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.
Are you or a friend having trouble finding a job? Normally, I’m an optimist and try to recommend finding a different way to get the job you want. In some fields, however, we need to admit that there is a surplus of qualified applicants, which not only means that jobs will be harder to find. It will also mean that pay rates will be lower.
Many schools are pushing professional certificates and degrees for fields that have more employees than open positions. In healthcare, a surplus of employees means that more employers are using a “registry” model to take advantage of this situation. Registry means that there is no guarantee of hours and limited/no benefits. Another client is a lawyer who is working at a contract firm because that is what he wants to do. For several of his less experienced co-workers, that is the only job they can find. A friend in social services told me today that some firms are employing licensed clinicians at less than $35,000 a year. How can they do that? So many agencies have closed that there is a glut of employees who will work at a slashed salary.
What can you do to stay out of this situation? Do some thorough research before you pursue a graduate degree or professional certificate. Schools tend to speak a language of hope. They are confident that you will find a job. Don’t trust the happy talk. Check current job postings and forecasts for growth. Try to interview experienced professional already working in the field. Ask this simple question: Would you go into this field if you were starting your career now?
I am not recommending that anyone avoid a certain type of profession. Talented, committed people will always find a way to succeed. At the same time, it pays to think about how difficult it will be to get a job once you’ve completed a course of study. Don’t invest your hard earned time and money if there is not a clear return on the investment.
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.
I was recently working with two experienced professionals who were making a career change based on completing a master’s degree. In both cases, my clients felt that they were limited by a lack of experience. I frequently hear a similar complaint from new college grads. In one sense this concern is legitimate. Employers often prefer to hire people who have worked in a given industry or job function. However, that type of candidate is not always available, which is how doors open for career changers and new graduates.
If a job seeker doesn’t have experience, what can she offer employers? She has two important qualities to sell: knowledge and hands-on skills. Almost every kind of academic program teaches skills that employers need. Rather than fill a resume with classes or irrelevant extracurricular activities, present the skills that the employer is looking for. If you know how to do something, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have experience at a workplace. Highlight work done in projects or class activities. Another key point that grads often ignore is the knowledge that they bring to an employer. New grads often bring the latest knowledge and ideas. That’s a valuable asset, and one that should be promoted in resumes and job interviews. As Daniel Pink writes in his fine career guide, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need: “Think strengths, not weaknesses.”
I have had clients who benefitted greatly from internships. They worked for companies that offered good experience with a commitment to mentoring. Some of these internships were paid, some not. However, they all gave my clients hands-on experience that could be translated into their resumes. They also enabled my clients to be more confident during interviews because they had real workplace success stories.
Some internships do not advance your career. Recently one of my clients accepted an intense, three month internship that was unpaid. The company asked its interns to research and analyze potential customers. Then they made phone calls to set up appointments for the company’s sales team. The atmosphere at the company was pure boiler room: Work hard – work harder. At the end of her assignment, my client received a tepid letter of recommendation. She had no confidence that her supervisor would give her a good recommendation or even remember her name if an employer called. In essence, she was free labor for three months.
All internships are not the same. Before committing to an internship, you need to analyze what you will be giving the company and what you will be getting in return. If the work you perform will not let you learn new skills or give you resources to use on a resume or in an interview, think twice about taking the position. Don’t let someone take advantage of you. Walk away from a bad internship.
Student resumes are often littered with things employers could care less about: GPA, classes, and fraternities/sororities. What does an employer want to see? Evidence that you will be a good employee, someone who can hit the ground running and start contributing on day one.
Rather than naming classes, present skills or knowledge that are relevant to what the employer needs and what you will be doing on the job. For example, someone with a major in Marketing could cover their resume with the names of classes (or worse still course numbers), which will mean nothing to a prospective employer who quickly pushes such resumes into the recycling bin. Instead, a smart new graduate will list: market analysis, project management, copywriting, web design, and social media strategy. These skills and areas of knowledge send a simple message to the employer: I am ready to work and contribute to your company’s success.
Similarly, your behavior in the interview needs to focus on the workplace, not the classroom. Nothing will turn an employer off faster than the words, “In class, we. . .” She is not hiring a class or a we. You need to present what you are bringing to the table. For example, someone seeking work in advertising sales could point out: “I participated in several projects where I analyzed ratings and demographic statistics for media programs. I used Excel to create pie charts and bar graphs to demonstrate which stations would be a client’s best investment.”
While the current market is especially difficult for new graduates, employers have always had a preference for experienced employees. How does the new grad compete? Show your skills and knowledge. Present actions you have performed in school that parallel what you will do on the job. Most importantly – don’t talk or act like a student. You’re ready to do the job and contribute. That’s the message you want to send in your resume and during job interviews.