With so many stakeholders involved in the graduate employability and employment world, it is unsurprising that there are seemingly conflicting agendas and mixed messages.  Are you lost in translation?

Here are a few caricatures and generalisations to illustrate the point:

  • If you ask Government Ministers what they want, some will say greater social mobility.
  • If you ask employers what they want, they regularly say graduates ready for the workplace from day one.
  • If you ask small businesses what they want, many will say to survive in the worst economic downturn in a century.
  • If you ask senior leaders in the private sector what they want, they will say graduates with the right mindset.
  • If you ask some hiring managers in the same organisation, they simply want someone who can do C++ programming (or some other specific skill).
  • If you ask recruiters what they want, they will say to meet their sales targets.
  • If you ask universities what they want, they will say more funds and improved destination rates.
  • If you ask academics what they want, many will say ‘to be left alone to do my research’.
  • If you ask graduates what they want, they say a job (check out Gradcore’s survey).

So what to make of this confusion?  Employers at a senior level are taking a strategic view as evidenced by research from global recruitment company, Reed.  They asked 800 organisations what was the most important factor in the recruiting decision.  97% said mindset trumps skills.   You can even measure mindset now – check out James Reed’s book on Put Your Mindset to Work and his 3G Panorama tool.  Some have sought to separate out jobs, careers and callings.

The danger in the current economic climate is for internal recruiters lower down the organisation taking a short-term view and focusing purely on skill set (bums on seats, this job, now).  Some take the view that a CV tells you nothing and interviews are purely about gut instinct.  In effective recruitment processes, the hiring manager will ensure mindset is part of the equation at a later stage.  The danger is the potential for lack of alignment between strategic intent and the internal and external recruiting supply-chain.

Yes, competencies are needed to prove what you can do.  The danger for our economies is that leaving it at that level will not lead to growth.  Defaulting to competency-based selection because it’s easier and more convenient devalues human talent and potential in all its glorious complexity.

A recent Talent Puzzle blog asked “Why does this matter?” and gave the crucial answer  “because as many as 3 out 4 hires is wrong” including some interesting figures of the costs to organisations that then result.

The first leap into work is an increasingly difficult challenge for young people, and not just graduates, as highlighted in the findings this week of the Work Foundation report on NEETs, Lost in Transition.  It’s not only Lost in Transition, it’s also Lost in Translation.  Graduates do have many of the employable attributes employers seek, many just struggle to recognise them and to put them across.

In my book Learning to Leap, I make the case for employability as a lifelong journey.  There are already signs that the term is becoming associated with a single leap into a job. In the long run, I believe graduates will find it more helpful to see it as a series of regular leaps of improvement and renewal to develop a meaningful career which serves as a win-win for both employers and employees.

Today, at any stage of life, we all need to learn new skills, new knowledge and adapt our mindset and behaviours for changing personal and business circumstances.  Adding to one’s employability ‘set’ of capabilities can make all the difference in getting work, staying in work or moving on.  It means being open to change and self-development, strengthening our resilience and re-inventing ourselves so we learn to leap with confidence.