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The False Start

It used to be that, just five or six years ago, you could graduate from college pretty much assured you’d have a job. Of course all that has changed since 2008 and the recession, with close to half of new college grads unable to find a job.

From my perch as a career advisor to young adults, I’ve watched two classes of newly minted grads struggle mightily to find starter jobs. What I’ve noticed is the tendency of those who don’t get hired immediately to languish in the marketplace, to ultimately be passed over by the next graduating class. If this describes your situation, I recommend you swallow your pride and make yourself both incredibly busy and indispensable to anyone who might be an influencer for employers.

Here’s the thing: on the one hand, employers suspect it’s not your fault that you still haven’t landed a job. On the other hand, employers know that more than half of the new grad population have found employment, and therefore the fact that you haven’t still points to you as the culprit. Everyone I’ve met in this position has a plausible reason: there was a job but the company decided to reduce its hiring for the year; they wanted to work in marketing but budgets were cut and there were no jobs; the only non-profit jobs were in development and that’s not their skill-set; they thought they had a job but at the last minute the company hired someone from an “elite” school.

Many employers will hear you out as you describe these transgressions. They may seem sympathetic. But if the answer to their question of “What have you been doing since graduation?” is “Looking for a job”, they will not hire you. Why? Because there are more seemingly resourceful, aggressive, growth-oriented young people out there doing interesting things while they are looking for a job–and you don’t appear to be one of them. So if you’re looking for a job full-time to the exclusion of all else, or doing something that seems like a dead end,  you will continue to be passed over. Even though it is firmly understood you got a false start.

To compete with those 1-2 graduation years behind you, you need to show some hustle, and you need to show that your time out of college has been well-spent. Not only should you be networking like crazy and accepting any and all invitations for interviews, but you should be volunteering in some area of particular interest, ideally with some growth opportunity. Offer your services gratis if you have to–the important thing is to show that you’re busy, you’re learning and you’re agile. Doing something worthwhile as close as you can get to your field of interest while seeking employment in that field, makes you look one hundred times more resourceful and capable than any new grad just trying to get his feet wet. You’ve had the time on the ground, now show them what you’re worth!

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3 Responses to The False Start

  1. Jessica says:

    I’ve heard many graduates say they have job offers, but it’s below what they are looking for (they are ‘overqualified’). Do you think it is better for graduates to take positions they are I equalitied for or should they do volunteer work and keep job hunting. Specially, would taking a job below their skill level hurt their future career progression more than being unemployed but active?

  2. Jessica says:

    I’ve heard many graduates say they have job offers, but it’s below what they are looking for (they are ‘overqualified’). Do you think it is better for graduates to take positions they are qualified for or should they do volunteer work and keep job hunting. Specially, would taking a job below their skill level hurt their future career progression more than being unemployed but active?

  3. Allison says:

    It’s a good question. I would always favor taking a job over doing volunteer work if one was on offer–you need a job to get a job. It makes you look more legitimate in the marketplace to be working. Also, in terms of being overqualified, I don’t believe new grads are likely to be that overqualified for a job, unless they’ve been working and interning in the same field during college. And if that’s the case, I doubt they will have trouble finding a job in their field.

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