Are College Grads Professional Enough for the Workplace?

My husband has been a teaching assistant on several occasions as he works toward his Ph.D. Sometimes he shows me the papers that college seniors hand in. If the papers of these soon-to-be college grads are any indication of the professionalism that can be expected from them, it’s little wonder that many are just forgoing the job hunt and returning their parents’ homes. And I’m not the only one who thinks the current crop of college grads is unprepared for the workplace. I recently heard a piece on NPR addressing that very issue.

Photo by rileyroxx via Flickr

The NPR story looks at a study done by York College researchers in Pennsylvania. It details the qualities that human resource managers and business leaders wanted to see in college grads, and found that most college graduates are lacking in some essential qualities. Even if you aren’t a recent grad, but have suffered a recent job loss, it can help to know what employers are looking for. If you want a job in today’s climate, you have to show that you are prepared. And that means, in some cases, losing the sense of entitlement that many college grads have, according to NPR:

Polk says researchers pointed to one area where recent graduates stand out: “There’s a sense of entitlement that we’ve picked up on, where people think they’re entitled to become, let’s say, president of the company within the next two years; they’re entitled to five weeks of vacation.”

Another issue is that many college grads just don’t know how to behave in a professional manner. Learning how to conduct yourself is vital if you want a good job — and if you want to distinguish yourself from the thousands of college grads with a desire to pay down their student loans hitting the job market.

Tips for More Professional Behavior

According to the research done by York College, employers are looking for attention to appearance, ability to communicate respectfully and clearly, willingness to listen carefully and with attention, and the motivation to finish a task. And, while many employers appreciate the fact that many college graduates are tech savvy, they are less than impressed with the constant need for many to bury themselves in it, answering every text (sometimes during work hours and interviews).

Here are some helpful hints for showing your professionalism:

  1. Dress for the job: Before you go into an interview, call and find out what sort of dress is common at the office. During the interview, and after you get the job, make sure you dress appropriately, and pay attention to hygiene and personal grooming.
  2. Prepare: My husband is starting the job hunt as he finishes his Ph.D. Before he has an interview, he reviews his resume, thinks of his strengths (and a couple weaknesses, and ways he can overcome them), and considers the points he wants to bring up about his qualification. Prepare for your job interview, and, when you do get a job, prepare to do your best each day.
  3. Finish your tasks: Make it a point to finish your tasks, and do them well. If you are working on a task that takes more time to finish, break it down into smaller tasks that can be accomplished daily. That way you can focus on doing your job, and have a way to show your boss that you are making progress.
  4. Keep personal problems…personal: There is no need to go into great detail about personal issues at work. Focus on your job.
  5. Communicate with respect: Listen carefully, and take constructive criticism as a way to improve your performance. When you speak with co-workers (and especially your bosses), avoid using profanity and speaking as you would with your friends.
  6. Turn off the cell phone: Don’t text while you are working, unless it is business related. Put your personal phone on silent, and ignore non-emergency texts. Check and answer personal, non-emergency text messages when you go on break. The same is true of personal email.

Our society has become much less formal in recent years. However, many employers desire a certain level of professionalism. If you want to get a good job, or even get a raise, it is vital that you conduct yourself in a professional manner, and learn how to interact with others in a way appropriate to the workplace.

About the Author

By , on Jun 8, 2010
Miranda Marquit
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

Leave Your Comment (5 Comments)

  1. sandra says:

    Indeed keep all your personal problems…. personal. This is good if you don’t want to be the latest talk of the town. I was a fresh graduate a long time ago and I committed this huge mistake. I was new but I was quick to have a new friend. Well, at least that’s what I thought. I was so naïve and trusting then that I treated a co-employee as my best friend. I barely knew her but she’s so good at posing as a good listener I cried my heart out to her. I was so disappointed when all my co workers started talking behind my back because she was so eager to share my problems with them. When you’re new and you have a problem, it’s better to call a trusted friend, someone you can really trust.

  2. I think part of the problem for current college grads is that it’s been getting harder and harder to get an internship, which is where most college students learn workplace etiquette. Life is simply starting slower with this generation–we’re moving back in with our parents, taking minimum wage jobs after our four-year degree, etc– and with that I believe comes a little immaturity. Not to mention we haven’t had the best of role models (think scandalous execs, Presidents, and major corporations like BP).

  3. Austin says:

    The entitlement probably has something to do with the internet. The idea of paying dues or waiting for others to pass by because “that’s the way it is” doesn’t really fit with the post 2005 grads.

    But on the other side, you can be entitled without being sloppy. It’s always best to present yourself at 100%, regardless of the situation.

  4. Jenna says:

    Keep personal problems…personal: There is no need to go into great detail about personal issues at work. Focus on your job. / I would argue this one. Being able to honestly and calming inform co-workers and supervisors what is happening in your life it makes you seem more human and leads to brainstorming how to be successful even in the mists of personal chaos.

  5. Donny says:

    I think they aren’t because they have no sense of fashion when it comes to doing interviews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



The information on this site is strictly the author's opinion. It does NOT constitute financial, legal, or other advice of any kind. You should consult with a certified adviser for advice to your specific circumstances.

While we try to ensure that the information on this site is accurate at the time of publication, information about third party products and services do change without notice. Please visit the official site for up-to-date information.

For additional information, please review our legal disclaimers and privacy policy.


Moolanomy has affiliate relationships with some companies ("advertisers") and may be compensated if consumers choose to buy or subscribe to a product or service via our links. Our content is not provided or commissioned by our advertisers. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of our advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by our advertisers.