A somewhat depressing take on the job market for recent college graduates from Chris Isidore of CNN Money:
About 60% of recent graduates have not been able to find a full-time job in their chosen profession, according to job placement firm Adecco…..Last year, the unemployment rate for college graduates age 24 and younger rose to 9.4%, the highest since the Labor Department began keeping records in 1985…..Adecco also found that 18% of recent grads have been forced to turn to full-time jobs outside their field of study, often jobs for which a college degree is not required.
The term “lost generation” is meant to refer to the notion that, according to economists, it may take such graduates 10 or more years to recover the lost wages from being unemployed at what should have marked the beginning of their careers.
What should we make of this? As Christians, we’re reminded to hope in God at all times, and not on the uncertainty of employment status or wealth. We ought not to find our significance in such things. In fact, God often uses hardship to wean us from this world and purify our hearts.
At the same time, we want to be wise stewards of the gifts and opportunities that God bestows upon us. So what are some sensible ways that today’s college students or recent graduates can respond to the current economic malaise? Much of this is unpacked further in Thriving at College, but here are a few nuggets:
1. While in college, get work experience, preferably in something related to your field of choice. On the one hand, any job is better than no job. The key is to demonstrate competence and a strong work-ethic. New hires are always a “risk” for companies; they don’t know if you’re going to be reliable and diligent, or if you’re going to call in sick three times a week. But work in something related to your field is even better. Keep track of people you meet/know who work in your field, and don’t be too shy to ask them if they ever consider interns. Be willing to work in your field for little or no money if necessary; what matters is the experience: not only can you prove you are reliable, diligent, and competent, it shows future employers that you have a longstanding interest to work in a particular field.
2. Treat every professor and professional you encounter with respect and maturity. Recommendation letters are crucial, and your reputation precedes you. You need all the bridges you can forge in our increasingly interconnected world. So don’t make enemies. Don’t just be a “customer” in the way you treat your professors, as if they exist simply to serve you. Remember that other professors and future employers will be asking them about you. So treat your professors as if they were your employers, and demonstrate the kind of work ethic, dependability, and responsibility that will help them easily remember and say very nice things about you when a prospective employer calls them on the phone, asking about you.
3. After college, live at home if you can, but have a contract, pay rent, do chores around the house/yard, and have an exit strategy. Employers are looking for personal maturity. If you graduated two years ago, are living at home, and don’t have a “real” job, they may conclude that you can’t hack it in the real world. They may figure you’re home goofing around, or at least that you are somehow a high risk. While living at home makes good financial sense, you should not seek to completely freeload off your parents. Pay a rent as if you were a tenant in their home – you should be able to pay it from whatever part-time/temporary job you do have. Use any extra income to pay back those school loans as quickly as you can. And don’t put your extra time into video games and Facebook. Instead, keep up to date with your field. Read, go to conferences, and network. Have and work a solid plan to gain financial independence, and to be on your way. Unless your parents have health problems, living with Mom and Dad indefinitely puts a strain on the natural order of things.
4. Write a solid cover letter, and don’t be afraid to address your present circumstances. People know the economy has been rough, but if they’re going to hire you, they need to also know that you’re the kind of person that made the best of the situation, the kind of person that gets after things in life (rather than being overwhelmed). Determination, perseverance, and a can-do attitude and work ethic go a long way. And these qualities can be demonstrated in a variety of circumstances. So tell them what you did: You worked 20 hrs/week as a waiter while you read up on the developments in your academic field, attended short-courses to learn more, paid down 25% of your student loans in just 18 months, paid your parents rent, took care of the lawn and your parents’ cars just to contribute your fair share, etc. This shows prospective employers that you aren’t trying to hide something; that although life has been tough, you’ve responded with maturity and grit. That goes a long way.
5. Be optimistic, but be realistic. There’s nothing wrong and everything right about wanting to work in an area that fascinates you, that really stokes your passions, that makes you want to hit that alarm clock and get to work in the morning. But let’s say you didn’t make the major leagues as a baseball player, and that was your dream. Don’t despair because you didn’t get that “big break”, but you don’t have to ignore your passion, either. Maybe pursue coaching at the high school or college level, and/or play in a city league in the evening. Perhaps you can’t find a job as an architect, but you can start a design business or become an interior decorator. It’s important to balance idealism and realism, even if that means pursuing a job to pay the bills while you train yourself and seek for opportunities to take your skills in some area to the next level.