For 2015 Grads, Small Employers May Offer the Best Job Prospects

Various reports are suggesting that the small employer market may be the best place for the class of 2015 to look for jobs. An April 6 USA Today article reported increased hiring by employers of 50 employees or less. The article cited increased homebuilding, improved availability of financing and lower energy prices as contributing factors.

In fact, ADP’s March jobs report showed that employers of 500 employees or less accounted for over 90 percent of the new jobs created in the month. This continued a strong hiring push by small- and mid-sized employers, as this group has accounted for about 75 percent of new jobs since the beginning of 2014.

For the upcoming class of 2015, this is great news. The bad news is that most of these employers don’t interview on campus and colleges have been ineffective in connecting new grads to this market.

As CEO of a firm that specializes in placing new college grads in entry-level positions, I know well the challenges faced by job seekers in penetrating this market. For one thing, about 70 percent of the new grads who interview with us say that they don’t know where their education and skills can be applied in the workforce; in other words, they don’t know much about who’s hiring and which jobs are a fit.

One thing is clear: the biggest question in the entry-level job market this year will be whether small employers looking to hire new grads will be able to find enough qualified candidates to fill these positions. This underscores the fact that the entry-level job market is highly inefficient in that many hiring companies and new grad job seekers have difficulty finding each other.

With about 80 percent of graduating seniors expected to leave campus without a job in May, it’s clear that developing a strategy to penetrate the small employer market should be a component of every new grad job search. Here are some things for new grads to keep in mind as they start looking for jobs:

Small Employers Rely on Referrals

Since most small and medium employers don’t dedicate a lot of resources to recruiting, one of their most important recruiting strategies is to encourage referrals from employees, clients, vendors, consultants and other partners. Alumni connections are often extremely important in these referrals.

Focus on Networking

With most smaller employers relying on referrals, the best way to get the attention of potential employers is to develop and use networking contacts. Most new grads have much better networks than they think. Important sources include alumni, professors, coaches, and administrators. In addition, job seekers shouldn’t forget all those business people they have interacted with in volunteer activities, church groups and prior jobs, not to mention the parents of friends who know them well.

Sell Your Transferrable Skills

A lack of work experience is not an obstacle. However, grads must find another way to establish value with a potential employer. This is best accomplished by identifying transferrable skills – the so-called “soft skills” like critical thinking, time management, leadership, effective communication, etc. Then, job seekers should identify real life examples in which these skills were used successfully. Prior and current jobs, activities and classroom projects are all great sources.

Be Thorough in Preparing for Interviews

As grads get interview opportunities, they must research the companies and industries thoroughly. They may learn of new products being introduced, significant growth plans, new capital being raised through a venture capital investment or other events. If job seekers can talk about these events during the interview, they can show how well they’ve prepared and demonstrate an interest in the company. Also, grads shouldn’t forget to prepare good questions to learn more about the company, as well as what skills are valued most in the organization and that particular position.

For many new grads, small and medium employers could represent a great source for that first job after college. GradStaff research shows that 87 percent of entry-level job seekers state a preference to work for an employer of 1,000 employees or less. In addition, almost half of these state a preference for employers of 100 employees or less, which shows that many graduating seniors understand the benefits of working for a smaller employer.

Small and medium employers are hiring, and whether it’s necessary to replace retiring baby boomers or to enhance the technology skills of their workforce, these employers are very interested in hiring new college graduates. By using the tips discussed in this article, recent and soon-to-be grads will significantly increase their chances for job search success.