I was at a networking event earlier this month with local college graduates in the communications field. It was the perfect setting for our fresh, new workforce-to-be – a small casual cocktail reception where students on the brink of graduating have leaders from a dozen or so global communications companies all to themselves. Faculty sponsors help break the ice and make introductions and then off the students can go to ask questions, talk about their interests and backgrounds and ideally learn about job openings as those student loans loom in the corner. Over the years I’ve come to love this event. It’s an excellent mentoring opportunity for us and it has generated top notch hires for us in the past.
This year, though, was somehow different.
Within moments of our introductions, I found my colleague and I surrounded by four graduates who were deep into their smartphones. I mean DEEP. Heads down, intensely focused. No eye contact with each other. No eye contact with us – the agency they had all to themselves, the agency that was HIRING for entry-level positions. I admit it. My initial reaction was annoyance. It wasn’t easy to leave the office early and get across town for this event. Then, for a moment, I put myself back in the shoes of a 22-year-old who just picked up her cap and gown, reminding myself that this was a whole new world for these graduates. So I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I asked the group of them what their plans were for the summer, if they had jobs lined up, what their job interests were…opening that door to employment opportunity even wider. I even managed eye contact from one – interrupted a few times by urgent glances at her phone to be sure she wasn’t missing a text – but eye contact nonetheless. VICTORY! She explained she was going to the beach to celebrate graduation and then she’d consider her options. Oh, I thought – you have job offers? That’s great. “No,” she replied. “No job offers. I really want to explore what I want to do.” Then down her head returned to the phone screen.
I found my annoyance dissolve into sympathy. The class of 2016 is undoubtedly filled with passion, talent and inventive perspectives about communications that can help all of us be better at our jobs. Yet, here was a girl who has no idea the opportunity she just passed up. Even if she didn’t want to work for us, or any top 20 PR firm for that matter, she had a chance to learn, to begin applying those skills she has invested hundreds of hours developing, to network with professionals who wanted to meet her.
The bottom line is we want you, students. We need your fresh thinking, your new perspectives. We can’t wait to meet you. The communications world is yours to own. All you have to do is put down your phone.