College Grads and Problem Solving on the Job

workplaceA report from Project Information Literacy – Learning Curve: How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They Join the Workplace is online  and worthy of a thoughtful read (only 38 pages, well organized). Twenty three in-depth interviews were conducted with employers about their expectations and evaluations of newly graduated hires and their ability to solve information problems in the workplace. Five focus group sessions with 33 recent graduates were also conducted focusing on the challenges they encounter and the informaton-seeking preactices they use as they make the transition from college to workplace. For a complete understanding read the full report; if you only want the major findings, I include them here:

“All in all, our findings reveal two sides of the same coin. The basic online search skills new college graduates bring with them are attractive enough to help them get hired. Yet, employers found that
once on the job, these educated young workers seemed tethered to their computers. They failed to incorporate more fundamental, low-tech research methods that are as essential as ever in the
contemporary workplace.The major findings from our interviews and focus groups are as follows:

1. When it was hiring time, the employers in our sample said they sought similar information proficiencies from the college graduates they recruited. They placed a high premium on graduates’ abilities for searching online, finding information with tools other than search engines, and identifying the best solution from all the information they had gathered.

2. Once they joined the workplace, many college hires demonstrated computer know-how that exceeded both the expectations and abilities of many of their employers. Yet we found these proficiencies also obscured the research techniques needed for solving information problems, according to our employer interviews.

3. Most college hires were prone to deliver the quickest answer they could find using a search engine, entering a few keywords, and scanning the first couple of pages of results, employers said, even though they needed newcomers to apply patience and persistence when solving information problems in the workplace.

4. A majority of employers said they were surprised that new hires rarely used any of the more traditional forms of research, such as picking up the phone or thumbing through an annual report for informational nuggets. Instead, they found many college hires—though not all—relied heavily on what  they found online and many rarely looked beyond their screens.

5. At the same time, graduates in our focus groups said they leveraged essential information competencies from college to help them gain an edge and save time at work when solving workplace information problems. Many of them applied techniques for evaluating the quality of content, close reading of texts, and synthesizing large quantities of content, usually found online.

6. To compensate for the gaps in their skills sets, graduates said they developed adaptive strategies for solving information problems in the workplace, often on a trial-and-error basis. Most of these strategies involved cultivating relationships with a trusted co-worker who could help them find quick answers, save time, and learn work processes.”

As information professionals, what does this mean in our information literacy work? Do we still stress the value of picking up a phone or paging through a print resource? The full report is available at