Since the start of the Great Recession a popular mode of thought has been that employers want employees with specific technical skill sets. There has been a huge push for more Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, and Mathematicians (STEMs) in the American workforce. We’ve all heard the numbers, hundreds of thousands of STEM jobs remain unfilled in the United States because there are not enough qualified graduates to fill them. Having said that, is the popular narrative that liberal art majors can’t contribute meaningfully to organizations entirely a myth? Do employers really pass over generalist completely?
According to this article, they don’t. Apparently many employers want broad skill sets when looking for employees. This is, of course, what college has traditionally been about. Getting a broad foundation, and dabbling in the specifics of a particular field has been the modus operandi of higher education for decades.
“93 percent of employers agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” Four out of 5 employers said each college graduate should have broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences, and 3 out of 4 would recommend a liberal education to their own children.”
This is a confusing message; employers want broad skill sets, but they also want experience and talent in specific fields (usually STEM fields). It seems employers want it all, and since the recession began they are increasingly demanding it all, because they can.
The recession has allowed employers to be more selective in their hiring processes because of basic rules of supply and demand. Huge demand for jobs, low supply of jobs. What’s been dangerous about this is that while employers are apparently fond of generalists, they are increasingly making their hiring processes more demanding. Instead of just wanting people who have a broad higher educational background; they now want, and can demand, job candidates be highly proficient in a specific skill set coming straight out of school. Not only must a graduate know important concepts in sociology, literature, political science, history, and philosophy; but we’re expected to have some specific training in biology, chemistry engineering, computer science, or statistics. This is just, frankly, unreasonable. Where there used to be an expectation between employers and employees alike that there would be some on-the-job training, I get the impression this is no longer the case. Employers are looking for people that can truly hit the ground running with very little training and/or oversight. Again, it’s understandable, but unreasonable.
Which brings me to another point; employers are making prospective employees jump through hoops during the hiring process. In some respects the hiring process at some organizations is comical, but because employers can do it, they are doing it. In this New York Times piece from last week, some of the comedy of the hiring process is highlighted:
“Like other job seekers around the country, he has been through marathon interview sessions. Mr. Sullivan has received eighth- and ninth-round callbacks for positions at three different companies. Two of those companies, as it turned out, ultimately decided not to hire anyone, he said; instead they put their openings “on hold” because of budget pressures.”
Eight to nine interviews is a bit excessive. What could possibly be gained from bringing back candidates so many times? This just leads me to believe that employers, due to the breadth and depths of candidates in this economy don’t actually know what they are looking for. It’s analogous to someone who is so picky about who they date that you get the impression they don’t actually know what a good partner is because they’ll find faults in everyone. And if you’re an organization that is facing budget pressures, is it really a smart move to be interviewing candidates you know you can’t hire? Is that fair and considerate to the candidates time and emotional investment? As job seekers we’re told to know details about a company before going into the interview process. Is it not also the responsibility of employers to know what they are looking for, and the resources available to the company ahead of time?