four came in for a day of testing and interacting with this client's team, we reached a place of clarity - none of our four would get the job. The reason? They couldn't take criticism, however useful or constructive it was. These precious pearls had emerged into the job market wrapped in the cotton wool of continuous praise and reward. I see the same thing happening at school with my kids - certificates for walking to school, for handing in hoework on time and for doing work of the expected standard. What was the expected minimum a generation ago is now cause for celebration. So, when these 20-somethings were pulled up on their poor performance for a final interview, they had no coping strategy. It was alien territory. No-one was saying either 'well done' or 'there, there, don't worry....and enjoy your lower attainment achievement'. Far from it, the boss I was helping recruit with said: 'that's not good enough - how can you make it better?'. Stars on paper fell swiftly from the sky.

Maybe we were particularly unlucky. I don't know. I do know that the particular company concerned has turned to the other end of the spectrum and has recruited two PRs heading into silver surfdom. They know they have to be nimble and learn a few new tricks to keep up with the Generation X-Zs, but they've got the humility and a bit of life history to draw on to make it happen.

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