Where Are All the Great Entry-Level Jobs Hiding?

Last Updated Mar 14, 2011 9:34 AM EDT

A few signs may point to a pick up in entry-level hiring for college grads, but there's also plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting hiring pessimists, with most of us knowing a well-educated 20-something or two who has been fruitlessly combing job listings for months or even years after graduation.

These frustrated grads have skills, and the experts say there are a few jobs out there, so what's the problem? According to Willy Franzen, founder of start-up entry-level jobs site One Day, One Job, most of these grads are taking the wrong approach -- obsessing about positions posted on job boards rather than bettering themselves as candidates and targeting the companies they actually want to work for. Recently Franzen talked to Entry-Level Rebel about why he feels his approach is the right one and what grads should do to find that elusive dream job:

How did you get started with One Day, One Job?
When I started job searching after I graduated, I just found the process very frustrating, especially for people who don't have a clear idea of what they want to do. I graduated from Cornell in 2006 and majored in industrial and labor relations. My background is in human resources and labor economics, so I interned in HR for two summers but I realized HR just wasn't really a good fit for me. I had been headed on a pretty defined track and once I changed my mind I didn't know what was available for me. I didn't know what options were out there and that became really frustrating.

Then about six months into the job search I started One Day, One Job and a little before that I really started looking at the online recruitment process, how companies recruit online and how the field is changing. I just got real interested in how people use the internet to find jobs, so I came up with this idea of one job every day. I started working on it in May 2007 and launched the site in May 2007. It's gone from there.

How do select the companies you profile each day on One Day, One Job?
I'm always looking for interesting ideas. One of my favorite resources is the Inc. 5000, which is a list of the country's fastest growing privately held companies. It's just a fantastic resource. It has a really good cross-section across a lot of industries, so when they release that every year I just pour over it looking for cool companies that might have opportunities for recent grads.

I'm really focused on a company-based approach. I like looking for interesting companies that are doing interesting things. I'm not as concerned about what opportunities they have available because I know that if it's a cool company that's growing, they're going to have entry-level jobs. They're going to have internships. A lot of times if you, as the job seeker, just reach out to them you can convince them to hire you or you can get them to notify you when something comes up. It's a much better opportunity, I find, than a job board.

I want to show job seekers that this is something you can do. When I started this as a new grad, I didn't have any extraordinary connections or skills. You can find cool companies on your own. You can find cool jobs on your own. You just have to have the initiative.

What advice would you give grads to improve their job hunt?
So many college grads are misguided. They don't have a full understanding of employers. So I think one of the biggest things that job seekers can learn to improve their job search is empathy. It's being able to put yourself in an employer's shoes. Think about the hiring manager. What do they need? What is going to get them to hire you? How are you going to make their life easier? I think so many people fail to do that. They think, "oh, I'm entitled to a job. I have these great credentials. I have a college degree. Someone should just give me a job because I'm really impressive." And it doesn't work that way.

What are some other common mistakes you see entry-level job seekers making?
Spending time on your job search is typically a really bad idea. I've seen so many job seekers who are six months or a year and a half out of college, and they haven't had any success. And the biggest problem with that is they've spent that time looking for jobs. They haven't made themselves any better over that time. They might have made their resume better. They might have made their cover letter better. But them, as a candidate, is the same exact candidate that came onto the market six months or a year ago.

So first of all, you have this signal that no one wanted to hire you as you were. Second, you're stagnating. You're showing people that you don't have the initiative to invest in yourself. So I am really pushing students now to start working on a project. Find something, whether it's volunteering, doing something on your own, starting a website. Whatever it is, create a project, do it, get real life work experience for yourself and use that to get a job as opposed to using all your time on the job search.

And another thing I've already mentioned is don't worry about jobs. Focus on the companies and the jobs will work themselves out. It doesn't always work, but if you find a company you really want to work for and you target them hard and you network, even if they don't have a job posted for you, if you're a good fit, things can work out and you can get a job

What words of wisdom do you have for readers who are thinking of taking your approach after graduation and starting their own business?
Finding a way to get started is really important. In September of 2007 I snuck into the Cornell career fair as an alum -- I didn't realize that I was more than welcome to come -- and I pitched all the employers who had empty booths. I said, "hey, I have this great site. I'd like to have you post jobs on it. Would you be interested in working with me?" Everyone was really excited about it, and I followed up with them, emailed them, and I got no responses.

It was completely unsuccessful, so I realized I am not going to get people to use my site if I don't have jobs, and I am not going to find jobs unless I have people on my site. I need to do something different. And that's when I made the decision to go editorial. It got me started. Instead of spending six more months refining the site and trying to sell it, I just started. I put something up. I got it out there.

Now the site is generating revenue, it's profitable and it's all because I was able to get started by hacking it and figuring out a way to make it work without creating excuses and waiting for something to happen. So that's a really big thing -- get started, just do something and you can always change what you're doing and find a way to make it work.

It's so easy to learn stuff -- a little bit of programming, marketing, search engine optimization. You really can get out and start whatever you what and go after it. The biggest roadblock I see is entrepreneurs who think they don't have the skills, it's too risky, or they keep finding excuses not to start. The internet can really help you overcome all that. I've learned almost everything that drives my business online. It's amazing how far you can get with very little when you start.

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user Elaine with Grey Cats, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.