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What that ‘celeb lifestyle’ says about your professionalism

By - | April 17th 2013

Whereas self-employed persons have liberty of self-appearance, corporate managers perceive unconventional body appearance as a marker of scanty work ethic, writes WACHIRA KIGOTHO

University professors globally are concerned most of their students lack professional qualities and are not aware that employers want more than just a university degree.

According to a comprehensive survey conducted by the Centre for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania, few university students know poor personal hygiene and overall appearance can lock them out of jobs. More than 90 per cent of human resource managers interviewed in the survey said the best way to not getting hired for a job is to exhibit poor personal hygiene and inappropriate attire and footwear.

“Managers are also not likely to offer employment to graduates with facial piercing other than the ears, visible tattoos and unnatural hair colour,” says Dr Deborah Ricker, the Dean of Academic Services at York College and principal author of the survey.

Whereas self-employed persons such as musicians, artists, designers, athletes and others have liberty of self-appearance, corporate managers globally perceive unconventional body appearance as a marker of scanty work ethic.

Researchers found influence of attire and appearance went beyond the hiring process and had an impact on the perception of one’s professional competence. For instance, investment banks and accounting firms are not likely to hire management trainees among graduates with tattoos on their faces, nose rings and tongue jewellery. Other companies discriminate persons wearing dreadlocks and hair dyed with unnatural colours.

Management trainees

During the survey that was conducted annually over the past four years, the managers disclosed that many young graduates looking for jobs for the first time go for interviews without being adequately prepared while others appear for interviews late.

“Employers also complained of graduates having poor verbal skills and grammar in English, not acting interested, overconfident and poor representation of one-self,” said Ricker.

Such is the situation in Kenya where most university graduates lack soft skills that are crucial in interviews and in workplace. According to Awuor Ponge, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, a large number of graduates from local universities have limited social skills, interpersonal communication and motivation.

“They also lack critical thinking, creativity and language skills as they are not taught within the formal setting of the school system,” says Ponge, who is currently undertaking postgraduate studies at the University of London’s Institute of Education.

In a study on graduate unemployment in Kenya, Ponge argues there is a general lack of appropriate skills and knowledge among new recruits in the workplace, which often make them unappealing to employers. Nonetheless, the emerging trends are that even after getting employed some graduates remain unfocussed and too casual about their work.

“A large segment of the global graduate cohort is not self-driven, lack ownership of the work, while others do not even understand what hard work is all about and too often are willing to do work that is below par the professional quality,” says Ricker.

According to the 2013 Professionalism in the Workplace survey, to be professional in the workplace, an employee should demonstrate interpersonal skills and civility, appropriate appearance, communication skills and honesty.

“In addition, s/he should work until a task is completed competently, observe punctuality and regular attendance and be attentive to seniors and juniors,” it reads in part.

However, the study revealed that state of professionalism among young graduate employees is being impacted negatively by abuse of information technology. Interviewed managers expressed dismay at young graduate employee’s excessive use of mobile phones for personal calls and excessive use of the Internet services at workplace.

Types of information technology abuses encountered in the workplace also include text messaging at inappropriate times and overspending time on social sites.

“Managers revealed that most abusers of information and technology are usually unfocussed and had great sense of entitlement,” says the report.

Celebrity culture

In essence, the report shifts burden of young graduates heightened sense of entitlement on upbringing by parents. Such category of young graduates might have been coddled and pampered at home and brought up with the idea of instant gratification. Researchers said there had been an increase of students who feel they are entitled to immediate awards.

Schools and universities were faulted for not adequately preparing students, resulting to decrease in academic standards. There has also been a change in cultural values with many young graduates becoming obsessed with celebrities and their lifestyles.

Although regarded as harmless, professors warned that celebrity culture is having a detrimental effect on society, particularly, students. According to Linda Papadopoulos, a leading authority on celebrity culture, many children perceive the wealth, allure and glamour of celebrities as something to crave for and instead of valuing a person by the work they do for society, and young persons are often brought up by their parents to value individuals on their image and the lifestyles they lead.

“But after having no chance of becoming celebrities themselves, such students often develop a heightened sense of entitlement and become perfect abusers of information technology as they relentlessly follow their idols through Twitter and Facebook,” says Dr Papadopoulos in a study on emergent global celebrity culture.

She reminds parents not every schoolboy will become a ball juggler like Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid or Mario Balotelli of AC Milan and even fewer girls will ever mimic songbirds like Maria Carey or Lady Gaga.

“Even then, fixation with celebrity culture has increasingly become a yardstick on how most college graduates behave and has led to significant decline in work ethic, ” she says. “The undergraduate degree is only a start and a prerequisite for eligibility for many of today’s jobs, but it is not an entitlement to anything.”

Academic gaps

Graduates are also advised to be committed to doing quality work and universities can help to shape the attitudes of their students towards quality work and professionalism.

Most universities have come under fire for inflating their First Class and Upper Second Class degrees and more so when universities compete for full-cost user students. For instance, in the local situation, students awarded First Class and Upper Second Class degrees have increased, while the Pass degree category has almost disappeared.

Subsequently, there is belief students no longer fail or obtain Pass degrees as almost 70 per cent are not awarded degrees lower than Upper Second Class.

The situation is spread worldwide and there are concerns among employers in regard to quality of graduates irrespective of classification of their degrees. Even when varsities recruit students without the traditional minimum entry qualifications such anomalies and academic gaps seem to disappear and are not expressed in degrees awarded.

According to employers and professors, inflation and devaluation of degrees has impacted negatively on deserving students. But even worse, some universities are awarding postgraduate degrees to graduates who can barely communicate in English.

However, under such circumstances, to beat the odds, graduates seeking jobs should learn what it means to be professional. New employees should never assume that there is not something new to learn about themselves simply because they have degrees. Besides, graduates cannot assume that their employer will offer them professionalism training.

As Ricker pointed out, it is incumbent upon the individual to learn how to behave professionally and above all to remember that the appearance matters. But at any cost, graduates going for interviews should remember to turn off their mobile phones.

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