With a higher national unemployment rate than we've seen in recent years, graduates are not only vying for jobs among themselves, but also against older adults with far more work experience.
College grads are learning just how tough it is to break into the job market today. But Barbara Moses, author of "What Next? The Complete Guide To Taking Control Of Your Working Life," says that recent grads' job searches do not have to be so bleak.
She agrees 6 percent is just about the highest yearly unemployment rate since 1995, but Moses notes previous to '95, the rates were far higher. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 1993, 6.9 percent of the country was unemployed; in 1992, 7.5 percent didn't have jobs; and in the early '80s, yearly unemployment averages soared well over 9 percent (9.7 percent in 1982, 9.6 percent in 1983).
"The bubble at the end of the '90s was the real shocking event," Moses says, "when all the dotcoms were raking in the money, that wasn't reality. It was the deviation from reality."
However, when most of today's graduates were heading into college four years ago, they saw the dotcom surge, the economy boomed, and they expected it to last well into the future. "It's necessary that kids who are graduating today not have great expectations. The job market has always been this way," Moses says.
The following are her tips:
"It is absolutely, 100 percent vital that graduates do a vigorous, thorough, ruthless self-evaluation," says Moses. "The recent college graduate who is choosing between several options or says that she doesn't have a clue about her professional interests asks, 'Should I go into Field A or Field B?' instead of 'What are my unique talents? What do I need in a working environment to feel truly engaged?'
"Once you know your skills, your strengths, think of yourself as the owner of a self-managed portfolio, a unique group of talents, skills, and competencies that you can use in a wide range of settings. The more knowledge a person has of the elements in their portfolio, the more career choices they have."
Think like a recruiter
Moses says if the jobs for which you are applying require 1-3 years experience as a minimum, graduates should not take that requirement so literally. Instead, she suggests finding out what the company is looking for.
She says, "Do they actually want someone who has worked at company A simply because they've worked before? No. They want someone who worked at company A because they've had experiences that they can carry over into the next job. Okay, so a new graduate may not have much work experience. But they have to spin the experiences that they have had in college, or in life, and use those experiences as learned lessons that will help them in the workplace."
Moses explains: "Think about the job that you're interviewing for, or interested in, and what kinds of problems might arise in doing that job. Then go back to your own past and think about experiences where you resolved similar types of problems. And just like with your self assessment, develop faith in what you've done in the past and how you've successfully resolved issues - even though they may not have been in a practical work experience - and spin them to work for you."
She also advises that grads "think broadly - not just toward your degree, but about other fields that your study experience may suit you for. If you've received your MBA, don't just think 'I must be a financial manager.' Think more creatively, about other work environments, like working for not-for-profit organizations that could use your business expertise."
Do an audition
"Employers, like everyone else, are far more likely to accept a date than a proposal for marriage," Moses says. "When you do get in for that interview, when you do get in touch with someone in the company, first, audition them."
Moses explains, "Ask them all about their company - ask intelligent, well-thought-out questions about the organization, the working culture, what the working atmosphere is like, are there opportunities to be creative. This shows that you're serious about working for them, and most important, you can find out if you want to work for them. If you are indeed interested, first, sell yourself and all your great qualities you've assessed from your self-assessment, and spin your skills and how they'll fit into that specific job. Offer them something less serious than marriage - for instance, make a proposal to intern for three months, and if you like me when those three months are over, hire me."
"Spend 70 percent of your time networking," Moses insists. "Yes, you should read the want ads, yes, you should search the online job boards, but use those personal connections, through friends or college or alumni associations, and meet, meet, meet! And pitch yourself away, sharing information about yourself to anyone who will listen."
Here is how she suggests networking: "Become an oral storyteller - your story is your pitch, and you should have it down to a concise but powerful tale that you can tell someone in 5 minutes. Don't network robotically by just calling to see if company A has any jobs open, if so may I send a resume. Ask if you can have 10 minutes of a specific person's time - in the department at a company you're interested in - to talk to them about the company and how, if not now, then in the future, you can fit in. True, there may not be any jobs available there at that moment," says Moses, "but if you can really sell yourself, that person may know someone else who is looking for someone else with your skills."
She also says that grads should use any and all opportunities to learn about the intricacies of an industry, specifically, so they can, once again, decide whether or not it's an industry they're really interested in, and discover other ways in which their skills are well suited for each industry (which they can then turn around and spin even more in an interview).
Make age-appropriate decisions
Moses says, "It's incredibly important that recent grads realize that they don't have to get the first job right, that they don't have to worry about making a horrible mistake. Instead of chasing after that elusive 'right' job, understand that there are many possible career paths that you might have. When you're 45, you're unlikely to look back and say, 'if only when I was 25 had I done A, B, or C instead.' The decision may appear momentous right now, especially if you have debts from loans or parental pressures to contend with, but in the long term, it will have little or no impact on your prospects for success."
She also says that recent grads really have to weigh the importance of being in a certain place, or keeping a certain lifestyle in their job search. "If you're going to get great experience in Los Angeles, but you really want to stay in New York, you have to decide which one is really more important to you right now. You can hold out and wait for the great job in New York, you may decide to just get the experience and go, but this is something a graduate really must think out."
And, she says, the same goes for money. "If a job is offering you less money than you'd expected, really think it over. Graduates are young, there's lots of time to make money, perhaps the experience they'd gain from taking a certain low paying job would pay off in dividends a little further down the road. But do not take a job just for the sake of having a job! If it's really going to make you miserable, you're probably better off waiting for another job to come along."
And finally, Barbara advises that graduates not try to plan out their entire careers as soon as they take off the cap and gown. "The fast-changing nature of work makes this impossible. When entering a workplace where a conventional job may last only a few years and work is increasingly done by contract or external suppliers, grads should focus on building a portfolio of skills and experiences that will ensure longer-term employability. There is no beginning line and no finish line on careers - and no right or wrong time to pursue a particular career option."