Forging a career path after college: The unique position of today’s young graduates

The class of 2013 doesn’t have it easy when it comes to finding a job. The recession has resulted in cut-backs, layoffs, and hiring freezes at many U.S. companies—and, although the recession has technically ended, recovery is slow. A recent Reuters article forecast a tough road for students hoping to join the workforce this summer: Employers will hire just 2.1% more new graduates this year than they did last year, and of 500 hiring managers surveyed by staffing firm Adecco, 58% said they won’t hire any new grads at all.

Meanwhile, it costs more than ever to get that degree: College costs have risen by 6-7% per year for the last few decades—twice the rate of inflation—and, according to the New York Federal Reserve Bank, more than 40% of 25-year-olds have student loan debt—in 2004, that rate was 25%.

“In addition to the substantial share who are officially unemployed, a large swath of these young, highly educated workers have either a job but cannot attain the hours they need or want a job but have given up looking for work,” said Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. The numbers back her up: Among college graduates ages 21-24 who aren’t enrolled in grad school, the unemployment rate is 8.8% and the underemployed rate is a staggering 18.3%.

So what’s a bright, eager 22-year-old armed with a diploma to do? Be detailed, be prepared, and look into every option. Some people find that their chosen field, which may have had a decent hiring rate four years ago, has undergone a change in terms of worker saturation. Others may graduate not fully knowing how their degree will translate into the real world. Grads should think creatively about how the skills and knowledge gained during college—including things learned outside of class—could be applied to unexpected fields or careers.  (PAR’s Self-Directed Search family of career inventory tools, designed to match personality types with career fields, can help with this step.)

Resumes should include any experience that might apply to the position, including internships, leadership positions in clubs, and volunteer work. And that resume should be nearly flawless—43 percent of hiring managers surveyed by Adecco said resume spelling errors resulted in “automatic disqualification.” Most colleges have career centers staffed with people who will look over a resume and provide constructive feedback. Grads should prepare for interviews by researching the company exhaustively and knowing how they’ll respond to standard interview questions. Likewise, they should have some questions ready for the interviewer. “The worst thing you can do, if they ask you if you have any questions, is to say ‘no,’” said Vicki Hardin, associate director of Career Services at University of West Georgia.

And one more thing: Young grads should be realistic, both about the length of their job search and about the job they’ll end up with. Grads probably will not be hired by the first company they send their resume to, and they’re “not going to be making $100,000 on [their] first job. Any kind of experience is better than none,” said Hardin. Patience and a healthy dose of humility are required for this journey.

Did you have a hard time finding a job out of college? Or do you have children who will soon encounter this problem? How have you found jobs in the past? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

 

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