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Is it all about the money and the brand?

· Career
On the 11th September 2014, I had a chat with a great friend of mine, Usman, a guy who founded Identifi , a company designed to help organizations to unlock potential for their workforce. The original vision was to help talents realize their potential. I recalled 4 years ago when I was doing my doctoral degree, I heard about the idea and volunteered to help him.

Now the company is 4 years old and we went back to the same conversation. Do degree graduates only care about money and brand in their first job applications?

Lack of awareness is the reason for their choices

My argument was that they are not fully aware of what they can do and what they love to do. Therefore their choices are pre-determined by their past experiences.

Money is the most observable signal for career beginners.

Therefore the default choice for them is to find a job to meet their primal needs: food and accommodation. Money is the most tangible rewards for accepting these job offers. Yet, we know only a few companies can afford to compete on salary packaging.

As such, they resort to the next common strategy: creating a great brand for attracting candidates.

Same selection bias: Great brand, Great school

Their choice to work for a company with a great brand name is primarily driven by the need to acquire strong productivity signals. After young adults finish high schools, they would generally want to go to top ranking universities. That same thought selection process persists for these university graduates especially for those without any internship experience.

Top tier consulting firms, investment banks and Fortune 500 companies sell great training programs and great salaries as part of their recruitment drive to attract the cream of the corps. The recent fever for graduates is to apply for jobs for rising superstar startups like Uber, Dropbox and Food Meet and Match. Yet, an individual who chooses not to accept these offers does not mean he or she is neither smart nor capable. It’s just that the likelihood of switching to another job from the existing position in a company with great brand increases dramatically . That is because competitors or other companies view a candidate with the brand akin to getting a talent with great training.

Gaining enlightenment is just like falling in love for the first time.

As such, most of these great companies have high turnover rate to reflect the reality that some of these highly intelligence graduates gain more perspective about their capabilities , their passion and their preferences.

This is analogous to those falling in love for the first time. People tend to fall in love at first sight driven primarily by their biological instincts or their upbringing experiences. Only time will reveal whether this relationship works out for them. Once they are out of love and move onto the next relationship, each of them gains a better understanding about themselves. At the same time, they know what to look for in their new partner before beginning the next relationship.

Google and the likes are the outliers, so….

Google and other great companies devote a significant amount of their resources to keep the turnover rate so low that they become outliers. Few outstanding leaders can continue to keep their talents motivated and happy in the long run. One way that Google did well in keeping such a low turnover is using insights from multiple sources of data to identify the right fit.

Providing data driven insights to these graduates

If there is such a company that enables a collection of data from the social activities of these undergraduates and correlates them with the past social activities of their alumni career path, then these undergraduates would have a much clearer idea of their strengths, their passion, their learning abilities and their job preferences. One possible way is to aggregate these information from existing social networks like facebook, linkedin and health tech wears. Of course nothing is perfect as of now. Firstly, people lacks the discipline to publish or curate all of their activities on the web. Secondly, even then there is always self selection behaviors at play in that the individual can choose to omit information or remit a different representation of the information. Although these issues are not possible to be eliminated, we should push forward realizing this idea to help graduates who want to seek enlightenment about their job calling. This is similar to the lean startup principle: fail fast, fail forward. By trying many activities and curating the results of these activities, graduates can evaluate themselves against those who are ahead in their career paths. That will enable them to make better career decisions.

More than just relying on psychometric tests and cognitive tests

Instead of following Google, most management training programs try to identify these traits by using psychometric tests and cognitive tests. Yet we all know that the limitation of these tests can be gamed by graduates with every intention to get in first. As such, these recruitment efforts via these tests are very limited in identifying true competency and true cultural fit. Yet, just like exams , these diagnostic tools are the current best possible techniques for companies to identify talents. Yet, we know that the education landscape is changing from being exam oriented to application oriented. Likewise, we need more courageous and visionary entrepreneurs to push forward innovative ways to identify talents that fit well with their company culture.

Emerging solutions are enlightening graduates

While there is yet an aggregator to help graduates identify their job calling, there are some companies that provide more information for career decision making. The musethe vault and glassdoor are providing greater insights about working for great companies. Yet these companies offer qualitative information. It would be great if there is one great company or startup that aims to offer a series of indexes that are universal and can be used to measure expected career happiness or life’s meaningful metrics other than purchasing power and employer’s prestige. Existing HR consulting companies like HayGroup and Mercer offer quantitative analytics to serve the corporates with compensation benchmarking and employee engagement. Having a company to serve the masses in quantitative HR career decision making can be just like Facebook or Google, companies that truly change peoples’ lives for better. In this case, this company will truly empower graduates to find their life calling.

Solving the Meno’s paradox is the key to future career empowerment

Until such a company exists, there is an inherent Meno’s paradox to career empowerment. Either you know what you are looking for or you do not know what you are looking for. Until these graduates become aware of other ways to measure the impact of their career decisions, their default choices are money and brand. As such, it is not only these tangible drivers to limit their life choices but rather it is us, who are ahead in life to help them to be empowered.

The question is are you helping them if you are a senior OR are you aware of other choices if you are still searching for your job calling?

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