The Entitled Employer

I hear a lot from professionals in public relations and advertising about how some (emphasis on some) college students are too “entitled.” There are frequent articles in the mainstream media and in various blogs about the concept too. To a degree, there is truth to the assessment.

But unfortunately, too many employers and others have latched on to this “entitlement” meme to the point that it is painting with a broad-brush all college students and recent grads. It is an unfair stereotype.

What’s worse, it has gone too far in some cases that it is the employer who is entitled.

Let’s be clear about what entitled means. It is the notion that some “milennials” think they are owed a good job with high salary and benefits, even though they have not proven themselves yet. Again, there is some truth among some young people in this regard. I and my colleagues coach them to be humble and patient and the rewards will come, but they can’t expect it the day after graduation.

However, an incident and series of interactions with alumni last week made me think about the other side of this story.

One alumna messaged me about an upsetting experience. She had been interviewing with someone about a potential job and got an offer, but it was for less than her current salary and minimal benefits. She countered by asking for a salary that was the same as her current level and noting that she would need benefits to move.

The employer responded by posting a video on social media where he–after narcissistically telling his own story–complains about “entitlement.” He did not mention my former student by name, but it implied the video post was a response to her not accepting his low-ball offer.

Aside from the gum chewing and back lighting in the video, this employer makes significant mistakes. Sure, he is an entrepreneur who made his own sacrifices to launch his successful businesses. That is admirable. But that is not a valid reason to exploit potential employees, to make others sacrifice just because he did. He is confusing his past experience for the present labor market, which is often described as a “talent shortage.” It’s short sighted and a guaranteed opportunity cost for him to turn away good talent because he wants to see the world within the walls of his own business.

Consider that this alumna is not seeking her first job, but her third. She had good internships in college, worked for little in her first job to gain experience, leveraged that for her next job, pretty much is rocking that job and would be an asset for this employer. There are different ways to struggle, to pay ones dues, to move up the ladder. She did not start her own business but she was her own brand, and in fact very similar to this employer. They should see eye to eye, but the fact that they don’t means he is not seeing clearly.

Let me give  other examples from talking to alumni in just the past week.

One is a young man who graduated two years ago and I noticed on LinkedIn that he landed a good job as an account executive in New York City. I congratulated him and we had a good dialog. He had done a lengthy internship in Grand Rapids while in college, got a job at a Detroit agency after college where he worked on a national account. But he left because, wait for it, he wanted “more of a challenge.” In his job search he had, wait for it again, several offers in New York but the agency he now works for offered more interesting challenges.

Local video-posting, gum-chewing, entitled employer–are you getting this? Multiple offers in New York. Wanted more of a challenge. That is not entitled. That is talent and work ethic.

Later last week two alumna who had driven up from Chicago at the invitation of a colleague who advises our PRSSA chapter made a visit to one of my classes. They both told their stories of networking, working for low pay or a post-graduate internship, staying humble, doing whatever task was thrown at them. Today, a year out of college, they are both happy and working at an international PR firm and a digital agency in Chicago.

There was a time any of these alumni might have worked  for low pay and benefits  for the chance to gain experience with a Grand Rapids start-up. But they did that elsewhere. They have been there and done that. They have their own stories to tell, even if they don’t post gum-chewing videos. They were snatched up by employers in New York and Chicago, or they are staying put at their current Grand Rapids employer.

They know the employers to pursue, and the ones to avoid. The latter are the entitled ones.

5 Things Educators Want Employers to Know About PR Internships

Employers–we educators love you. We love that you hire our graduates. And we love it when you take on one of our students as an intern, giving them workplace experience and often proving us right about professional standards in the process!

We know having an intern is more than just doing a favor to your local colleges. It’s also more than just getting free or cheap labor. It takes an effort to hire and manage interns.

A friend and colleague with her own PR firm recently offered up a blog post to help students do a better job of presenting themselves when seeking an internship. Called “How Not to Get an Internship,”  it recounted the unfortunate story of one enterprising student’s sloppy cover letter.

I should say that professors and their college Career Services office do a lot of training to help students avoid embarrassing first professional encounters. We wish all students would put such advice to use, but we can’t be ever-present.

I would also like to encourage employers to do a few things to ensure they get good interns, and to help us in education by reinforcing the standards we set for what an internship is. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Remember that an internship is considered the application of concepts and skills learned in class. Some employers seem to take any available student–a “warm body”–without consideration of particular preparedness. Don’t assume all college students are the same.
  2. Have a clear job description for your internship. If the student is doing an internship for credit, an appointed faculty internship supervisor will examine the job description to see if the student has met the course requirements to be ready to fulfill described internship duties.
  3. Have students formally apply, and interview them. Internships are job experiences, and that includes the interview and hiring process. It also protects employers and saves grief for faculty members. Ask students what year they are in college, which specific courses they have had that prepare them for the internship duties as defined.
  4. Supervise the intern. In PR this can be a challenge in some cases, because some employers hire a student PR intern precisely because they have no PR staff. In that case, it’s especially important to hire an upper-level student who knows what PR is and how to do it. If you are a PR professional, remember that an internship is a bit of a trade-off–you get someone to help with the work load but you have to provide the oversight and assist them in this hands-on learning and application experience. Give candid feedback remembering that this is about the student learning.
  5. Pay them. This is a challenge for some, but even a stipend to cover gas, or a lump sum to help cover the tuition students pay if the internship is for credit. Remember that federal law says interns must be paid and/or getting credit or it is not an internship. They can have both, but if they have neither you have to call them a volunteer. Also remember that paid internships attract the best students.