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Monday, July 28, 2008

recent grad frustrated by job search

A reader writes:

I'm a new reader of your blog and I'm already fascinated. I had no idea there was such a wealth of excellent career advice out there.

I got my B.A. at a prestigious university over six weeks ago, and since then I've been actively pursuing a job in government, law or policy. But after a few dozen applications and several interviews, I have no offers. I realize that many people go far longer without having a job, but the pressure is on and desperation is beginning to set in.

In fact, I've gotten to speculating about the reason for my failure thus far to find anything. Among the possibilities I've considered are that my major (Sociology) isn't very valuable, that my location (California) is too far from the policy jobs in DC, and that the labor market is simply too loose (I know I lost a $40,000 position to a M.A.) Qualifications and interview performance are of course possibilities as well, but I have good grades and relevant experience, plus interview coaching from the school's career center.

I'm sorry, I know I'm coming off as selfish and possibly arrogant, but the uncertainty is killing me. I'd love to hear your take on this situation.

Not selfish and not arrogant. Normal. Really, your situation is totally and completely normal. It sucks, but it's normal.

Six weeks isn't very long, as job searches go. The job market isn't great right now, and you're competing for the same jobs with people who have been in the workforce a bit longer and thus have more experience. You will find a job, but you need to hang in there.

Things that will help:

* Focus your job search. You don't say what your strategy has been, but if you're like many recent grads, you're applying all over the place to all different types of jobs. Focus your search in and go for quality over quantity with your applications -- meaning at a minimum, a cover letter that is tailored to each position you apply for. (And I mean really tailored -- at least several fresh paragraphs per job, not just plugging in the name of the company.)

* In fact, it's going to be all about the cover letter for you. Go read this post and follow my orders.

* Rework your resume. I took a look, and right now, the first half of the page is taken up by education, notes on coursework, and honors, and your work experience doesn't start until the second half of the page. Move the education information to the end or at least shorten it dramatically (get rid of the coursework section entirely, which takes up a huge chunk of valuable real estate), and beef up the work experience section. Remember, a hiring manager is going to spend maybe a minute (or less) on the initial scan of your resume. What do you want her to see in that minute -- a list of college courses you took, or work experience directly relevant to what she's hiring for?

* While you're at it, drop the high school honors (National Merit finalist, AP scholar, etc.). Nothing before college counts, unless it's something really unusual. I was going to tell you to get your SATs off of there too, but you got a perfect 1600, so I'm going to allow you to leave those on.

* Ask for feedback from any interviewers with whom you felt like you clicked (or even those you didn't click with). It doesn't matter if it's been weeks. Email them right now and tell them you really appreciated their time and ask for any advice they have for you on how you can become a more attractive candidate. Some won't answer you and others will tell you something so vague as to be useless, but someone may tell you something good ... or point you in the direction of a job lead.

* Start networking, if you aren't already. Ask everyone you know if they have any connections to the types of jobs you're looking for. Don't be afraid to exploit the connections when you uncover them. Oh, and ask your school career office to hook you up with some alumni connections in whatever field you're interested in. That is what they do; make them do it for you.

We all go through this. But it ends eventually, I promise.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Sender here, thanks for this. I actually -just- now got an offer in nonprofit advocacy in Boston, but I hope this helps other job market first-timers.

Several of your recommendations actually turned out critical in securing this offer. First, there was the cover letter (I stumbled upon your post during my archive trawl.) Second, there was interview feedback; I requested it from everyone who turned me down, and while most didn't respond, I did get some information that helped me interview better. And the offer I have now I actually owe to the endorsement of someone with whom I had a particularly good interview (touching on the networking tip.)

Thanks again, and I'll be sure to keep reading.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear it worked out for you! In the future, I recommend taking the SAT score off. It's really only relevant for your first job, if at all. Also, as a hiring manager, if I saw someone list a perfect 1600 on their SAT, I'd say "yeah, right". I'm not calling you a liar, but most people aren't going to believe it, or if they do, they're going to think that you are so smart, you're going to be really bored with whatever menial entry-level work they have for you. Just my two cents.

The Office Newb said...

Letter Writer,

I'm glad your story had a happy ending and good luck on your new job.

But what I don't understand about recent grads is why they wait until they have their diploma in their hand to start their job search.

I started applying for jobs six weeks before graduation, while still typing up my senior thesis. I started my full-time job in early July with only a short gap of unemployment.

In contrast, I had a friend who graduated at the same time (also a Sociology major) who waited until the day after graduation to even start looking for work. He was unemployed for 3 months before he ran out of money and had to take any job he could get, which ended up being a customer service rep in a call center--not a fun job.

Most college graduates are recruited while still in school so they start working in late May/early June. If you're only starting to look in mid- to late-June you're probably behind the curve in terms of job hunting.

The same is true for internships as well. If you haven't applied by early March, then it's probably too late to land a decent internship with a good company.

It's all about thinking ahead and being proactive.

Sandy said...

..Am just curious. In technology-related resumes, we've been instructed to include coursework as Visual Basic, Java, XML and other programming languages are the same no matter where you work.

Would it be better to know if an I.T. department person will see the resume first versus an H.R. person (and then tailor the resume accordingly to emphasize or not the relevant coursework)?

I'm also doing volunteer work related to my field to help with the lack of valid I.T. work experience. Hopefully, that would fill in the gaps, but what is your take on it?

Sandy said...

I read the cover letter post article linked above. Volunteer work may be more a touch for the cover letter.

Ask a Manager said...

Sandy, I do think it's different in I.T., where it's crucial to state what programming languages you have expertise in. Different for liberal arts students though.

For volunteer work, definitely include it on your resume! Just because it's not paid doesn't mean you're not acquiring skills, having meaningful accomplishments, etc. Just note it as "volunteer."

Rebecca said...

Poster, glad you got a job -- the job hunt was ugly when I graduated a few years ago (from a prestigious university), it's gotta be downright terrifying now. I must reiterate AAM's advice to make your school's career center work for you. Even during my most recent job hunt (a year ago), it was the most useful thing.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I completely understand your frustration. I am a new graduate with a sociology degree as well. Throughout my undergraduate years I consistenly held a part-time job at a financial instution, major coffee chain, major furniture department store as well as at my very own University. I also volunteered as much as I could with various local and international agencies. You would think that would be enough to secure a job around $40, 000/year -- think again! I am back into looking for a job again. Lucky for me I just got an opportunity to work with immigrant youth who are learning to speak English, but its only 8 hours/week, so in the meantime I am looking for a retail job to fill the gap of hours. If things don't pan out quickly, I am taking off to teach English Abroad and/or work in Australia.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I completely understand your frustration. I am a new graduate with a sociology degree as well. Throughout my undergraduate years I consistenly held a part-time job at a financial instution, major coffee chain, major furniture department store as well as at my very own University. I also volunteered as much as I could with various local and international agencies. You would think that would be enough to secure a job around $40, 000/year -- think again! I am back into looking for a job again. Lucky for me I just got an opportunity to work with immigrant youth who are learning to speak English, but its only 8 hours/week, so in the meantime I am looking for a retail job to fill the gap of hours. If things don't pan out quickly, I am taking off to teach English Abroad and/or work in Australia.