College Men in Business
H. J. HAPGOOD IN WORLD TO-DAY
Now-a-days there seems to have come about a complete reversal of opinion among employers on the subject of college graduates. Instead of refusing to employ college men, they are actually soliciting their services. Before the end of the college year some companies begin active preparations for securing the brightest of the graduating class.
WHEN the business history of the United States is finally written and the reasons for the phenomenal success of various enterprises are traced out, considerable attention will be given to the rise of young college men. It will be an interesting story. It will tell how at first the young graduate had to fight for a chance even at the smallest wages ; how in spite of his success many employers for years refused to believe in him and how at last in the early years of the twentieth century his value began to be generally recognized. Employers who once closed the doors of their shops and offices to him are now actually spending money in an effort to induce him to enter their particular line of business. As a result of this competition, the salaries at which the college graduate can start in business have risen from $8 or $10 a week to $12 or $15.
Of course, every employer aims to secure young college men at the lowest possible figure. This is one reason why he endeavors to paint in glowing colors the opportunities offered by his business. One of the large railroad companies has been particularly successful along this line. Although it starts men in its engineering department at much less than the market price, it secures year after year many of the most capable young civil engineers because it has created the impression that it gives an unusually valuable training and that a man can afford to sacrifice manv dollars for the sake of being
able to say that he has been in its employ.
Human ability is and always will be an uncertain quantity. No matter how good it may appear, its true worth can be ascertained only by a long thorough trial. The average young college man is not worth anywhere near the salary he is paid for the first few months. He is engaged not on the strength of his present value, but because of his possibilities. Employers appreciate that many young men may not be adapted to their particular business or may drop out before they have fairly begun to learn it, and naturally enough they want to start them at the lowest possible figure so that they can afford to have a few failures. They have carefully estimated the amount they can pay and the number they can afford to have leave within the first year in order to make a profit on those who remain permanently. Despite this shrewd buying, however, the salaries of young college men have been steadily advancing and promise to go even higher.
Nothing about the young college man impresses employers more favorably than the fact that he looks for the opportunity to advance rather than the salary at the start. He is content to begin at a bare living wage, if he feels that there is a chance to earn more as he proves his ability, and to become permanently connected with a good house. Some employers have a fixed system of salary increases for the first year or
two, but in the majority of cases the advances depend entirely on the man, and the first one may come at the end of his first month. One thing is certain, that if he does not advance within a reasonable time he is not wanted, for the routine work at which he starts can be done as well, if not better, by a younger and less capable man who will be content to work for a long time at a small salary.
“I’ll give you $12 a week for the first month and if you are not worth $15 to me at the end of that time, I don’t want you,” is the way many employers express their ideas on the subject. This system of advancement as they earn it seems to be a much more satisfactory method of handling young college men than the unchanging civil service scheme of promotion. Ambition is one of the chief factors which makes the college graduate superior to the man who has had only a public school education, and an arrangement by which his pay is increased just as fast as he increases in ability, is the best possible way of stimulating his desire to get ahead.
The idea that because there is no use in a business for Latin, Greek or higher mathematics, therefore the man who has spent four years in studying such subjects has no business value, is obsolete. The training the voung man receives in acquiring a knowledge of Latin, Greek and mathematics has prepared him to master more quicklv any work, whether it be digging ditches, building bridges, adding accounts or selling shoes. This has been proved wherever college men have been given a fair trial. The president of one of the largest street railway systems says, “We always give preference to college men for positions as motormen, conductors,
ticket sellers, etc., through the Summer. They are courteous, faithful and intelligent, and we can break in a college man in about half the time it takes to instruct the general run of applicants.”
Another theory long since exploded is that while college men may be all right when things are going smoothly, they are lacking in grit and energy, and will go up in the air when they have to face difficulties. If any refutation of this idea were necessary there could be cited scores of cases which have come to my attention during the past few years, of voung graduates who set out with a purpose in view and accomplished it in spite of adverse circumstances which would have discouraged men much more accustomed to the hard knocks of the world. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but deeply rooted in the average college graduate is the habit of getting what he goes after. And if there is one thing demanded in the business world more than any other it is results.
Signs of this habit are to be seen in the way he goes after a position. A young man now holding a responsible position with a steamship company in New York City is a good example of this. On his graduation from a western state university two years ago, he determined to seek an opening in the transportation business. First he went to Cleveland, where he had heard of a good opportunity. but on reaching there found it had been filled. Learning of a similar opening in New York City, he spent almost his last cent on a ticket to that point. He landed the job and began work Wednesday morning. He would receive no pay until Saturday, and having barely money enough for his meals and being too proud to
borrow, he slept the first night in the park and later found evening work in a hotel to pay for lodging for the rest of the week.
There are as many different ideas regarding the kind of college men who make the best employes as there are employers who use them. As most of the graduates have had little or no experience in the lines they enter, they have to be judged principally by their personality, their references and the records of what they have done in college. A college man, no matter how capable, can not succeed in every line of work, and to decide just what he is best fitted for is no easy task. Much of the prejudice against college men has been due to neglect of this fact on the part of employers.
Every employer has his little whims and the young man he engages must meet them in every particular. There are only a few points on which all are agreed. One of these is that men from the country who have earned their way through college, either wholly or in part, are most likely to make the best employes. The only department in which this preference is not often shown is the sales, where city bred men of good address and accustomed to meeting people are generally wanted.
This preference for the poor country boy who started for college, as all the story-book heroes do, with only his own head and hands to rely upon in getting through, is not based upon sentiment but upon the undeniable fact that the largest percentage of successes is found among men of this type. The man from the country may be rough and awkward, but he knows what a real day’s work means. His habits are usually good, and being little acquainted in the city he has no outside interests to distract his attention.
Except with a few employers of technical men, the rank a man has taken in his course amounts to little or nothing, but with every one who uses college men to any extent, the character of an applicant is a subject of the closest scrutiny. An absolutely green man who shows signs of honesty, loyalty, self-reliance and capacity for hard work, will be engaged in preference to one of considerable experience but of weak character. As a preliminar^ test of character one
company asks in its application blank the following questions with the injunction to “let no mock modesty, on the one hand, nor egotistical vanity on the other, enter into what should be a plain, manlv statement of your candid opinion as to the first two.”
“Habits, tastes, ideals, ambitions.
“Do you want work or opportunity ; i.e., have you debts or obligations, to meet which you must sacrifice the future for the present, or are you in a position to begin at the bottom and receive promotion as you gain experience and find your work ?
“Write essay equivalent to one typewritten page, on one of the following : The Art of Self-advance-
ment. Obedience vs. Initiative, a Basis for Compensation. The Art of Executive, a Basis of Valuation. Egotism. Vanity vs. Self-reliance, a Factor of Success.”
This company, which is capitalized at $15,000,000 and has been using young technical men long enough to be an authority on the subject, recognizes by these questions the importance of securing men of the right sort. The information it seeks regarding the character of applicants is typical of the attitude of the best employers everywhere toward collegetrained beginners. A large part of the value of a young man, even
though his training has been in technical or professional lines, is lost unless his mind and character have been properly molded.
In large companies college men are employed in almost any department. They are started as salesmen, correspondents, or in straight clerical work with a view to teaching them the business and training them to fill more responsible positions. The idea of many employers is that it does not make much difference where they are started so long as they are men of brains and determination. The president of one manufacturing company last year scattered scores of young technical graduates through the various departments, letting them go ahead more or less on their own initiative and.work out their own salvation.
“Our business is largely in an experimental stage,” said the chief engineer of this company, “and if we can secure enough bright college men during the next few years and keep them with us, I think they will be able to develop this as they did the steel business.” It is an end like this which most employers have in mind when they begin a search for young college men. Most of them have no use for beginners merely as cheap labor ; they want men who will some day be worth large salaries. They try to secure only the best and feel a personal disappointment in failure.
Once having secured the men he wants, the employer’s difficulties are by no means over. It is not the easiest thing in the world to handle young college men properly and train them up in the way they should go. The first difficulty is found in the hostility of many of the foremen and department heads, under whom they have to work. These men, if they
have come up from the ranks, are usually hostile to college-trained men and will do all in their power to make their way hard. The general manager of one company which recently tried a number of young graduates with poor results, frankly admitted that the failure was due to the unwillingness of the foremen in his plant to give the men a fair show.
Then there are many difficulties with the college men themselves. They are frightfully ignorant of even the simplest matters at the start. The mistakes they make during the first few weeks furnish a supply of humor for the whole establishment for years to come. The story of the man who was told to fill out some report blanks, having one column above which was printed “Write nothing here” and who scrawled the word “nothing” in that column on every one of the blanks, is true, and he was not one of the men who failed either. It was six or seven years ago that he made this mistake and to-day he is at the head of the department in which he was then learning the business. The trouble was simply that he was too eager to follow instructions and did not take the time to look af his task from the light angle.
Another difficulty is found in the over-eagerness of the college men for promotion. The wise employer always has to guard against their tendency to become impatient for more rapid advancement and to make a change in position if it is not secured. Sometimes their discontent is due to the fact that the work and its opportunities were misrepresented to them.
The general manager of a New England manufacturing company wrote to
the president of his old college a few years ago, asking for the names of some of the seniors to whom he could give positions in his office. The president, in his desire to serve a prominent alumnus, did not merely send the names, but instead called the senior class together and painted the opportunities oSered by this particular firm in colors that fired the ambition of every man in the class to secure a position with them. As a result the general manager was overwhelmed with applicants and selected six very capable men. At the end of two months the entire six came to him in a bodv and announced that they were going to leave because the opportunities for advancement were not as represented. On investigation
the general manager found that the college president had practically guaranteed that their salaries would be fully doubled in two months, and that before the first year was over thev would be earning from $2,000 to $2,500.
The next year, when the general manager wrote the president concerning more men, he requested him to send only their names and college addresses, and on no condition tell them anything about the work and the opportunities for advancement. “If it is necessary,” he added, “to paint the rose or perfume the violet, I prefer to do it myself and thus avoid any possible misunderstanding.”
Proverbs for To-Day
People who do not plan their future generally do not have any.
It is a great deal easier to be a good critic than to be even a passable performer.
Don’t cry over spilt milk—be glad it isn’t cream.
You might as well aim high as long as you are shooting.
Ignorance is anything but bliss to those who are compelled to be its associates.
A candied opinion is generally liked better than a candid one.
Credit is a convenient garment, but it is liable to become a little too tight for free movement.