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Warning: This Article May Be Disturbing

INTERVIEW EDGE • JAN 2016

hiring new college graduates who are anxious

The current crop of college graduates is smart, technologically savvy and more concerned about social justice than any generation since the 1960s. They're also more anxious. Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the number one mental health problem on college campuses in the U.S. And increasingly, that anxiety leads to the conviction that higher education, which exists precisely to challenge and broaden thinking in sometimes uncomfortable ways, may often be so unsettling and controversial it's bad for students' emotional health.

Thus, on a growing number of campuses, textbooks and syllabi now carry warnings that the contents may be disturbing to some readers. The author Neil Gamin recently commented that these days, Romeo and Juliet is likely to carry a warning that the play deals with murder, suicide and underage sex. The Great Gatsby, considered the greatest American novel by many, has also come under fire for "violence and gore."

But it's not only books that are considered hazardous for the hypersensitive. Students and professors say they are increasingly afraid to make comments in class for fear they'll offend someone's sensibilities.

Increasingly, too, speakers are disinvited to schools, or not invited at all, for fear they will say or do something to upset students or make them feel "unsafe." The new determiner of what is taught, and thought, in college seems to be students' hurt feelings.

In fact, college campuses are becoming so politically correct these days, that comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld are now avoiding them.

If this sounds, well, disturbing, it is. Deprived of the opportunity to face certain challenges, some of today's kids may lack the resilience of past generations. And they seem to have less ability to listen to opposing points of view or handle rejection.

Hiring new college graduates and their older Millennial counterparts requires some recalibrating of the interview process. For one thing, interviewers must be careful to include questions that will reveal applicants who have had some experience accepting rejection or dealing with a major life disappointment. Questions that uncover resilience or the ability to cope with challenging situations are especially useful.

Some questions to draw upon in your next interview include:

- What did you do in school when you got a lower grade than you thought you deserved?

- What is the biggest change you've had to adjust to in life?

- What is the most constructive criticism you've received?

- When have you spoken up with a contrary opinion while others around you remained silent?

- How have you worked successfully with people who have opinions that differ from yours to achieve common goals?

- Give an example of a time you were able to understand and accept opposing points of view.

- When have you been able to persevere in spite of challenges and difficulties?

- Give an example of a time when you successfully dealt with an uncooperative co-worker.

Such questions can help identify a candidate's tolerance, resilience, empathy, adaptability and ability to be assertive without treading on the rights of others. But it's crucial to drill down further on these important traits so you have a clear sense that candidates are able to tolerate challenging situations without feeling threatened or unsafe.

At the same time, bear in mind that confrontational interviews are likely to turn off recent college graduates, given the politically correct culture they come from. Thus, building rapport and creating conversational interviews are more important than ever.

In the competitive marketplace for top talent, interviewers walk a fine line. The need to ask hard questions must be balanced by the need for relationship building. Both are crucial to identifying strong, emotionally resilient candidates. Hiring those who don't have these traits is likely to increase your own anxiety level and prove disturbing for the entire company.