In response to a Time article by Martha C. White titled “The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired,“ a reader named “younotus” laments: “I had to move back in with my parents [and] . . . if it weren’t for them, I would have nowhere to go. And I’ve done everything right. I’ve done everything I’ve been told to do, to have a good life. And still, I can’t help but feel like I’m losing again and again and getting nowhere.”
It’s a heart-rending statement, part of a much longer one where he reveals his frustrating and underpaid path since graduating from a prestigious college with a liberal arts degree. I bolded his line above “And I’ve done everything right,”
a) because I see that phrase a lot in reader response threads expressing discontent about job prospects and
b) I wonder how he defines “everything right.”
I worry there is a disconnect between what some students believe is “doing everything right,” and actual activities that help make a college graduate ready to make the leap into the corporate world. All of us who are educators in the career development arena want to close this gap.
I discussed this recently with a college career counselor, who expressed the same concern. She said, “I’m anxious about our students who have so much on their plate.” She and “younotus” beg the question, what are the right things for students to have on their plate during college to pave the way for a respectable starting job? Here are my thoughts on this. Please feel free to weigh in:
- Through their college progression, students need to grow their network on LinkedIn. In fact by graduation, they should have at least 250 connections and aim for 500+ connections early in their career.
- They need to complete and optimize their LinkedIn profile.
- They need to learn how to leverage LinkedIn to their advantage, using its features to raise their profile, visibility and appeal. Matt Hames writes that by their senior year, students should rebalance the Facebook/LinkedIn ratio: By senior year they should be on LinkedIn 90% of the time, Facebook 10%. In addition, students need to be taught proper “Netiquette,” which means being strategic, personable and generous when making connections through LinkedIn. If so, they will be well-served (and poised to serve others).
2. Complete an internship or 3. While completing an internship is obvious to many, I meet many students who admit they “never got around to it.” It belongs on the plate! What other things might they need to say no to, in order to get around to it? With whom can they make a connection at a company, so that they are referred rather than part of a huge gang of applicants?
3. By graduation, have “at the ready” at least 3-5 accomplishments showing ways students have made an impact, showing quantifiable results. By graduation, resumes need to contain this information. LinkedIn profiles also need to showcase what students do well, and how they enjoy making an impact. Is their branding front and center on their LinkedIn profile?
4. Complete 25 informational interviews before graduation. Informational interviews are the perfect activity for gaining insight on multiple levels: About oneself as a job seeker, about a company, about career preferences, insights into industry trends, a source for blog ideas, and most important, for discerning pain points that a job seeker may be able to leverage into a job or internship.
5. Volunteer in places that allowing job seekers to gain marketable skills they want to learn. At least by junior year, students can take on more leadership positions in volunteer organizations by taking on officer positions, and offering their talents. For example, if someone has writing or marketing skills, they can offer to create and manage a Facebook page for a non-profit, or a small business owner. Students can seek out opportunities to be of value and make a difference.
6. Learn how to target specific companies they’re interested in. Once they’ve targeted companies, they can then do research, and begin to connect to insiders within those companies, and set up informational interviews.
Many of the readers responding in the TIME thread above discussed how their “spray and pray” job hunt approach yielded nothing. From the lack of response to their resumes, they inferred the job market was dried up, or their major was a waste, rather than infer the approach itself was misguided. By helping arm students with the knowledge of how to target and research companies, they learn an invaluable skill they’ll use throughout their careers.
7. Begin and develop a side-gig that has the potential for monetization, something they enjoy doing in their spare time. Kimberly Palmer’s The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life, makes the case for learning to monetize hobbies as a way to offset lower paying jobs, perhaps even replacing them. It is responsible stewardship to prepare students to be entrepreneurs. I envision a day, in fact, where an entrepreneurial class is mandatory for every student, every major, with the expectation that they leave college with a proven, independent means to earn money well underway.
Is the disappointment felt by “younotus” inevitable, even with the “right” things on his plate? Maybe he has a blind spot that prevents him from taking actions that can propel him forward. I can only conjecture. My intention, with the solutions above, is to provide students with a solid foundation for their own career management. No job is permanent. When it’s time to leave a job, the best thing we can do is equip students with the skills and expertise they need to land a better one.
image: © Depositphotos.com /gnohz