What Do Today's Employers Want From Job Applicants?


The simple answer is this: employers want individuals who are trained in the skills of the job. In the past, knowing the basic skill of the workplace was enough. Secretaries were expected to type. Repair people repaired. Electricians wired. But, increasingly, people with one-dimensional skills are not getting the better jobs. In fact, according to former N.Y. Governor Mario Cuomo, 6l% of America's workers do not have the skills for today's jobs. This is especially true wherever technology is concerned. High-tech employers do not want prima donnas, no matter how skilled; the days of a soloist soldering a circuit board in a cubicle are long gone; and the near-genius who knows his electronics equations but can't tell others what they mean or how to apply them may have a difficult time finding employment.

Need for "People" Skills

In the field of electronics and computer technology, the focus is on teamwork and communication. Employers still expect job applicants to understand the fundamentals of electronics, from which specific on-the-job training can follow.

But of almost equal importance, employers expect the new field service technician, computer repair person or test technician to work well in groups and understand the necessity of telling co-workers about the status of projects verbally and in writing. It g'es with the territory these days that the job applicant ¬particularly the one applying for a job in technology ¬ knows what the job entails, and knows how to talk about and often write about the job.

Further, the classic dividing lines between blue collar workers and white collar executives are fading fast. Today's high-tech line employee must often look as successful as the boss, project an image of professionalism by dress and language, and still be able to handle the technical requirements of his or her job.

"We're looking for people with good 'people skills,'" says John Tebbets, one of some l7 staffing specialists with Entex Information Services of Ryebrook, N.Y. "I can often tell within a few minutes if an applicant has what we want. Entex expects prospective employees to dress professionally. What I see is what our customers see. First impressions really count.

"Of course we expect applicants to have the job skills that are necessary," says Tebbets. "There's something else they should know: applicants should have 'industry' experience. My advice is to take any job that's related to what you want to do. In some cases Entex will start technicians as drivers...delivering parts to customers. It d'esn't take long for them to learn the vocabulary of the job, observe that certain cables go with certain PCs, see how people interact, and begin to put it all together."

Good Grades and Attitude

Of course, good "people skills" alone can't take the place of solid electronics training proven by good grades.

Kimberly Senise, a Human Resources representative with KLA Instruments, tells us that she looks first at a prospect's grade point average. "If I see a 3.5 to 3.8, then I'm definitely interested. But I'll consider a prospect with lower grades if that person has had work experience. Any work tells me the applicant has a measure of dedication and discipline. If the work has been in some aspect of technology, all the better."

Like many employers we see, Senise wants an applicant who can think and who has thought about the job he or she is applying for. "I want to know if the prospective employee has a goal, has a sense of where he or she is going, whether that person is a 'worker bee' type or someone who aspires to become a leader."

What about teamwork? "Absolutely essential," says Senise. "During the interview process I'm listening carefully to see how the applicant describes school projects: is it 'I did this' or 'We did this'? Finally, it's important that the applicant show some genuine enthusiasm," she says. " I want to get a feeling that the person has thought about the interview, has selected KLA for good reasons, is eager to work and is flexible, meaning able to work in almost any capacity and at any time."

Warren Eustace of Accom, a company that builds signal processing equipment for broadcast, agrees. "Flexibility means going the extra mile. If the job requires occasional overtime work, we don't want an applicant who says 'I expect to go home after 40 hours.' We want people who can do the job, but understand that teamwork can involve doing the other person's job as well. In the past, employees might have gotten away with being a specialist. I'm thinking of one employee who wouldn't open a door for a delivery person because 'It's not my job.' That kind of attitude wouldn't be acceptable today."

Career colleges teach not only computer and electronics fundamentals, but English, Communications and -- believe it or not -- Psychology.

Likely Sources for New Hires

Where do employers go to find job applicants with these qualifications? Certainly advertising in the classified section of newspapers is one way, but more often employers reach out directly to schools. They are especially attracted to schools that have the latest equipment and who take a pro-active stance in helping graduates find jobs.

Unfortunately, low funding has hampered many community colleges in serving students and prospective employers. Often, too many students are competing for the use of too few computers and staff people are forced to place job announcements on bulletin boards rather than personally working to match graduates to the right employers.

Career colleges that are in touch with businesses in their areas generally have full-time placement directors whose only function is to find jobs for graduates. Penny Munson at our San Jose technical campus says, "I'm part placement director, part employment counselor and some time labor negotiator. An employer may call asking for a graduate with a 3.8 G.P.A, excellent verbal skills and military experience. My job is to research those students or graduates who meet the criteria, and often to propose a suitable starting salary to both the applicant and employer."

Rounding Out the Curriculum

Non-profit Heald Institute of Technology, DeVry Institute and other regionally accredited career colleges teach not only computer and electronics fundamentals, but English, Communications and ¬ believe it or not ¬ Psychology.

Dan Davis of our San Jose technical campus counsels technical students on how to listen. "Some 53% of our communication involves listening, " he says, " but rarely has anyone really taught us how to listen. We work to overcome blocks to listening, that include 'comparing' what the customer is saying with what you think you know; 'sparring' mentally with the customer; 'dreaming' instead of listening; 'judging' in which the student comments to himself on what he's being told and 'placating'...all of which get in the way of really serving customers."

"It's all designed to make the student realize that life is a two-way street, and that genuinely serving a customer or client takes some skills beyond those learned in the electronics lab. We teach five units of Psychology covering basic theories and concepts in the science of behavior, perception, motivation and personality in the final quarter leading to an Associate in Applied Science Degree in Electronics Technology.

"No matter how accomplished or talented a technician is today, if he or she can't express that knowledge to co-workers, there will be problems," says Sujata Chohan, who teaches English at a Heald campus. "It's one thing to know the job. It's quite another to be able to tell your supervisor what parts you may need, to report objectively on what prospects said at a trade fair, and how to include essential details and eliminate subjective comments that don't contribute to solving a problem."

"That's why we teach English Grammar, Technical Communications, and Technology and Society over three quarters, and give students an opportunity to work on their oral and written skills. Without these abilities, it would be difficult for someone to be hired or to maintain a job in technology or many other disciplines."

"No matter how accomplished or talented a technician is today, if he or she can't express that knowledge to co-workers, there will be problems."

The Technical Institute's Role

The technical division of Heald Colleges focuses on job training for some 2,500 students. Courses are designed to mirror the rapidly changing needs of industry. The college's Job Placement experts maintain constant communication with employers and are often the first to know when it's time to fine-tune a course, offer greater depth in a specific area or introduce a totally new program.

Penny Munson is one of those charged with the responsibility of placing graduates in suitable jobs. "On an average day, I may talk to 10 - l2 employers. They call me looking for graduates who are ready to go to work, I call them to arrange interviews for more than 200 graduates per quarter . They're very candid in telling us exactly what they want, and I do my best to relay that information back to those in charge of curricula."

"This kind of communication with industry has helped insure that more than 90% of Heald graduates who want a job, have one...usually within 90 days of graduation. With technology booming, we often have two job orders for every graduate, and many students with the right G.P.A. and the vital teamwork and communications skills are hired even before they graduate."

Schools like Heald are offering an alternative to the traditional four-year college, and are a far cry from the old-fashioned "trade school" or "secretarial school." Four-year colleges still fill an important need for many students who seek a liberal arts education, but graduates can find there are no jobs available in their selected fields. What d'es one do with a degree in Cultural Anthropology, Humanities or Comparative Religions?

Increasingly, we're seeing young people with a Bachelor's degree enrolling at a Heald campus for specific job training. And in some cases employers tell us these double-graduates (with a B.A. and an A.A.) offer employable job skills and management potential...based on their broad range of studies at a four-year school.

In the past, career colleges may have been considered the second-class citizens of education. Today, however, the best can offer excellent alternatives to traditional four-year colleges or community colleges.

Regionally accredited schools like Heald meet stringent requirements such as those demanded by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Plus, our schools have a mission quite different from that of public educational institutions.

The goal is to help students find productive employment in the shortest possible time. The only way to achieve that goal is to keep in constant touch with employers and see that our graduates meet their requirements. That's what Heald Colleges have been doing since l863.

D'es it work? It worked for Leland Stanford, Jr., a Heald student, the name sake of Stanford University. It worked for Heald graduate A.P. Giannini, whose Bank of Italy became Bank of America. And it's worked for over half a million others who have studied at Heald Business Colleges or Heald Institutes of Technology.

Final Words

What do employers want from today's job applicant? Everything they've wanted before...and a whole lot more.

Employers are more sophisticated and customers are more demanding. It's critical that the person who wants a rewarding career "especially in technology" be ready to extend him or herself, reach out beyond their basic skill or interest area, communicate effectively and work smoothly and efficiently with others.

With the challenge posed by well-trained European and Japanese high-tech workers, America must have a skilled labor pool. Career schools like those of Heald Institute of Technology are providing classroom access to modern equipment, daily experience in the value of teamwork, constant communication training and a pro-active placement policy to meet those challenges.

Kenneth Heinemann received his B.S.E.E. degree from Heald Engineering College in l970. Heald Colleges operates technical schools in seven U.S. cities and business schools in a dozen cities. Founded in l863 by Edward Payson Heald, it is headquartered in San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.