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“Many graduate, expecting the world to come to them. Maybe justifiably – after all they’ve worked hard for three or more years and every university will tell you how a degree from their institution leads to such amazing things – but, misguidedly.”

I wrote some time ago about ‘The Middle Problem’ and I still believe it exists. Creating job openings and providing skills to young people are both statistically measurable and therefore politically worthwhile issues to tackle. They’re certainly important, but even with all the vacancies in the world, qualifications alone do not secure a position. That’s the middle problem.

The media has, for the last few years, been covering stories of young people –often graduates- who have unsuccessfully applied for 500 or more positions in as little as six months via the internet, often receiving no response. This is reported as a frustration, with blame usually laid at the doors of employers or recruiters, but who does the fault really lie with?

Six months is half a year, which is 26 weeks. If the jobseeker was putting in a full seven day week on the hunt, they would be applying for around three positions a day. To create an amazing job application there are usually forms to complete, a covering letter or personal statement to write and really, there should be a phone call to the organisation or hiring manager (it’s always offered) to get some more information before doing any of that. To complete such an amount of work three or more times a day (given that the phone call would be unlikely on both Saturday and Sunday) would take a monumental effort and in all likelihood, is a very unusual occurrence.

What actually happens is young people are conditioned to think that education=opportunity. Many graduate, expecting the world to come to them. Maybe justifiably – after all they’ve worked hard for three or more years and every university will tell you how a degree from their institution leads to such amazing things – but, misguidedly. After graduating and a sudden realisation that a job must be found, or a career made, the fear sets in. Lacking the tools to actively go out and hunt down opportunity, while carrying substantial amounts of debt for the first time, they start to press the ‘submit’ button.

Every job site offers a template covering letter based on your profile and it’s so simple to see a job ad, think ‘I could do that, easily’ and just press submit. Again… and again.

Unfortunately, what employers want to see is a carefully created application from someone who has researched their organisation and really wants to be part of it. So anything anonymous, non-descript or erroneous is immediately discarded.

How do we get around this?

We need to eradicate the lethargic applicant, tackle the middle problem and create the entrepreneurial job seekers of tomorrow.

If you ever watch Dragon’s Den, so often the frustrated Dragon’s ask an entrepreneur – if you want your product stocked there, why aren’t you just turning up and camping in reception until someone from the buying team sees you?

And that’s just it. Graduates, school leavers, young and old jobseekers should forget about quantity and go for quality. Don’t apply for every job you could do, apply for the ones you want, in the organisations you dream of being part of. Hunt them down, learn about them, get on their radars. Even if there’s no position for you now, if they know you really want to be there, you’ll be at the forefront of their thoughts, or at the very least your well-researched enthusiasm will put your application to the top of the very large pile!

But how do we create this entrepreneurial job seeker who goes out to grab opportunity, who doesn’t sit at home on the internet trawling job listings, lamenting how hard the world is? That’s something we all need to address… let’s infuse proactivity. Young people need to understand that you’re allowed to chase your dreams, but that it is a chase – it’s up to you to make it happen.

Because, the other side of the card is a threat to us all. An enthusiastic, skilled graduate, ready to find their way in the world of work, applies for a job they don’t want, just because they can do it and the pay is acceptable. After a few months, the novelty wears off and they coast on the wage packet. All of a sudden, a decade has passed and neither they nor their employer has benefitted from the ideas or enthusiasm they had. Everyone involved has flatlined.

The employer recruited against skills and qualifications, not personality, aptitude and shared values; the graduate joined the organisation for the same reasons. It’s an arrangement destined to go nowhere exciting.

It’s a miserable treaty between employer and employee all too familiar to those of us who have seen it and even experienced it. Organisations need entrepreneurial jobseekers, just as much as the job seekers themselves need that dose of proactivity.

Let’s find a way to create that optimism, confidence and tenacity amongst our graduates, for the sake of every workplace…

if you like this blog, make sure to join the Graduate Recruitment and Development Summit 2015, to learn how other employers are attracting the right talent.


I believe that simpler, more human organisations are the future. I’m passionate about work, culture and engagement and I’m prepared to live my theories!
To fully question what ‘work’ is conceptually, structurally and personally, understand the mechanisms it perpetuates in our lives, how its evolving and how we can make it better, I’m currently living as a one-man project. You can find out more about "The Work Project", the #100Connections side project and get links to my blogs at my website.
I also use LinkedIn to blog some of my theories that build bridges between HR, internal communications and the workplace.

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