Good news for the college class of 2012: Your employment prospects, while hardly first-rate, are much better than they would have been in the past three years.
According to the Associated Press, approximately 7.2% of college graduates age 24 and under were unemployed from January through April. While still high, that figure is lower than the unemployment rate from the first four months of 2011 (9.1%), 2010 (8.1%), and 2009 (7.8%).
But with three million people entering the job market and competing for one million available jobs, the odds are still stacked against the latest crop of fresh college graduates.
“The supply of jobs has not yet caught up with the demand. That’s why we still hear so many stories about graduates who are still taking on unpaid internships after graduation, who are still flipping burgers at McDonald’s
(MCD). Not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, but graduates didn’t want to spend four years in college and go heavily in debt to flip burgers. So it’s still a pretty tough market,” observes Pace University marketing professor Dr. Larry Chiagouris.
So what can a newly minted degree holder do to stand out from the crowd? Unsurprisingly, Chiagouris, who recently published a book called The Secret to Getting a Job After College
, says that one key is marketing.
Harness the power of social media
“It starts with determining what kind of jobs you really want. Then when you’ve decided, create a marketing package – that means a business card, an Internet presence that’s more than just a LinkedIn
(LNKD) page; it could be a WordPress blog, or a website on Google
(GOOG), but you have to create something that shows who you are and what you are about. It doesn’t have to be really complicated, but enough to differentiate yourself from the people with whom you’re competing for a job,” he said in an interview with Minyanville.
Of course, knowing how to take advantage of social media helps in the job searching process, too. Chiagouris encourages job seekers to start a Twitter account, especially if they are good at writing.
“Follow the people in the industry, company, discipline, or profession that interests you and you’ll be surprised. Some of them will follow you back, and you’ll learn from them and may even open up a direct exchange," says Chiagouris. "Now, is that going to work with everybody? No. If I follow Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, or Donald Trump, will they reply? Probably not, but some people will. And that’s how relationships develop.”
When it comes to Facebook
(FB), the network so ubiquitous that interviewers are asking for the passwords
to job seekers’ accounts, the branding guru has a zero tolerance policy for anything that might come across as controversial.
“I tell students: Get rid of all bad photos, and unfriend people who look problematic. If you don’t want to do that, then change your name to something that only your friends will know. Then create another Facebook page just for your professional presence, where you can look good in a nice dress or sport coat and tie,” advises Chiagouris.
David Muir Jr., founder of The GigSpire Program
and a hiring expert, was of the same mind with regards to social media, saying that whether one is tweeting or posting articles on LinkedIn or Facebook, job seekers must “be mindful that all content must be professional in nature, no references to sex, drugs, alcohol, religion, [or] politics. Focus more on making comments and sharing articles on their preferred industry.”
Know which cities and industries are booming
A smart job searching strategy does not involve only marketing oneself, of course. One key piece of advice recent graduates could follow is to go where the jobs are.
Indeed, Americans have historically always been very mobile – think of the thousands of laborers who headed west in search for gold more than a century ago. According to Forbes
, 37.5 million people moved in 2010, with 4.3 million of them crossing state lines. Such "mobility is [what] makes us efficient seekers of economic improvement
," the magazine notes.
If you’re a budding journalist, for example, the FAQ page
for Columbia Journalism School also suggests that you move to where opportunities can be found, saying,
Unlike the largest metro newspapers and major broadcast and digital news companies, many small and medium companies are still plentiful and growing or holding steady, so employment in smaller markets is encouraging.... Again, the small markets have long offered great journalism opportunities across all platforms, and those who do well can eventually find their way to the bigger markets.
Muir suggests that students and fresh graduates can check out websites like CareerOneStop
and the Bureau of Labor Statistics
for information on the labor market and the demographic and job growth statistics of US cities.
Examples of boom towns where jobs are relatively abundant include Elko, Nevada, where a thriving gold mining industry resides. North Dakota has also seen a surge of jobs thanks to natural resource exploitation by companies like Chesapeake Energy
(CHK) and Halliburton
Jim Brown, president of Halliburton, told CNBC’s Jim Cramer last summer
, "If you have a willingness to work and an aptitude to learn with a high-school education, within a year and a half, two years, you can become a front-line supervisor. That job will pay $125,000, $130,000 a year. It's a tremendous opportunity. You got to come to North Dakota."
“Go to areas of the country that have great opportunities for a year or two, build your credentials and your contacts, and you can come back to New York or Washington or wherever it is you want to be,” says Chiagouris.
Even if a job in the oil industry is not your cup of tea, places like North Dakota offer plenty of different types of jobs, especially in the service industry, thanks to the surge of people settling there because of the oil boom. Here's how a CNN article
depicts the job market in the town of Williston, North Dakota:
At fast-food chains, the going rate is about $15 an hour. Hair salons, pharmacies, banks, hospitals, gas stations, bars, and clothing stores are also desperately looking for employees and paying a pretty penny to keep them from defecting for the oil fields. Even the local strip club is booming, with dancers making up to $3,000 a night.
Besides moving to where jobs can be found, new graduates should also research which industries are the fastest growing in the country. Muir suggests going to a site like ONetOnline
to find out which careers are trending positively.
Industries that have more positive job outlooks include health care, sciences
. Seattle, for example, has seen "a remarkable 43% increase in tech employment over the decade and an 18% expansion in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related] jobs," according to Forbes
. This is why Minyanville contributor Ruti Polacheck opined back in February that everyone should learn how to code
Find creative ways to meet people in the field
Another important thing that fresh college graduates can do to land a job is, of course, network. Suzanna Raga, who graduated from Princeton University in 2011 and is now juggling two internships in New York City, suggests that graduates should reach out to alumni who are working in the fields they want to enter.
“Making use of your college alumni/career counseling resources can get you valuable personal connections and get your foot in the door at companies that you may want to work for,” she says.
Chiagouris also offers up another networking tip, saying that graduates should sign up with professional associations or institutes related to their academic discipline, and try to attend seminars that these organizations hold.
“I’ve seen students go to these organizations and say, 'Let me work for you for free at your next conference. I’ll help you stuff envelops of marketing materials for your next conference as long as I get to attend.' Many of these seminars are organized by non-profit organizations that have as one part of their mission outreach programs to the academic and student communities. So when a student asks to volunteer, they are usually very eager to say yes so they can show that they’re reaching out to students.
“I’ve seen students make wonderful connections and get job offers through these conferences, because, first of all, when they attend, they’re probably one of the few students who are there, so they can stand out. A lot of professionals like to talk to students when they run into them at a conference. So there’s a relationship that gets developed,” he shares.
If the job search proves to be tough-going, another option graduates need to explore is to take on internships, whether unpaid or not. The key here is to “get an internship opportunity at a business or employer that is consistent with your long-term goals,” says Chiagouris.
“Sometimes, these internships turn into a job. About 60% of the time they do not, but they might still lead to a connection somewhere. That’s why I say do it,” Chiagouris notes, adding that graduates should not relax their job pursuit nonetheless.
“I think [unpaid internships] are a necessary evil in this exceptionally challenging time,” says Raga, who, besides currently interning at two music companies, also publishes a music blog, After The Show
. “If you want to go into industries like entertainment, publishing, or music that emphasize unpaid internships, then I wouldn't be above doing them. I'm making connections and figuring which specific part of the music industry I like the most at my internships now.”
Ultimately, securing a job after graduation is going to take hard work and sheer relentlessness, Chiagouris emphasizes.
“Don’t be passive. No one’s going to hand you a job. You’ve got to work hard everyday. I tell students: Put in four hours a day looking for a job. It’s too hard to put in eight hours. It gets depressing, and it gets disappointing. If you put in four hours a day, you’ll get a job.”