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Common job issues and solutions in College Student / Recent Graduate

5 Big Reasons New Grads are Failing the Job Search


By Lea McLeod, M.A. , Founder & CEO, Degrees of Transition

{#/pub/images/5BigReasonsNewGradsareFailingtheJobSearch.jpg}“I've been sending out my resume for months and not hearing anything back.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a recent grad call with, literally, that exact same statement. It’s practically epidemic.  But it’s an important statement because its simplicity and honesty belies the vast complexity of situations that created it. 


Although a poor resume is one reason new grads are failing in the job search, it’s a symptom of bigger issues. At last count, something like 53% of new grads under the age of 25 are unemployed or underemployed. The word we’re using for this now is “malemployment.”


What’s discouraging is that many give up the job search far too soon, and settle for one to two other options:

  1. Taking a part time, low wage job to create some level of sustainable income, or,

  2. Consider taking on more debt by going back to grad school.


My response is to say not yet, to both. Because for many grads, they have not put in the work to overcome the systemic issues which created their conundrum in the first place.


And to be clear, a job search does take work. There is no “easy button.”


That’s not an indictment of the quality, intelligence or character of our new grads out there. It’s a reflection of the market, and the skill sets that need to be developed to win in that market.


Skills that are different from what it took to win in the academic market. Skills sets that are typically not learned in an academic setting. 


Here are 5 Reasons New Grads are Failing the Job Search and How To Get Them Back on Track


1:  They Treat the Job Search as Transaction Processing Rather Than a Strategic Marketing Project 

A well-constructed job search is really a personal project management effort. A marketing project; where grads are the product.


Many grads, most in my opinion, don’t look at the job search this way. They treat it as a very transactional activity in which they are waiting for someone to offer them something.


They think:

"I submit a resume, therefore I am conducting a job search."

"I applied for a job online; therefore I am conducting a job search."


Nothing could be further from the truth. 

They are transaction processing. Not job searching, or career starting, or marketing.


To be successful in the job search, grads need to construct a detailed, multi-faceted project plan that will take them from where they are, to where they want to be.


The Solution: Shift the Mindset, and Create the Plan

Create a job search strategic plan and work it every day. 

  1. Identify the overarching goal of your job search strategy.

  2. Establish timelines for desired outcomes for the overall job search, and the number of interviews and other job search activities you want each week.

  3. Set weekly, and daily goals for each type of job search activity: online search, offline search, informational interviews, networking, and social media.

  4. Be sure to allot a good amount of time for research as an important aspect of your strategy.

  5. Create a dedicated workspace and equip it professionally.

  6. Identify a job search or support group you can go to for community.

  7. Consider hiring a career coach, job search consultant or mentor to create a sense of accountability.


2:  They Have a Short Term Mindset

All projects have a “schedule”, but many grads approach the job search strategy with unrealistic expectations of what this schedule should be. Take into account the latest stats which indicate a job search in the US takes an average of 22 weeks.


Question: What has a student done in 20 years of academics that has lasted 22 weeks?

Answer: Practically nothing. Even summer vacation doesn't last 22 weeks!


School calendars are diced into periods, quarters, mods, semesters, and seasons. Virtually none of them extend to 22 weeks.  Grads come out with a mindset that life happens in 90-day increments, or thereabouts. They aren't mentally prepared for the long-haul journey that is a job search in today’s market.


Often I hear this relayed in a comment from a parent:

"My daughter sends out five applications on line every day, doesn't hear back, and then has a meltdown on Friday."


The Solution: Build Realistic Timeline Expectations Into the Plan

  1. Conduct market research and determine what’s happening in the area you are searching. How long are job searches taking for different disciplines?
  2. Build realistic expectations for the Job Search Project timeline. Give yourself more time than you think you need.

  3. Develop a financial plan to support yourself while searching. Whether it’s part time work, living with parents or other family, have a 6 to 8 month plan so that doesn't create daily stress.


3:  They Don't Understand They Are in the Self-Promotion and Marketing Business

Grads with any major would do well to take a course in marketing at some point in their collegiate careers. The job search is really about the marketing process.  It begins with understanding the “product;” what you offer, who will want it, how you’ll add value and then identifying potential customers (in this case employers) who will pay you. 


Therefore a successful job search strategy requires that you:

  1. Market – identify the potential employers who would be a good mutual fit for acquiring you as talent, and,

  2. Sell – turn them into buyers by convincing them to hire you.


All the messages, documents, and interview prep a new grad develops must focus on marketing what they have to offer in all of their materials.


And then selling; closing the deal, accepting the offer, when they’ve positioned themselves as the most qualified applicant for the job. 


The Solution: Get Clear on Your Identity and Messaging to Construct Good Marketing Materials.

  • Develop a marketing mindset and identify who your potential customers (employers) could be.

  • Identify 15 to 20 target employers to whom you will direct your marketing efforts.

  • Continually ask, “Where do I find my potential customers (employers) and how do I connect with them?”

  • Use your networking tools to seek out connections into organizations, and ask for referrals to hiring managers.

  • Use cold calling or cold emailing as a way to connect with hiring managers at your target employers.


4:  Their Self-Awareness Tank is Nearly Empty

How many times in the academic process do we ask students to describe themselves?

Yet, this is the hallmark first question of many interviews, and a great metaphor for the job search in general: 

“So, tell me about yourself.”


Whoa! This is a whole new level of self-awareness that grads don’t typically learn in school.

In job search preparation I often ask clients to describe themselves, and I can tell immediately that many simply haven’t done that kind of homework. Frankly, they've never needed to.


But how does this show up in the job search?  Well, everywhere:

  • It’s difficult to develop a job search strategy when you don’t know who you are, what you are looking for, and the kind of work you might find satisfying.
  • It’s hard to write a resume when you don’t know how to describe yourself.

  • It’s impossible to succeed at an interview when you can’t translate who you are and what you offer into a “value proposition” for an employer.

  • It’s difficult to answer the question, “Why should I hire you?” when you don’t really know why an employer should, other than it would put money in your bank account. 


The Solution: Get Clear on Your Identity and Messaging to Construct Good Marketing Materials. 

  1. Get into self-assessment land and learn as much about yourself, your strengths, your desired workplace qualities and how you’ll add value. If necessary, contract with a career counselor or someone who can help with this work.

  2. Find self-help books such as StrengthFinder 2.0 to develop your personal profile.

  3. Based on your findings, develop clear messages about who you are and the value proposition you represent.

  4. Create compelling marketing materials that support your messages and attract employers.


5:  They Don't See Things From the Employer Perspective

One of the biggest misconceptions grads have about the job search is that it’s about finding work they love to do.  And I agree, in Nirvana that would be awesome. But grads also need to understand what it’s like to be a hiring manger, and what that hiring manager is looking for.


- They are NOT looking to provide grads the opportunity to make their dreams come true. 

- The ARE looking for smart, likable people who will fit into the organization and help them solve their business problems. Dreams coming true is icing on the cake.


The crux of the entire job search strategy is to present yourself as someone who is capable of helping an employer solve his or her problems.  If grads think about their job search strategy this way, then fundamentally they will start asking different questions.


They will stop asking: "How can I find a job that pays a lot and that I love?"


And they will start asking: "Who has problems that I love solving and how do I find them?"


The Solution: Get into the Employer’s Head.

  1. Use LinkedIn to research what employers want. Identify what jobs are posted, what problems are they trying to solve, what outcomes candidates are expected to achieve.

    - If this feels like a new language, look at literally hundreds of jobs so you can begin seeing patterns and common themes emerge.

  2. In areas where you have interest, align your messages with the needs of employers in those areas of interest.

  3. Talk to hiring managers you may know socially or meet at networking events. Ask them what they most look for in a qualified candidate. Listen to their words and messaging and align your messages so that you’ll be heard.


The job search landscape for new grads is challenging right now, there’s no doubt. But after working with and talking to hundreds of young adults I’m sure of one thing: it’s not all about the economy.


We've got to help new grads develop the skills, the mindset and the strategy to get them successfully from college, to career. 


What do you think? Are you a soon to be, or recent college grad entering the job market for the first time? Do you know one who is having difficulty landing the right job?  How much planning is being put into the preparation for the job hunt?

{#/pub/images/LeaMcLeod.jpg}Written by Lea McLeod, M.A., Founder & CEO, Degrees of Transition 

Lea works extensively with new grads who are tackling the job search for the first time.  She is a guest speaker, as well as facilitator of the “Find a Job Faster” Job Search Program and “Developing Patterns of Success” Workshop & Webinar series, bringing over 20 years of director level experience, most recently with Hewlett-Packard, managing, leading and serving worldwide employees. She holds a degree in Marketing from St. Bonaventure University, and a Master of Arts in Organization Development from Seattle University.


Do you have a question for Lea?  Post it here in our College Student/Recent Grad Community, she will be happy to help: Ask An Expert 


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in:  

6 Tips to Jumpstart Your Career Before Graduation

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7 Trust-Killers in Your First Job

7 Ways to Quell First Job Jitters


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The most common interview question is "So Tell Me About Yourself". Are you prepared to answer?