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Fox Business
Fox Business
4 Jan 2024

Recent college graduates are failing at job interviews, according to a new study.

Developmental setbacks from various factors have appeared to delay communication skills among Gen Z grads — and employers are taking notice.

In a Dec. 2023 study, the New Jersey-based research group Intelligent surveyed 800 U.S. managers, directors and executives who are involved in hiring.

The respondents reported that Gen Z candidates struggle to pick up professional cues, causing 39% of employers to favor hiring older candidates.

About 60% of employers said they are willing to offer more benefits and pay higher salaries to attract older workers rather than recent grads.

gen z interview for a job

A number of recent college grads are reportedly failing at job interviews, according to a new study. (iStock / iStock)

For that same reason, 48% of employers are offering remote or hybrid positions to older employees and 46% are willing to hire overqualified candidates, according to the new study.

One in five employers reported that recent college grads are generally unprepared when it comes to interviewing for a job.

More than half of employers surveyed said Gen Z candidates struggle the most with eye contact during interviews.

Candidates in this age group also ask for unreasonable salaries and have dressed inappropriately for in-person interviews, according to about half of the study respondents.

gen z employees

Sixty percent of employers reported that Gen Z employees are frequently late to work, the survey found. (iStock / iStock)

Even virtual interviews have posed issues, with 21% of employers reporting that some candidates refuse to turn on their cameras for the interview.

Nearly 20% of employers said they've even had a recent college grad bring a parent to an interview.

Two in three employers reported that Gen Z employees are unable to manage their workloads, while about 60% said they are frequently late to work and often miss assignment deadlines.

Sixty-three percent of employers consider Gen Z employees to be entitled, while 58% said they get offended too easily and are overall unprepared for the workforce.

woman being interviewed

Some employers said Gen Z candidates struggled with eye contact during interviews, according to the survey findings. (iStock / iStock)

Employers also noted that their youngest employees lack professionalism, do not respond well to feedback and have poor communication skills.

Almost half (47%) of employers in the survey said they've fired a recent college graduate.

In a separate August 2023 Intelligent survey, 62% of respondents said "culture" is the primary reason that many recent college grads are unprepared.

Half the respondents blamed parenting, 48% said the COVID pandemic is the culprit, and 46% said educators are the root of the problem.

Human resources expert Natalie E. Norfus, founder of The Norfus Firm in Miami, Florida, who was not involved in the new study, pointed fingers at parents, the pandemic and the shifting priorities of employers.

"In this day and age, employers are far less willing to invest the effort and money it takes to train inexperienced workers because the demands on production are at an all-time high and average workplace tenures are lower," she said in an email sent to Fox News Digital. 

"We've heard several managers say they don't want to waste time training someone who's just going to leave."

Joe Mull, the Pennsylvania-based author of "Employalty: How to Ignite Commitment and Keep Top Talent in the New Age of Work," was not involved in the survey but shared his reaction to it, claiming the findings are "inherently skewed" because they are based on perspective.

Joe Mull, a Pennsylvania-based HR expert and author, is a professional speaker for business leaders. He said there is "fierce" competition for talent, with jobs getting "snapped up more quickly." (Joe Mull / Fox News)

"The idea that younger workers are less equipped, more entitled or less motivated is a generational trope as old as time itself," the career expert told Fox News Digital. 

"These unflattering perceptions of the workers coming in behind us are the same perceptions that older workers had about us when we arrived at the workplace."

Mull also noted that there is "fierce" competition for talent, with jobs getting "snapped up more quickly."

The indication that young workers are struggling to manage workloads and meet deadlines is "unfair," according to Mull, since burnout "continues to persist at record levels across the workforce."

Mental health breaks

Burnout persists at "record levels across the workforce," a career expert told Fox News Digital. (iStock / iStock)

"Organizations of every stripe are navigating staffing and retention challenges," Mull went on.

"Workers of all ages are struggling with workloads and deadlines, often for reasons beyond their control, which have little to do with their character or work ethic."

He supports the need for young workers to be mentored and trained by seasoned professionals, he said, instead of managers hiring older candidates with more experience to fill entry-level roles.

Recent college graduate Mikayla Kelly, 21, from New York, told Fox News Digital about her experience in applying for broadcasting jobs.

Kelly graduated from Auburn University in December with a degree in journalism and a double minor in Spanish and marketing. She said she’s been applying for jobs but has received few replies from employers, since it’s a "competitive field."

"Whenever I get off Zoom calls with news directors for stations I am applying to, I always feel self-conscious that they were not impressed by the way I spoke," she said.

mikayla kelly auburn u

Mikayla Kelly (above) said she thinks higher education could have better prepared her generation for the "real world." (Arowynn Photography / Fox News)

"I can tell I sound nervous and stumble over my words sometimes, and I think that’s because subconsciously, I never felt truly prepared to be thrown into a real-world interview."

Rather than prioritizing scoring high on tests and completing general education courses that some students will "never be using," Kelly said she believes schools should focus on the basic communication and behavioral skills that students lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic hit during Kelly’s senior year of high school, which caused a majority of her classes to be remote during her first year of college.

She said she’s noticed that the speaking and communication skills of some of her classmates have been jeopardized.

"There is a difference between interviewing over Zoom versus in person, and I think we've been so accustomed to doing stuff over Zoom that it's so much different when you actually have to go in person," Kelly said.

mikayla kelly auburn grad

Mikayla Kelly, 21, graduated from Auburn University on Dec. 9, 2023. The pandemic hit during her senior year of high school, which caused a majority of her classes to be remote throughout her first year of college. (Mikayla Kelly / Fox News)

"It's not just your speaking abilities — it's the way you dress, your mannerisms, eye contact … and I think we've kind of avoided that in the last few years."

Kelly admitted that she doesn’t think college has adequately prepared Gen Z before they head into interviews and are "thrown into adulthood."

More life skills-based courses and workshops on interviewing and career preparation could help fill these gaps, she suggested.

Kelly said she personally feels this lack of preparedness for adult tasks, whether it's in interviewing or managing her finances.

"It’s all pretty unfamiliar to me," she told Fox News Digital. "Just coming out of college and getting thrown into adulthood — it's kind of hard to jump right into a job."

college graduates

"Just coming out of college and getting thrown into adulthood — it's kind of hard to jump right into a job," a recent college graduate told Fox News Digital. (iStock / iStock)

HR expert Norfus of Miami said the new study calls the value of a college education into question.

"More and more, the value of college degrees is being deeply questioned. Do they really indicate the likelihood of success in the workplace, or the world?" she said to Fox News Digital.

"Do colleges really prepare students for the real world? Is it worth making such a big investment to land in big-time debt when we see people making money in seemingly easy ways?"

It could also be that Gen Z workers lack perspective on how long career progression takes, Norfus suggested.

"Many Gen Z candidates have been able to effortlessly get food, research a topic or convey ideas — all from their cell phones — which can distort their perceptions of reasonable career timelines," she said.

natalie norfus

Human resources expert Natalie E. Norfus, founder of The Norfus Firm in Miami, Florida, pointed to parents, the COVID pandemic and the shifting priorities of employers for recent grads' issues. (Natalie E. Norfus / Fox News)

The HR expert also encouraged employers to keep an open mind while hiring.

"Employers cannot reasonably expect the newer generation, with access to new technologies and information sources, to do things the way we have always done them," she said. 

Gen Z candidates bring many valuable skills and perspectives to the workforce, Norfus pointed out. 

"We regularly come across many Gen Z candidates who have owned their own businesses before finishing high school, have incredible analytics abilities, and know how to leverage technology to more efficiently get work done," she said. 

It is important to re-think the definition of success, Norfus added.

"Does it have to align with your personal approach to be considered good? More often than not, the answer is no."