college graduates

Posted: March 29, 2015
By: Clay Cerny


My young clients (35 years older and younger) all tell a common story: They worry about being able to pay their student loans. For the past five years or so, the common struggle of getting a good early career job has been compounded by low wages. The worried refrain I hear from new and recent college graduates made me pay attention to an article posted on Bloomberg: “Why Most Popular Cities Are Out of Reach for Young Professionals.” In most of America’s sexiest cities new and affordable housing is not being built at a pace that will let young people live in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.

The article did point to an interesting exception to this rule: Chicago. The Windy City is building new housing at double the rate of other popular cities. While not the most affordable on the list, Chicago remains a decent option for both buyers and renters based on a survey by Zillow.

This article is odd and encouraging to anyone watching Chicago’s current mayoral campaign. The conventional wisdom is that the city is broke, that jobs will disappear if the current mayor is not re-elected. The charts in this article paint a much brighter future. Chicago seems like a great place for young people to build their careers without getting gouged on their mortgage or rent. As someone who has lived in the city for more than 25 years, I hope this is true.

Posted: March 5, 2015
By: Clay Cerny


I’ve been learning a lot lately from reading Bloomberg. It’s a great source for business news, but it also covers technology, politics, and some career issues. Today it features an article on the best career path. The lead sentence says it all: “It pays to have a way with numbers.” College graduates who major in computer science or math have the best long term salary gains. My clients in these fields have not only had the opportunity to make money. They are also able to transition to new jobs quickly and adapt to advances in technology and systems.

Does this mean every college student should try to major in these fields? No. Happiness is a big part of success, and happy people do what they love. If a person’s gifts lead her toward a degree in English or Drama, she should follow that path with eyes open about career options. College graduates from all backgrounds have a broad ranges of skills and knowledge that they can use to build a career. They might not make the money that a computer programmer will, but they can still be successful.

The best career path is one that lets us earn a good living and still be happy.

Posted: March 10, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

A client came to see me just before Christmas.  He was a college sophomore looking for an internship.  I asked where he wanted to be an intern.  Without hesitating, he rattle off the three top companies in the field where he wants to work.  He called me today to say that he’ll begin an internship with one of those companies this May.  How did he do it?  He studied the market and demonstrated that he had what the company was looking for.  More importantly, he had enough faith in himself to try.  Yes, college students and recent grads are in a tough job market.  However, those who are smart in how they look for work can still be very successful.  The first step is to look in the mirror and tell yourself:  I can do it.

Posted: October 29, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Since 2008, young workers, including college graduates, have struggled to get a good job.  Writing in Huffington Post, Jillian Berman examines this problem with a focus on college graduates getting jobs that do not require a degree, which usually means that they pay lower wages.  Young workers are earning less and building wealth much more slowly than the previous generation.  Then Berman adds the real problem:  debt.  College graduate now hold student loans that are more than twice what a graduate would have had in the early 1980s.

Berman questions whether young college grads will ever dig out of this hole.  I’m a little less pessimistic.  I think the current generation on average will not enjoy the opportunities my generation did.  However, many will succeed on the individual level because they will practice good career management.  It’s easy to give into despair and say that things will never get better.  Several of my younger clients have had to take first jobs that were less than they expected.  But they kept looking for something better.  They targeted and improved the skills they want to use on the job, and they were able to get better jobs.  Looking for work is never easy, but in a job market like this one, the only way to get ahead is to keep looking for a better opportunity.

Posted: July 31, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I’ve written about these topics before, but two recent client comments told me that it might be time to look at them again.  One client who has been working in fields that are below his skill level told me that his humanities degree was “worthless.”  I reminded him that most Americans (fewer than 35%) have college degrees.  Employers look at college degrees as a marker of knowledge and discipline.  Many value applicants with humanities degrees because they tend to be better thinkers and often have better communication skills.  Rather than look at his degree as “worthless,” I persuaded my client that it will help him find a job.

Today a client who just graduated from a science program told me that she had no experience.  Almost every new graduate feels the same way.  What they forget is the value of knowledge.  School teaches us concepts that we will use on the job.  Most programs also offer some kind of hands-on experience in the classroom, labs, or internships.  The client who claimed to have no experience actually worked in labs for four years while pursuing her degree.  She used equipment and performed tests that were listed on every job post she brought as examples of jobs she wished to pursue.  Experience does not only come on the job.  It can come in a classroom, lab, or field exercise.  If you’re a new graduate, start by looking at what the employer needs and how your education has given you knowledge and skill needed to be a strong candidate.

If you’re a new graduate, don’t despair about a weak degree or lack of experience.  Be practical and find a way to market what you learned in college.  It has value.

Posted: June 22, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Good advice?  Once upon a time, American society offered mobility, especially to those who made the sacrifice to get a good education.  Writing in Daily Kos, Laura Clawson finds that things are different now in the U.S.  If you want to get ahead, there’s one path to success:  Be born rich.

College graduates still have better prospects than those with less education.  But the research Clawson cites has found that a person without a college degree born to rich parents is 2.5 times more likely to be wealthy than the college grad who is not born to rich parents.  As Ed Schultz puts it, its all about membership in the “lucky sperm club.”

Posted: June 7, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I frequently work with clients who have just completed an undergraduate or graduate degree.  They usually list only the degree.  Some will note organizations they belonged to or scholarships that helped them pay for schools.  There is a problem with this information: Employers do not care about it.

I work with new graduates to identify areas of knowledge and skill that they will take from school to the workplace.  Rather than list classes, which only tell the employer that you are a student, review 5-10 job posts for positions that interest you.  Note job requirements and skills that you can take from your time in school and include these elements in your resume.

For example I’m currently working with a client who received an MBA with a concentration in Human Resources.  After reviewing job posts, we identified the following items for his resume: HR & Labor Law, Compensation, and Strategic Planning.  Be sure that you only list areas of skill and knowledge that you could use on the job.  Do not list any item that you could not discuss well in an interview or any skill you could not perform on the job.

If you are a new graduate, take full advantage of the knowledge and skill you offer an employer because of your education.  Demonstrate the value of your degree in a way that will be relevant to the employer’s needs.  Most importantly, don’t present yourself as a student.  Play up what you learned in school that a potential employer will care about.  That’s the way to get a job even if you lack professional experience.

Posted: May 6, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I began working as a career coach and resume writer in 2000.  In that year, the nonemployment rate* for young Americans (age 25-34) was 18.5%.  In the most recent measure, which marks the year 2011, that rate has moved up to 26.6%, which puts the U.S. ahead of France, Japan, Britain, and Germany, all of which had higher rates in 2000.

According to an article in Common Dreams, the news gets worse when we look behind the numbers.  The age group 25-35 is the only group to have a lower average wage in 2013 than it had in 2000. Part of the reason for this change could be that 40% of new college graduates are working in jobs that do not require a degree.  As I’ve written in previous posts,7 of 10 jobs created in the past few years have been low wage jobs that pay $30,000 or less.  What can young people do when low wage jobs are the only option?

We need to do more than just talk about a monthly employment statistic (30+ months of meaningless job growth) and the unemployment rate.  Yes, the economy has generated private sector jobs.  However, many are part-time, low paid, or benefit free.  We need to talk about what jobs pay.  We need good jobs.

* This rate included unemployment and those who have given up looking.

Posted: April 9, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

We frequently hear that college graduate earn more than those without degrees.  That claim may be true, but it ignores an important trend:  young college graduates wages are falling.

 Daily Kos reports that the real hourly wages for young male graduates is $17.81 and $16.60 for young female graduates.  As recently as 2009, males earned more than $20 and females more than $18.  The article also points out that this group saw no real growth between the years of 2000-2007.  Given the heavy debt many students have taken on, lower wages will mean that post-2000 college graduates will buy homes later – if they buy them at all.  They will also probably spend less on cars and “luxuries.”

This article and the great graph accompanying it is further evidence that we have a wage problem that is much more significant than unemployment.  New jobs will only be created when the economy expands, which is a function of spending.  If people like new college grads are losing ground, the future of our economy and the future of the middle class is very dim.

What can you do if you’re a new graduate or someone who cares about a new graduate?  Teach them to play the salary game.  Don’t stay at one company and wait for a raise that will be small – if there is a raise at all.  New grads should keep dusting their resume off every 18-24 months.  Keep looking for a new employer who will pay more.  It’s not fun to look for work.  It’s worse to work for less – and less.

Posted: April 1, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Travis Waldron of Think Progress reports on a on a disturbing trend:  college graduates working low wage jobs.  The statistics are a bit confusing, but the bottom line is that even college grads are now having trouble finding jobs that pay well.  Waldron explains that most of the new jobs generated in the post-recession economy have been low wage, which means that will be all that is available for some college grads.  He also notes that these better educated workers will push less qualified candidates out of the job market.  This trend needs to be watched – and worried over.