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Career Coaching Is Latest Trend for Recent College Grads Seeking Jobs

March 8, 2006
Related Topics: Featured Article, Recruitment, Staffing Management
Career coaches are usually hired by executives and disillusioned midcareer professionals. But in the past two years a different kind of client has been using career coaches--college seniors and recent grads. An increasing number of career coaches now offer programs to guide new grads through the interview process and into a first job.

    For hiring managers, the prep is sometimes obvious, sometimes not. Does it matter? Are employers being duped?

    As entry-level career coaches become de rigueur for graduating seniors, it’s more important than ever that employers see the person behind the prep, says Robert W. Wendover, author of Smart Hiring (Sourcebooks, 2005) and director of the Center for Generational Studies in Aurora, Colorado, which looks at generational relations in the workforce. Although this kind of coaching prepares students to be great candidates, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will be great employees.

    "You have to be creative in the interview process," says Wendover, who recommends, for example, that employers walk the job candidate around the work environment during the interview. Coached candidates have been prepared for questions, but not for walking while being questioned.

    "Just having to look at what they are seeing, avoid bumping into desks, turning down hallways changes the dynamic" and throws a candidate off guard, Wendover says.

    For their part, coaches maintain that if a candidate goes to great lengths to prepare for an interview, they are likely to train and prepare as well for all phases of their career. And even though most entry-level hires will be trained for their new jobs, that training probably won’t include how to speak at a client meeting, the proper dress for representing the company or how to write a business letter--all of which is often imparted during coaching sessions for new college grads.

    D.A. Hayden and Michael Wilder, founders of Hayden-Wilder, a Boston-based firm that provides coaching to college students and recent grads, say employers definitely benefit from hiring a coached candidate. Before they founded the firm in September 2005, Hayden and Wilder--former marketing and communication executives--conducted in-depth interviews with 50 executives who handled hiring at companies in a variety of industries. About 80 percent said the entry-level candidates they screened were unprepared for the experience.

    "We have started receiving calls from Fortune 100 companies, asking us to send them our best clients because they are having great difficulty finding appropriate candidates," Wilder says.

    Jud Saviskas is president and CEO of coaching firm Student Futures Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut, and a former human resources consultant. Saviskas says that employers shouldn’t feel misled if a great candidate turns out to have been coached. He believes his clients are actually better hires than those who aren’t coached.

    "We require them to do a lot of self-assessment and then we assess their skills and values too, so I think they make much more informed career decisions," Saviskas says. "And we have them research the company, so they are more knowledgeable about the work environment they might be joining."

    However, David Lewin, professor of management and human resources at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, sees entry-level career coaching as a new twist on an old practice. Placement offices at colleges have been counseling students for decades, he says. Charging hefty fees and calling the process coaching may simply be semantics.

    A rose by any other name, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean the process isn’t benefiting employers.

    Scott Testa, CEO of intranet software provider Mindbridge in Norristown, Pennsylvania, sees coaching as a very positive step for new grads. About 65 percent of the positions at Mindbridge are entry-level, primarily in support and development. Testa says that when the job market was very strong, candidates were "as unprepared as ever," but as the market got weaker in 2001 and candidates had more experience going on interviews, those that came to Mindbridge were more polished. As the job market strengthens, Testa is seeing a return to those who are less prepared.

    "We had someone interview after filling out an application where he didn’t answer the question that asked if he had been convicted of a crime," Testa says. "We asked about it and this guy said, ‘I don’t have to answer that,’ and started arguing with us about it."

    Although Testa says he finds the story amusing, he points out that it illustrates the disconnect he feels between himself and new graduates, who he says behave in ways that would have been unthinkable to him at their age.

    "I think if a candidate believes a job here is important enough that they want to be coached to handle the interview process, they probably take other aspects of their life and career seriously too," he says.

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