May 2, 2014 at 10:08 AM ET
Welcome to the working week! It's not like school or home!
This is a tough job market for millennials, those born between the early 1980s and 2000. The unemployment rate in March for recent college graduates was 12.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A study by Accenture found that roughly 40 percent are employed in jobs that don't require a college degree.
But why? Aren't these young people well educated, with technology expertise and social networking skills like no other generation?
Yes, but that's not all they need to be successful in landing a job and navigating office culture, experts say. Employers regularly cite attributes like integrity, leadership and work ethic as crucial. And a recent study indicates that many of them question whether millennials have what it takes to succeed in the workplace.
In that survey, State of St. Louis Workforce 2013, a lack of communication skills, a poor work ethic and a lack of critical thinking and problem solving were the biggest shortcomings of the job applicants they were seeing. " 'Soft skills' once again far outpaced technical skills such as math and computer skills as the most lacking in the workforce," the study concluded.
Similarly, a 2013 study commissioned by Bentley University found that 35 percent of business leaders give recent college graduates they have hired a "C" or lower on preparedness, and 37 percent of recent college graduates give themselves the same grade range.
Ben Carpenter, vice chairman of CRT Capital Group, said he realized the new generation of workers is not ready for the cold reality of the workplace when his daughter Avery landed a dream job in broadcasting not long after graduating from college.
"She wanted to email and say, 'Can I put my start date off for a week so I can apartment hunt?' " he recalled. "I started shaking. I couldn't believe it."
Carpenter realized, he said, that his highly educated daughter had no inkling of the ways of the workplace.
On top of the skills mismatch, millennials are making it harder by being too laid back about their job searches, said Carpenter, whose experience with his daughter led him to write "The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life."
"They almost all regret that they didn't start the process of their job search earlier. I hear that over and over again," he said.
Sanjeev Agrawal, whose company, Collegefeed, connects college students and recent graduates with employers, agreed that millennials' job hunting process is flawed, though he argued that it's not really their fault. "About 50 percent of the problem is the process that is used to hire college graduates and young alums who don't have a strong, established professional network," he said.
When millennials do land jobs, they face the added challenge of fitting into workplace culture. Unfortunately, research suggests that they are not ready for that either.
In a study commissioned by Bentley University, 74 percent of the older workers surveyed said they believed millennials did not have the same work ethic as previous generations, but 89 percent of the millennials said they have a strong work ethic. Also, 70 percent of older people said millennials should be more willing to "pay their dues."
A 2012 report on the St. Louis workforce cited a Boeing official as saying: "New hires and younger workers certainly have a positive work ethic; however they often have an immature or impatient approach toward career development/progression. They have an expectation that their career development will somehow be on the fast track, without a full understanding of the commitment it takes beyond the 9-to-5 world. At times they seem to lack an understanding that you need to work until the work is done."
What can millennials do about these challenges? For starters, they should recognize that traditional job hunting assistance only goes so far, Agarwal says. Career development offices and job boards often do a less-than-stellar job of connecting individual job seekers with opportunities that would let them leverage their unique skills.
Carpenter suggests that college students start the job search well before spring of their senior year by choosing a field to pursue, contacting seniors who have landed jobs in that area and asking coaches or favorite professors for experts you can contact in that field.
Agarwal said many new, young employees need to develop more persistence and determination—"this idea of staying the course, of grit, of fight, of 'I won't give up no matter what happens.' "
Still, millennials' obvious skills in technology, networking and teamwork are assets that employers need to leverage. And just as many millennials need to develop some new traits to succeed in a the workplace, Agarwal said, smart organizations are thinking about ways to adapt so that they can attract the best and brightest.
"Companies that want to attract millennial talent need to be aware that different generations do things differently," he said. Thirty years from now, someone who is a millennial today will be running your company."