As published on LinkedIn Influencers on July 27th, 2019.
Last month I watched as my oldest child graduated from college. Yes, my son is now officially a college graduate, and no, I don’t know where the time went. What I do know is that I am one proud mother. My son is in full-time job search mode, and watching him go through this process has been eye-opening for me. I’ve been trying to offer advice, but it has been 30 years since I was in his shoes looking for my first job, and a lot has changed since then. That being said, it’s also remarkable how much has remained the same.
When I graduated from the University of British Columbia back in 1988, I was lucky because I knew what I wanted to do: enter a career in finance. I was also very lucky in that a number of firms, including Goldman Sachs, came to my campus to recruit. That made everything a lot easier. When a graduate takes a well-trodden path, such as banking or consulting, a university can be a big help. But if you’re taking the path less taken, not so much. It makes me wonder whether universities are ranked in some way by the support they give in helping their graduates find work. If not, they really should be, especially considering the investment these young people are making in their education. You would think that that would be an important benchmark.
Regardless, my son is not heading down a well worn path, and naturally, I want to help. But, and I can’t stress this enough, I want to help in a positive way. A recent study revealed that 40% of employers have had parents interfere in their child’s career. Employers have reported parents submitting resumes on their child’s behalf, calling the company to lobby for their child to be hired, and even sitting in on their child’s job interview. If you are a parent, do not, I repeat, DO NOT be one of these parents. Not only does it reflect badly on your child, but studies have shown that these helicopter parenting tactics do more harm than good. Give advice, sure, leverage your network, sure, but then let your child figure out their own path.
For myself, I decided that my way of helping and giving advice would be to do some research on the current job market and strategies on how to get a job in today’s connected world. Hopefully I can give him some helpful information and he can take it from there. Given my inclination to share, share, share, below is what I have learned. I invite you to have a read, and please share your favorite tips and resources in the comments below for all graduates to read and use.
First, some stats.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, American colleges and universities will award 1.0 million associate’s degrees, 1.9 million bachelor’s degrees, 780,000 master’s degrees, and 182,000 doctor’s degrees for the 2018-2019 school year.
At the same time, 19.9 million students were projected to attend American colleges and universities in fall 2018. My youngest child will be one of them. 17 million students will enroll in undergraduate programs, with 2.9 million enrolled in post-baccalaureate programs.
Your first job matters. According to a 2018 study by the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, 43% of college grads take positions that don’t require a degree. This study also found that 10 years after graduation, 1 in 5 college grads still weren’t working in a position that required a degree, meaning that once you’re underemployed, it can be extremely difficult to get out of that hole. This can impact your career and future earnings, so choose your first job carefully and strategically.
What about salary expectations? According to new data by College Pulse, analyzed by LendEDU, students expect to make $60,000 out of college, but in reality the average is $48,400. They analyzed over 7,000 responses from current college students from over 1,000 different schools for these numbers. Another study, the NACE’s Fall 2018 Salary Survey, stated that the preliminary average starting salary for the Class of 2018 graduates stands at $50,004, which is 2% less than the preliminary salary for the Class of 2017 ($51,022). This study also included eight main college degree categories and their estimated salaries, which would be worth benchmarking against in your own search for potential salaries.
Some good news. The unemployment rate for recent college grads was 3.7% in December 2018, just ahead of the overall 3.8% unemployment rate for the US at large. The job market, generally speaking, is strong. That said, somewhat alarming is the fact that when adjusted for inflation, the median earnings for recent grads today is no higher than for recent grads in 1990. With costs of living increasingly going up, that’s a worrying statistic for any parent. No wonder so many kids end up living at home for a while after graduating.
It’s one thing to know what field you want to enter, but it’s another thing entirely to find the position that best suits your strengths and talents. One way to help this process along is to know just exactly what those strengths and talents are. I recently put in the time to more fully understand myself in this way, and it has been so helpful. Below are some of the tools that I would recommend for getting to know yourself better.
The Strong Interest Inventory is a good tool to help determine your work personality. It was first developed in 1927, and now has over 80 years of research behind it. This tool will help focus your job search on the positions and careers most tailored to your specific areas of interest.
Another great tool that I’ve personally used myself is StrengthsFinder 2.0 from Gallup. Similar to the Strong Interest Inventory, this is an assessment tool that helps to determine where your natural strengths and talents lie, as well as which areas need improvement and how to have more self awareness about both.
So now you understand what you want and what you might like to do. What’s next? How do you actually find a job? The good news is that there are a lot of big sites that amalgamate thousands of job postings, such as Indeed, CareerBuilder, and Monster, meaning you have thousands of options at your fingertips. However, if these big sites seem overwhelming, the good news is that there are plenty of other sites that provide more targeted listings. Dice, for example, posts jobs specifically for those looking to enter the tech industry, while Cool Works specializes in outdoor job postings. One of the most highly recommended is The Muse, where they pair every job posting with insider information on what that company’s culture and employee experience is like. The Muse also has the largest database of career advice online, including career and coaching options.
Another great site is Idealist, which lists thousands of jobs for those looking to work in the non-profit sector. When I worked for Women Moving Millions, this was the site we used the most when recruiting. Finally, another great tool for recent grads is College Recruiter. This site is tailored specifically to graduates looking for their first job, and helps to identify good entry-level positions. There is even the opportunity for job seekers to have an expert critique their resume at no extra cost.
And of course, LinkedIn. It’s estimated that up to 70% of all job postings are never publicly published, meaning that your network of contacts is extremely important. Over the years, LinkedIn has become the top site for making business and career connections, so a professional, up-to-date LinkedIn profile is a crucial part of any job seeker’s inventory. LinkedIn also has a community of thousands of business professionals who publish daily content full of advice and practical knowledge. The site even has its own job board and listings, so when it comes to landing your first job, LinkedIn is an invaluable tool.
Some additional information.
According to Zippia, a company whose mission is to empower people with the information and tools needed to achieve their career aspirations, these are the “best” 10 entry-level jobs for college graduates in the United States:
- Cartographers and Photogrammetrists
- Computer Systems Analysts
- Management Analysts
- Web Developers
- Film and Video Editors
- Sales Engineers
- Technical Writers
- Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
- Multimedia Artists and Animators
- Credit Counsellors
Finally, I am a member of an awesome network called The Li.st, and I reached out and asked the members for some advice. Here are some highlights:
Nisha Chittal, Engagement Editor, Vox.com – As someone who’s done a lot of hiring of recent grads, my biggest tip is that cover letters are really important. We do read them. And in cover letters, candidates should demonstrate two things:
- Why you care about working at *this* specific company. I see a lot of cover letters that aren’t tailored to the company and look like they could have been copy-pasted and sent to 100 different companies. This is not a good strategy. Most hiring teams want to know that you know something about their company, you understand what they do and what their mission is, and why you want to be a part of that mission. While copy-pasting the same cover letter 100 times might seem more efficient, you’d do better to take 10 minutes customizing your cover letter for each position and company you apply for — that will make you stand out far more.
- What value you would bring to the company. I also see a lot of cover letters, particularly from recent grads, that talk about how “this job would be the ideal opportunity for me to take the next step in my career.” While this is nice, what hiring managers really want to know is what value and skills you will bring to their company and how your skills will help them achieve their goals. So frame it the other way. Instead of talking about how this opportunity would be great for you, explain why you would be great for the position, and talk about what value you will bring and what you can help them do.
Nadja Blagojevic, Director of Content Strategy, Axiom – When I was a hiring manager, there were a bunch of traits that I would have LOVED to have seen in an entry level candidate. These were really basic qualities like being punctual, detail oriented, reliable, having a good attitude while learning the ropes, being organized, etc. I remember thinking that if I could find someone with those basic attributes, I would hire them in a heartbeat. For hiring at a junior level, I sort of assumed candidates were not going to actually know anything, and I would focus on hiring smart people who I could teach, and who would have a great orientation towards work and a learning mindset.
Some other great books, articles, and resources from The Li.st members and others:
I hope you found this useful, and remember, please feel free to add your tips in the comment section below. If you are looking for your first full-time position, good luck!