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The Final Four

Final FourJust a few short weeks ago, I took my high school Junior on a whirlwind college campus tour – 4 colleges in 4 days- that was our goal.  The competitive landscape to be accepted at one of our state universities is tough to say the least. There are no shortages of applicants to each of the major universities, nor is there a shortage of rejections. This will be a very interesting year as she begins to have her first experience really exposing herself, her work and her past to be judged.

It was a great week of travel and we met our goal by visiting all of the university campuses that she was interested in. We even made some fast friends as we began to see the same families and same high school juniors at each stop. Clearly, we were in “season” for this tour and while the kids were friendly, there was a sense of “competition” in the air. Often times during the Q&A portion at each campus, the juniors would be asking the admissions officer about a specific “honors”, AP or Dual enrollment course they had or will be taken. This was to understand the value of those courses and I believe, share with others in the room how competitive they will be during the application process.

There will be an average of over 30,000 freshman applicants for each of the major universities, approximately 11,000 acceptance letters sent out with just under 6,000 freshman enrolled. Those are pretty tough numbers for anyone to be faced with.

I really related to this experience and thought of the current job market, organizational brands and what are companies really doing to “sell” their culture to a potential candidates.

Campus Stop #1

(University names will be withheld to protect their brands)

I likened this to a job fair – there we were being corralled into a room, each of us with our high school junior or “resume” if you will and listened to a 30 minute presentation of the advantages of attending this particular university. The excitement clearly began to build as we watched videos, heard from current students about campus life and even the mascot joined us for a spirited chant.  At this point, the advisor moved to the “qualifications” to attend and the excitement turned to panic. You could see the smiling faces change to reflect the pit in each of their stomachs (that was the parents); the high school juniors began to lower their heads while shaking them back and forth. We had the feeling our “resume” was not up to par.

After touring the campus, the excitement built again and as beautiful as it was, we weren’t far from the thought that, my “resume” won’t stand up to this fierce competition.

Some re-tooling has to happen and tests will need to be re-taken to be, at the very least, at the low end of the acceptance scale – but we are hopeful.

How often does this happen when candidates are seeking interest in potential opportunities within a particular organization? I would venture to say often. There is no question about the competitive landscape in the job market today. Each person is trying to stand out in a very crowded space for that coveted opportunity. That is a real tough spot to be in when you have a family depending on you and bills are hanging over your head. You’ve done all of the right things right; you’ve networked, built your own “brand” in your community; you have volunteered your time; you even give back by helping others by passing leads on and providing insight from  your experiences. Is that enough? Does that not count for something?

Campus Stop, #2, #3 & #4

Much like our first stop, the process was much the same; generate an over the top excitement about the university; videos, student life, choirs – the whole nine yards. At one point, I felt like I could run through the stadium and sing the praises of the school. It was all very exciting.

And each time, the excitement changed to panic and the sick feeling you get when you know that in the grand scheme of things, you are one of the average ones.

I have to say, this was an awesome experience and provided critical motivation for my high school junior. She is re-tooling, re-taking tests and polishing up her brand. I know she’ll do great and her father and I couldn’t be prouder.

But the lingering “pit-in-the-stomach” feeling continues to haunt me.

In my opinion, this experience has to be what a large majority of the unemployed must be going through. They have re-tooled, re-certified, networked, blogged and exposed themselves to the universe that they are experienced, qualified and would bring tremendous value to any organization.

Why would any company present themselves as elitist, “tough to get in to”, or limit themselves to hire for only the opening they have?  I would guess some organizations want that “brand” or reputation – and that’s okay. They can stand in judgment of those, who based on their resume, don’t measure up to the standards or qualifications listed.

Now, I’m not saying that companies or colleges do not have the right to be selective – of course they do. There is a cultural requirement, skill requirement and value-added requirement that allow companies to be competitive – I get that.

What I am saying is take a good look at the candidate experience from a candidate’s perspective. It is really eye opening and often will motivate even the most “tough to get in to” companies to make some changes that enhance that overall experience. Even when the candidate does not make the “cut”, the experience itself will stay with them, and can motive them to work harder, take another class or spiff up their brand. Their experience will provide the company with an unknown amount of referrals and ultimately hires – you cannot buy exposure like that.

As our high school junior prepares for the application process, I feel certain there will be many other examples to share. I’m hoping for any easy online application; notification they received her application; ability to check the status of her application and a timely response. Is that too much to ask for?


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