By Cassie Holman
Recent graduates have encountered—and continue to face—one of the toughest job markets of all time. Here's a look at today's labor market:
- As of April 2010, about 15 million people were without jobs, with an unemployment rate of 9.7% (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
- In April 2010, there were only 2.7 million job openings in the U.S. (BLS).
- The 2009-2010 graduating class is the largest in U.S. history. Colleges alone granted more than 1.6 million degrees (National Center for Education Statistics). Count associate degrees as well and the number climbs to 2.4 million.
With the job-seeker to jobs-available ratio off kilter, many grads wonder where they're going to find work.
tough market, but "there are jobs"
Kelly Cuene, a career adviser at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, admits that the market is much tougher than past graduates have seen. There still are jobs available, she says, but students must be more creative and persistent in seeking opportunities.
"Students who only rely on campus recruiters are severely limiting themselves," Cuene says. "Students need to be reaching out to professionals—networking and proactively making those connections."
However, even students who network, intern, and become involved on campus find themselves struggling to secure full-time positions.
Many graduates are turning to another option: postgraduate internships.
grads seek alternative career path
Maggie Kierl, 23, graduated from Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, in May 2009 with degrees in journalism broadcasting and public relations. She had two public relations internships during her undergraduate career; held leadership positions on campus, one as promotions director for the Public Relations Student Society of America; and participated in intramural sports.
Although Kierl built an impressive résumé as an undergrad, when she applied for an account coordinator position at a public relations agency in Dallas, she was told she didn't have sufficient experience.
The agency instead offered her a PR internship, where Kierl works with social media and brainstorms collaborations, brand management, research, and media pitching.
Kierl remains positive about the experience and hopes the internship will bring her to the next level of expertise—and ultimately, a full-time job offer.
"The job market is extremely challenging," says Kierl. "Most of my friends are going to grad school or taking odd jobs or internships, making way less than they deserve," in her opinion.
Heather Huhman, career expert and founder of job Web site Come Recommended, Derwood, Md., says many graduates are finding an internship to be their best option to "get a foot in the door."
"Employers want to see career-related internship experience on an applicant's résumé," says Huhman. "Taking internships after graduation is happening much more in this economy."
For current students who want a head start on their careers, college networks are filled with internship opportunities: Career centers, local job postings, student organizations, and professors are all great sources for job information.
The good news for interns: A recent CareerBuilder.com survey found that the majority of employers who hire interns plan to eventually add them as full-time employees.
living expenses can be challenging
With rent, other living expenses, and student loan payments looming, many recent grads wonder how they can support themselves on an intern's wage—which is often zero.
Huhman points out that student loan repayments generally kick in six months after graduation, giving students leeway to get an internship under their belt and work toward a full-time offer. Also, she suggests taking an internship along with another part-time, paid job. This option will give graduates career-related experience while they earn some income, she says.
Use these job-seeking resources to jumpstart your career:
Yahoo! Hot Jobs
Mashable's Guide to Twitter
"How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Other Social Networks"
Student Branding (Holman contributes to the site.)
Another money-saving strategy for those who can't afford to fork out hundreds in rent each month: Move home with mom and dad.
career advice from the experts
Of course, the ideal career path for most college students would be to forgo the postgrad internship and secure that full-time gig right away. Nice work if you can get it, as the saying goes. Here are some career tips for college students from Cuene and Huhman:
- Use your college career center: Explore careers and majors, learn to write effective résumés, build interview skills, and network.
- Start early, and be proactive. Don't just wait for employers to come to you.
- Seek relationships with alumni.
- Keep in mind that networking is a two-way relationship; keep lines of communication open.
- Look for internships after your sophomore year, get as many as you can, and try to find a few that vary. You will get a totally unique experience depending on the size of the company, the culture, and the type of work and responsibility you are given.
- Become involved in campus leadership roles. You can put this under the ‘experience' section in your résumé.
- Polish your communication skills to network and ace interviews.
- Use social media effectively and professionally to build networks. Maintain a broad social media presence. Make sure that when employers Google you, they find positive results.
Huhman, Cuene, and Kierl all stress the importance of using social media to stand out in the job market. Employers increasingly are recruiting via social media channels, and it's imperative that college students be active in these spaces.
For instance, you quickly and easily can set up a WordPress account and craft an online portfolio or begin blogging. Even if you're not a journalist or a writer, blogging is an excellent way to showcase your ideas about issues in your field. And, being tech-savvy is a plus in just about any job. You also can use Twitter and LinkedIn to find professionals in your field. Explore these channels—you can make many meaningful connections.
It's a difficult market for college grads right now, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to find a job. Experience, creativity, resources, and internships—along with a lot of patience—will help put you on the right career path.
Cassie Holman is a former Credit Union National Association Center for Personal Finance editorial intern. She now holds a full-time position with the company she interned with after graduating. She again lives on her own.