Mentoring the Misled

, John Palatiello, Leave a comment

One of the most rewarding and gratifying things I do is mentor young people.  I have been asked by college students, graduate students, and those entering the workforce to listen as they share their career goals and plans, and, in return, provide advice.

The quality of the young men and women I’ve met with is impressive.  I’ve been encouraged by their ambition, poise, knowledge, and ability to write and speak with clarity.

A recent experience struck me as unusual.  A recent graduate of a state university with a degree in geology asked for advice on how to progress toward his ultimate career goal – a petroleum geologist with an oil company.

I suggested that an entry level position that would include field work, with a geotechnical or environmental consulting firm, would give him practical technical and business experience.  A master’s degree is generally required in the geology field, and this young man recognized his current job search was a stepping stone toward graduate school and his eventual career objectives.

When the young geologist showed me his resume, I suggested a few revisions, including a reordering of items.  As one who has owned and operated a business or more than 25 years, I have, in my career, both interviewed to secure a job and been an employer on the hiring end of the interview and selection process.

This gentleman had impressive and valuable research and field experience in geology.  I told him he should move that to the top of his resume, above his listing of his alma mater, degree and grade point average.

My protégé was incredulous.  “But my professor told me to list my academic credentials first”, he said to me.

I explained that as an employer, I want to know what an applicant knows and what is his or experience.  I am interested in how soon the individual can be productive and billable, versus how much time and expense I must invest in training to make him or her billable.  After all, the first goal of a business, and its employees, is to make money.  I am less interested in where an applicant went to school or what their GPA is than I am what they’ve done in internships, research projects, and work-study programs.  I should be able to assume a certain level of academic achievement from any college graduate.

It is only natural that a college professor would emphasize academics.  But, I asked, “When was the last time your tenured professor applied for a job or did any hiring?”  My protégé got the point.

In most professions, ethics codes stipulate that individuals should “perform services only in areas of their competence.”

The same should apply to college professors.


John Palatiello president of the firm of John M. Palatiello & Associates, Inc., a public affairs consulting firm located in Reston, Virginia, providing association management and public affairs services to firms and organizations. He has been Executive Director of MAPPS, a national association of private geospatial firms since 1987, and is President of the Business Coalition for Fair Competition, a coalition of firms, organizations and individuals fighting unfair government-sponsored competition with private enterprise.