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For College Graduates: The Challenges of Finding a Job


18Jun 2007

Recently, I am working with more and more young adults who are finding it difficult to find jobs in their desired career path. And it doesn’t really matter what area they are in — business, education, computer science, marketing, graphic design. Some are recent college graduates (as in 2007), while others have been out of school for a while. Some of these individuals have taken short-term (e.g. one or two year) positions and now they want to “move on” in their career. And I am hearing reports back from numerous young people across the country that finding a job is harder than I thought it would be.

Interestingly, I am finding flecks of this theme in various articles and books. One nationally syndicated newspaper column, entitled “How Liberal Arts Grads Can Find a Good Career” encourages liberal arts students to “think beyond grades” and to get involved in internships, either paid or unpaid. Probably good advice, but it usually falls on deaf ears — the college environment screams the importance of grades to students and many liberal arts colleges don’t provide much assistance in landing internships. Besides, once you have graduated, it’s a little late to work on these issues.

In her book, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever Before, Dr. Jean Twenge (psychologist) states that “more and more young people in their twenties will be disappointed that they cannot pursue their chosen profession.” She states young people are starving for good advice in career paths. Partly, she believes because although young adults are goal oriented they really don’t have realistic ideas of how to achieve their goals. As Adam (age 22) stated, “Getting a degree does not guarantee a stable job.”

Another column put out recently by the Cox News service, was entitled, “Boomer Parents Hover Even in Kids’ Job Hunts”. The author, Tammy Joyner, reports that some parents of young adults who are applying for jobs are: a) trying to sit in on their children’s job interviews; b) rescheduling interviews for their child applicant: and c) calling prospective employers to find out the status of the job offer or d) asking why their child didn’t get the job!

OK, so what seems to be the problem here? Well, I think there are a number of factors that are contributing to the challenge of young college graduates being able to find a job:

1. Employers are looking for someone who has practical work experience, not just academic training. Most employers I talk to would rather hire a person who is not a college graduate but who has some practical work experience in the industry, rather than a college graduate with no experience (aside from coursework).

2. Young people today tend to believe that external fators (luck, chance,) have more to do with life success than personal effort. (See Dr. Twenge’s book for research that documents this viewpoint) As a result, they tend to “wait to see what happens” rather than be proactive in their application process.

3. Young people tend to have unrealistic expectations about the world of work (and it is not all their fault). They have been told for years that they are smart, great, brilliant and anyone would be lucky to hire them (welcome to the results of self-esteem training).

They also typically haven’t worked much and expect a higher paying position and higher level job than their experienced warrants. So they often are offended (or at least, not interested) in some “lower level” jobs offered to them.

So my advice to young people who are looking for jobs today includes:

A. Do something. The default for many in this generation is to be passive and “wait”. Time will get you nowhere without action. Put in applications (in person), call on jobs in the newspaper, send in your resume to monster.com.   This does a couple of things — it lowers your anxiety level, and it lowers your parents anxiety level. And it increases the probability of you finding a job.

B. Talk to people. Networking is still the best way to find a job. Talk to people (not just your friends) — adults in the work world. Tell them you are looking for work. Ask them if they know anyone you should talk to (just someone in the field, not just someone who is looking to hire.) Talk to your parents friends, call people, visit them at their workplace, or meet them for lunch.

C. Get some kind of paying job — any job. The world has changed. It no longer looks bad to take a job that is not related to your career field (this is true for most young adults starting out, but not for older adults who are already in their career). Employers want to know that you are willing to work. Most employers will be impressed that you are working part-time at Starbucks just to pay the bills or you have a full-time position at Best Buy while you are looking for a “real job”. They understand the financial demands you are facing and you will gain “points” in their minds for being responsible and proactive.

D. Be willing to take a job in your career field that you think is “beneath” you. In a recent article in Fortune magazine, James Bell, the CFO of Boeing, Inc. states, “A lot of young people think they know a lot more than they really know.” Many companies are willing to hire college graduates in entry level positions and quickly move them up the ranks as they show competence and willingness to work hard. A word of advice: don’t expect to be offered a position where you are supervising others, until you have proven yourself first.

E. Have a plan and work it. It doesn’t have to be a grand, master plan — just a plan for the week: who you are going to call, where you are going to apply, who you are going to meet with. The key to success is twofold: persevere and always ask people if they know someone you should talk to — and do it.

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