Hope for Underemployed Recent College Graduates

With the unemployment rate declining, it looks as if the economy is finally starting to gain some momentum. Job prospects for new college grads seem to be the best since the onset of the recession in 2007. However, recent data shared by After College Inc., indicated that only about 17 percent of new grads had jobs this past May when they left campus.

Many grads without jobs who have loans to pay and a desire to live independently will need to work in non-professional jobs in order to earn money in the short-term until they can find a professional position. With the underemployment rate running at 12 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is also clear that there are hundreds of thousands of recent grads from the past two to three years who are still looking for that first professional job.

I run a firm that has placed thousands of new college grads in entry-level positions. As part of our service we interview hundreds of new grads every month on behalf of client companies. Acting as the intermediary between hiring companies and entry-level job seekers, we know the challenges facing the entry-level market. The funny thing is our company has seen rapid growth over this time period. We know that companies are hiring and new grads are getting jobs.

What, then, are the obstacles preventing recent grads from getting professional employment? We feel that there are three primary reasons.

First, according to monthly employment reports by ADP, about 75 percent of the new jobs are created by employers with 500 employees or less. These are small and medium employers. Because of the high cost of implementing a college recruiting program, most of these small and medium employers don’t interview on campus. How do they find candidates for their entry-level candidates? Referrals from employees, clients, vendors and other partners are most important, which means that many entry-level jobs aren’t advertised.

Second, given the fact that most new college grads are liberal arts or general business majors, many don’t know where their majors can be applied in the workforce. Some students have virtually no knowledge of the small and medium employer market where hiring is active. About 70 percent of job-seekers who interview with us cite not knowing what positions are a fit as a significant obstacle in finding a job.

Third, new grad job-seekers tend to be poor at identifying the transferrable skills they possess that have value in the workplace. Transferrable skills include attributes such as effective communications, critical thinking, problem solving, time management, leadership, etc. These are the skills that employers crave and can help determine long-term career success. We feel that one of the keys to an effective job search is to come to interviews armed with real life examples demonstrating these skills.

Here’s why there is reason for hope. The good news is that companies are hiring, especially small and medium employers. In fact, many of these companies are being impacted by the loss of baby boomers and want to hire MORE at the entry-level. Further, we know what the job-seeker needs to do: Know what you bring to the table, focus on the small/medium employer and find a way to get your foot in the door.

Here are two critical things that every entry-level job seeker should do.

First, identify your transferrable skills. That part-time or barista job you have now might be a great place to discover them. Here are three types of non-professional jobs that are great for developing transferrable skills:

Restaurant serving

Among the skills such jobs develop are customer relations, time management and problem-solving. Great examples for interviews are how you successfully resolved an issue with an upset customer, ways you helped improve restaurant operations, recognition received for great customer service, etc.

Retail sales

Perhaps you have retail experience in a department store, boutique or electronics retailer. If so, look for ways you were able to improve sales or manage inventory more efficiently. In addition, awards for top sales performance or customer satisfaction should be used to underscore skills in sales or customer service.

Lawn care/landscaping

 If you started this type of business and were able to support yourself (and maybe others), this is a significant success. Entrepreneurial success like this is highly valued as it shows initiative, planning, time management and the ability to sell.

The bottom line: Don’t undersell or discount what you are learning in part-time or non-professional jobs. Put that valuable experience to work for you.

Second: network, network, network. Small and medium employers thrive on referrals to fill open positions. As a result, job seekers should leave no stone unturned when it comes to networking.

While parents and other family members are an easy place to start, many other sources are often ignored. Be sure to actively use your alumni network. In addition, look to professors, coaches and other mentors, both in college as well as high school. Consider friends of your parents who know you well. Contacts and relationships made in service or volunteer organizations may also be helpful. And, of course, if a friend has a great job, perhaps her or his employer is still hiring. There’s really no limit.  Most people are more than willing to offer guidance. Identify a mentor who can help you with icebreaking strategies.

There is much reason for hope among jobless new grads and those grads from the last two to three years who are surviving on part-time or non-professional work. Companies are hiring. To have success, develop a job search strategy focused on important transferable skills. Be aggressive in networking to get interviews with the companies that are hiring: the small and medium employers.