As a big-time player in the workplace writing game, I learned long ago to give the people what they want.
That was the motivation behind my award-winning 17-part series, "The Art and Craft of Napping at Work," and my recurring feature, "Work Doughnuts: Why They're Always Good For You."
These days, the hottest topic in the workplace world is the millennial generation. These are the younger workers — early 20s to early 30s — who are moving into the workforce in greater numbers, many fresh out of college.
I could type "How Managers Can 'Totes' Appeal to Millennials at Work" as a headline and put 800 words of gibberish under it and it would be a viral sensation in five seconds. And I would be more than happy to do that, except this week I actually have relevant millennial-related information to discuss.
A survey by the research and consulting firm Millennial Branding and the career networking company Beyond.com found interesting disconnects between job seekers and employers.
More than 70 percent of hiring managers say colleges are only "somewhat preparing" students to enter the working world. And the former students now looking for work seem to agree. Nearly 60 percent of job seekers believe that "college doesn't prepare students for the real world."
Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and author of "Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success," said he believes it's up to companies to reach out to colleges and universities and tell them what graduates are lacking.
"Get in touch with more classes; get more company leaders teaching courses," he said. "Students shouldn't be able to graduate without at least one internship. Most companies require at least one or two internships before they'll even look at you. That should be part of what it takes to get a diploma."
Kevin Paul Scott, a management consultant and author of "8 Essential Exchanges: What You Have to Give Up to Go Up," has studied millennials in the workplace extensively and said this:
"Companies think many college graduates are ill-equipped to meet the needs of their organization because they haven't had real-life experiences; they've never tried anything. A lot of times employers will ask a potential candidate, 'Tell me about a time you were challenged?' So many students don't have anything to say other than that time they took a really hard test, and that's extremely unimpressive to an employer."
The odd thing about this, Scott said, is that the millennials share information about their lives like no previous generation, chronicling most of their activities on social media. That makes them natural storytellers, a trait companies are already leveraging.
Scott's company, a leadership organization called the Addo Institute, was recently hired by a U.S.-based business that has offices around the world.
"They asked us to take young employees to their offices in other countries," Scott said. "That way, they get to engage those individuals, and then they'll share their stories with others. The storytelling that happens from these millennials is powerful. Companies have amazing opportunities for these employees to be storytellers on behalf of their brand."
But while they're inherently good at sharing stories, many millennials aren't working hard enough to develop their own. "Companies are hiring students who have a unique story," Scott said. "And they're hiring individuals who have intentionally invested in opportunities that provide them a platform to stand out."
Schawbel's survey showed that only 2 percent of hiring managers rank GPA as the most important factor in the hiring process, while 43 percent say they focus most on "cultural fit."
They want personable, team-oriented people who will mesh with the company's values. You can be valedictorian of your class, but if your real-world experience is limited and your personal narrative is dull, you might not make the cut.
"You really need to align your strengths and skill set with the job market, and you have to be a lot more realistic about where you choose to spend your time," Schawbel said. "A lot of the traditional criteria that companies once relied on are fading out."
So consider this a clarion call for students to recognize that an education means more than classes and grades. It means experiencing real-world work while also experiencing the real world. It means building a story that will make you stand out and help you fit in at a company where you belong.
Companies need to not be shy about letting colleges — and the students who attend them — know what's required of a strong job candidate. There are clearly disconnects, and they won't get fixed without open lines of communication.
That concludes my foray into this white-hot generational topic. If anyone needs me, I'll be writing a best-seller about millennials and what they mean to the future of break-room doughnuts.
TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at email@example.com, like Rex on Facebook at facebook.com/rexworkshere and find more at chicagotribune.com/ijustworkhere.