The new normal for college graduates is to spend at least some period of time in a post-college, pre-career job slump.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that it isn’t the graduates’ fault. The even better news is that there’s something they can do about it.
I was recently interviewed for a Minnesota Public Radio story, “How To Make the Most of Your Post-College Job Search.” The story was in response to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York report detailing how tough it is for college grads to find decent work these days.
“The percentage [of recent graduates] who are unemployed or ‘underemployed’ — working in a job that typically does not require a bachelor’s degree — has risen, particularly since the 2001 recession,” the report stated. “Moreover, the quality of the jobs held by the underemployed has declined, with today’s recent graduates increasingly accepting low-wage jobs or working part-time.”
That’s a pretty dismal outlook. So I researched what can college grads do about it.
I interviewed about 100 new college grads ages 22 to 26 from across the country. I asked them what worked and what didn’t as they moved from college to underemployment to landing the job that started their career.
My findings suggest that grads can’t simply rely on their college major to land a job. In addition, they need a MINOR — that is Mentors, Interviews, Networking, Opportunities and Résumés.
Find Great Mentors
The most successful professionals have leveraged between eight and 12 mentors to guide them in all dimensions of their career progression. Start by asking for career advice from people you know and admire — relatives, family friends, college professors — and nurture those relationships.
A recent mass communications grad from the University of Washington asked her favorite professors and her summer internship supervisor to continue to mentor her after graduation. She worked at a café and walked dogs for a year, but she stayed connected to her mentors. With their help she landed a great job at a boutique PR firm.
Pursue Informational Interviews
Informational interviews are opportunities to learn about a field, career or organization from someone in the know. They’re great for investigating potential job paths to help you figure out what you want, and for building relationships at a company you want to work for.
To make these meetings successful:
- Be as prepared as you would for a job interview, with an “elevator pitch” about yourself and your interests, as well as informed, open-ended questions about the field and the person’s career path.
- “Land and expand.” Always end by asking who else you could talk to. It’s a great way to build a network.
- Send a thank-you note; as old-fashioned as that may seem, it’s expected and appropriate. Then report back on any leads they gave you and continue to maintain contact.
In the Minnesota Public Radio interview, I mentioned a new grad in Silicon Valley
who turned one informational interview at Hewlett-Packard into meetings with nearly 30 people over six months by always saying she really wanted to work at HP and asking who else she could speak with. She was offered a job before it was posted.
Find out where the professionals you want to associate with go, and join those groups. I interviewed a 24-year-old economics major in New York who spent six months after graduation as a “manny” while looking for work on Wall Street. To network, he volunteered on a political campaign and joined a young-professionals club that does charity work with kids. He put himself in situations where he was rubbing elbows with people who could help him. Those contacts helped him get a
great position in financial services.
All the new grads I interviewed talked about a vicious cycle: You can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job. Those who broke the cycle created opportunities to get experience by volunteering at nonprofits, getting internships, taking on temp or contract work, or doing something entrepreneurial.
I spoke to a marketing major from the University of Georgia who said she approached her local Boys & Girls Club and offered to update their marketing plan. Then when she went on job interviews, she could speak about her experience developing and executing that plan.
Tailor Your Résumé
Think of your résumé as an outline to help you tell the story of your professional self. Picture the recruiter or hiring manager for each specific job and ask yourself how you can make that story more interesting to them. They want to know that you’re invested in working at their company and in that role, so make your experience fit. Emphasize relevant skills, accomplishments, and education.
For each bullet point on your resume, be ready with several one-minute vignettes that
explain the following:
- Problem — A relevant challenge you faced
- Solution — The solution you came up with, and how you came up with it
- Result — Whether the solution lead to a positive outcome
- Learning — What you took away from the experience
Knowing the problem, solution, result and learning that pertain to your experiences, especially while underemployed, will demonstrate your critical thinking skills and professional maturity.
New college grads face an additional big challenge: a bad reputation with hiring managers. The stereotype is that their generation is entitled, narcissistic and coddled by overindulgent parents who gave them trophies just for showing up. Recent grads need to work that much harder to overcome this bias.
Finally, don’t underestimate how hard it will be to land a decent job in this economic climate. Expect it to be a full-time job just to find a position that will start you on your career. You need to create a well-defined job-search plan and execute against it. Most important, you need to be more than just a college major. That’s why you also need a MINOR.