I honestly believe that graduating from university and starting your first job should be one of the best moments in life. Sure, the student life is pretty awesome too, it’s a time where you get to explore your talents, it is a time of constantly making new discoveries and experiences. And it certainly is a time where you can learn a lot about yourself and the world around you.
But that’s it, that’s all it is. A time of learning and training. And graduation day is the day when the training wheels finally come off. Isn’t that the best moment ever? That is the moment your entire life up until this point has been preparing you for, from kindergarten all the way through high school and college. From that moment you are on your own, free to do whatever you want in whatever profession you choose. That is when you start shaping the world around you, through your creativity, your own ideas and hard work.
Those were the thoughts I had when I graduated this May. I had studied for five years, had completed three degrees and honestly felt tired of studying and excited to finally start working! So, eagerly I started applying for jobs.
While I did that, I was aware that it was highly unlikely to get my dream job offered to me right away. I had no significant working experience and being fresh out of university, my head was filled with all this theoretical knowledge without having any idea how to properly apply it in the real world. But since I didn’t care so much about making a big salary right away rather than getting a chance to finally prove myself, I figured that it won’t be too difficult to find work somewhere. All I was looking for was a job at an interesting company that pays me enough to survive and lets me start at the bottom with the chance to gradually work my way up while learning the business from scratch. At the same time, I thought I was what companies are looking for in an applicant: a young, ambitious graduate with a lot of potential that can be formed into a skilled and highly qualified employee. And that’s where I was wrong.
It more and more became clear that this was not what most companies are looking for. Instead, most companies are looking for an easy fix. They have a job opening because they have work to get done right now, and are looking for someone who can do that work with the least amount of training. They are looking for the highest return on their investment, ideally someone who has a lot of working experience and therefore doesn’t need any guidance or help at all but immediately fits in, being a seamlessly working little cogwheel in the big company machinery.
This is an extremely narrow-minded way of thinking though. Hiring someone experienced to execute a current task might be best solution in the short run, but ultimately limits the company’s growth potential in the long run. To increase a company’s potential, you need to hire people with potential, since every business is only as good as its staff. If a human resources department chooses immediately applicable skill over potential, it will get immediate results, but the company will stagnate in the long run. People hired to be a cogwheel will always stay a cogwheel. If however a company constantly wants to reinvent itself, wants to stay ahead of the curve, if a company has a vision- then it also has to be visionary when it comes to its employees. A company has to see them not for what they currently are, but for what they could become in the future.
After all, this is all that university is, an investment into the future. If I, instead of going to class, had spent the last 5 years getting work experience, I of course would be much more skilled at certain tasks than I am now. But instead I chose to increase my potential, by learning lots about different economic models, business approaches, accounting, finance, marketing and management, by meeting tons of intelligent and inspiring people, by studying at four different universities in four different countries, by making friends all over Europe and the world, by getting to know different cultures, by becoming more open-minded for new ideas, by developing a different view on issues.
All of this is called potential. It is hardly reflected in a CV or a cover letter and it also, quite frankly, is nothing to benefit much from when doing mind-numbing cogwheel work. But I truly believe that when companies do discover that potential in an employee and give him the opportunity to unleash it, it is an investment that pays off tenfold.