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Top 10 Reasons Why College Graduates Can’t Get a Job

By: Brian Kim - August 8, 2006

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Usually, this would be the place to introduce the topic of why college graduates can't get a job these days but I won't bother to do that in order to save time.

Let's dive right into all the reasons.

1. Increased competition.

The days when college was only accessible to the rich and elite are over. College has become more affordable and a lot of pressure has been put on students to attend college in order to find a good job. The result?

Record number of college applications across the nation, resulting in more college graduates, and thus, more competition for the limited number of jobs available on the market. I can also safely assume that every person reading this knows at least one person in their social circle who has graduated college and is still having difficulty getting a job.

The secondary effect of this is that the days when having a degree alone would get you a job are over. The “prestige” that comes with having a degree has now become diluted with the rampant number of students graduating. You now need something more than just a degree to get you that first job out of college. (more on that later).

2. Little or no work experience.

Many college graduates make the grave mistake of assuming that their degree alone will qualify them for a job. They spend their college years just getting by, partying, and essentially, wasting their time. Because there’s more competition, college graduates are now a dime a dozen. What’s going to separate one college graduate with a degree from the next and the next and the next?

The result is they get stuck in a catch 22 position. They have no job experience, yet all the jobs out there require it if you want to apply. So they can’t get a job because they have no experience and in order to get a job, they need a job for work experience, but they can’t get a job without work experience and the cycle viciously continues.

One way to get out of this cycle is to not pass up on jobs that you may think are beneath you. Swallow your pride and take those jobs or intern for free at a company you would like to work at. You could also propose a new position to an employer if you have the creativity and the boldness to do so. You’ve got to start somewhere, and if you didn’t take the time to gather decent work experience during your college years, this is the price you may have to pay.

Always keep in mind that jobs can lead to other jobs. You never know if the job you think is beneath you can lead to the job you want. There’s always room to move up in the company. Always do more than what you are asked to do. That is one of the keys to moving on up Plus, by actually having that job, it can provide valuable work experience and knowledge, as well as the much needed dough.

3. No skills

You have to be good at something (aka skills) in order to contribute something of value to a company. People with computer skills (or at the very least computer proficient) will always be in high demand. Learning these types of technological skills will always be in your best interest because companies leverage technology in their offices in order to be more efficient, and if you can integrate well with that, you’ve got something good going for you.

Another valuable skill to have is people skills. (more on that later)

4. Lack of networking

Many people get jobs through referrals. Statistics show the majority of people get their jobs this way. The reason why word of mouth is so effective is because it cuts through all the worry of whether or not this person can do the job.

If somebody has been working for a company for some time, then that employee knows what it takes to succeed, and if that employee knows somebody who can do it, it’s an easy fit. The employer will trust the employee referring the new candidate and the new candidate will most likely get the job.

There’s just one catch though. You have to be “worthy” of being referred. Remember that the reputation of the person referring you is one the line. If you do a bad job, you make them look worse. So have a fine reputation of being a hard worker, someone who learns easily, etc. so people will be happy to refer you. Spend a lot of time networking at college. Make a ton of friends, get in touch with recruiters, career counselors, etc. Don’t underestimate the power of networking and word of mouth. (btw, my first job out of college was due to such networking.)

5. No preparation on the resume and cover letter.

Your resume and cover letter act as your first impression. You can’t charm them with your presence or your smile. Your writing does it all for you. So spend some time to make it look and sound good. When describing yourself or your work history, use action words. It makes a big difference. Go to google and type in “resume action words” and you should get a ton of sites which you can use as a reference when crafting your resume.

Get a proofreader to look over your resume and cover letter. Make your cover letter and resume stand out. Be detailed and descriptive.

I had a friend who volunteered to look over my cover letter when I told him I was applying for jobs during my senior year. He made some good suggestions and I implemented them and it sure made the cover letter look a whole lot better. It didn’t hurt that he was a copywriter by profession :). His suggestions helped enormously in me getting call backs.

I suggest you get some professional editing done as well. It’s worth the investment. Think of all the money you can earn by just investing a very small portion of it to professional editing.

6. No interview skills

So you’ve got past the resume stage and now you’re at the interview. Think it’s a breeze? Think again.

They WILL ask the hard hitting questions. Why should we hire you? What do you bring to the table? Tell me about yourself (that throws off a lot of people) What’s your greatest weakness (obviously reframe this question when you answer), etc. There are a ton of resources online you can tap into in order to prepare. Use our trusty friend Google.

You must prepare. Have all your answers ready to go when the question is asked. Be prepared to give examples of things you’ve listed on your resume.

When you meet the interviewer, don’t give the limp fish handshake or the bone crushing one. Give a firm handshake and smile. Show your friendly side. We are all human.

Wear the suit, tie and jacket. It’s never wrong to overdress. Even when I applied for a part time position while in college, I went to the interview wearing a suit and later found out I was the only applicant to do so and yes, I did get the job.

Don’t go in blind. Research the company. When I went to interview at the Hilton Hotels Corporate Office in Beverly Hills, my interviewer actually asked me when and where the first Hilton hotel was built. I answered Texas, 1919 of course. Did I get the job offer? Of course I did.

When they ask: Do you have any questions?, make sure you do! Always ask questions. This shows you're interested in the job. Ask what kind of skills/qualities are needed to succeed in the job. Ask what a day in the life of the job is, etc.,

This is also your opportunity to flip the tables on them. Start interviewing the interviewer. Ask about opportunities for advancement, benefits package, etc. Remember, YOU are interviewing companies as well to see which one is best suited for you. Own the frame.

7. No weapon x

You’ve got to have an edge. Something that’ll make you stand out from the rest. Be different. Among a sea of black family sedans, be the fiery red convertible.

I can’t help you with this part as the only person who knows yourself the best is you. So take some time, sit down and think of what are some of the best qualities you have and write them down. You can use this when they ask you the hot question of: Why should we hire you?

8. No follow up

So you sent the resume and cover letter, but didn’t hear anything back? Follow up. It can’t hurt. It can only help. Shoot an email or a phone call and ask what’s going on. Chances are, they may have not received it or forgotten about it. It also shows your tenacity and separates you from the rest of the people who don’t follow up. Don’t just assume that they don’t want you and wallow in your self pity. Take action and make it happen.

9. Quitting too easily

Not getting any call backs can be depressing. Don’t look at it as a negative thing. Look at it as a positive thing. It’s just a sign you have to change things because it’s not working.

If you have worked in sales, you know that all sales is just a numbers game. If you have a good product (which is yourself) and if you can put the product out there in front of as many buyers as possible, you’ll eventually make a sale. It’s inevitable.

So don’t quit. Keep on going.

10. A lack of people skills

One of the greatest myths regarding getting a job is that you just have to have the skills and knowledge. That may be true for some jobs, but the other major thing that employers are looking for is social skills. Will you integrate well with the staff? Will you mesh with co-workers? Are you a positive person? Are you easy to get along with?, etc.

I remember times when a lot of staff members would talk about the interviewee right after he left. They talked about whether or not to hire him based on not his skills, but his behavior, demeanor and likeability. This ties in with the tip of: Be nice to everyone you see in the office because they DO talk about you after you leave. The secretary, the intern, etc,. they all chip in and can help make or break you.

Try to avoid these types of mistakes and you shouldn't fall into the pool of college graduates who are having a hard time finding a job after they graduate.

[tags]college, job, graduation, career, work, unemployment[/tags]

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16 Responses to “Top 10 Reasons Why College Graduates Can’t Get a Job”

  1. JT Says:

    Regarding the lack of experience…many (including myself) had many internships but it all depends on the economy.
    If the economy is great you get a job no problem. But when the economy sucks your prospects just suck PERIOD!
    Obviously people are getting jobs but nothinglike in the late 90’s.
    Believe it or not Under-employment is a fact of life we are going to have to deal with for the new generation…with offshoring, technology, etc…its going to be a fact of life for many service/knowledge based workers just like it was for blue-collar workers in the 70’s and 80’s.
    But if you have skills be enterepenurial and try your skills in China, India, pakistan, Africa…I did and I think its the best way to go.

  2. Brian Kim Says:

    JT,

    Thanks for sharing your viewpoint and advice on this. I’m sure there are other people out there who feel the same way.

    I just want to say despite any external event, there is still hope to get a job. I don’t want people to feel as if things are hopeless when the economy is down. That time a golden opportunity to focus on how to better market yourself or what skills you need to learn in order to get a job more easily. Just my two cents.

    Thanks again.

  3. Dave Says:

    Great tips. Especially about the networking. I’m a sophomore in college and I think all the time about my friends in 15 years. Who knows if some contact I made during my freshman year will help me during employment trouble or some kind of opportunity in the future. I love thinking about it.

    Great website.

  4. Brian Kim Says:

    Dave,

    Thanks for your insight. It’s true, you never know. Got to make the most of your college years.

  5. The Stingy Scholar » Blog Archive » Lots o’ Links Says:

    […] Top 10 reasons why college graduates can’t get jobs. […]

  6. Audrey Says:

    I like the idea of taking jobs that “you may think are beneath you” or to intern for free after graduating…but what is your suggestion for getting by financially when you have student loans to pay and no health insurance etc. etc,? The more college graduates willing to work for free or minimum wage (or not much more) the less decent jobs for graduates. Now that’s a catch 22.

  7. Brian Kim Says:

    Audrey,

    My suggestion would be to cut as much expenses as you can, live at home, take a second job until you start to gain enough experience and skillset to move on to a higher paying job.

  8. professionalism Says:

    As a recent college undergraduate I can tell you all this….

    In a perfect world, all of the smiling, resume giving, and note taking you did at your college career fair would have paid off immediately after you were handed your 60k+ piece of sheep skin, but it does not. Most companies and government agencies now list a bachelors as their “minimum” requirements. Furthermore, many recruiters at career fairs (especial those on the federal side) are not really there to look for applicants, unless they have specialized skills (i.e. majored in engineering), they are just there to pass time.

    Unless you are privileged to have a “daddy” with connections on the inside, you are going to be in line with everyone else, and possibly even working at 7-11 to get by till your apps come through.

    *Bachelors Degrees are a dime a dozen, and what employers really look for is experience,contacts,and work history. Today, anyone with enough money can go to any major university and BUY a degree. Hetch, they can be purchased online as well…

    *Your GPA and area of study do not matter. I had well over a 3.0, but so did just about the 1500 students in my school of study who graduated with me. Unless you are applying for graduate school or majored in a specialized field, employers do not care your GPA or what educational skills you gained from your study. They are only impressed if you were at the top of your class, have some graduate level work, or have years of work experience. If you try to make “grades” the focal point if your “skills” on your resume or during an interview, the interviewer may take it as insult or view you as a “know it all” with no real experience.

    *Currently employers are looking for those with either a lot of work experience (+3 full time) or a graduate levels of education.

    *Your internships, work study, or previous part time work experience do not matter unless you made strong connections and got good referrals from those jobs.

    *Government agencies are notorious for taking forever to respond to applications, and (from my own personal experience)they may call you in for interviews or test only to tell you you are inexperienced, and those agencies/departments that recruit at colleges and career fairs do this the most.

    *Yes, it is true, many employers have unrealistic expectations of recent undergrads, especially those in high end companies and government agencies. They want applicants as young a new born lamb, but experienced as father time. In light of this there are three areas that WILL get you noticed when you apply for any job. They are LANGUAGES spoken, COMPUTER SKILLS acquired, and GRADUATE LEVEL COURSE WORK (a hint to all of those who are still undergrads or on their way to college.)

    * Unless you are applying for jobs in specialized fields, i.e. engineering, medicine/health, law, IT, accounting, etc. your graduate level work (if you decide to pursue it)really will not matter to employers. Most are simply impressed that you completed some sort of program somewhere….undergraduate degree…forget about it.

    *In a perfect world EEOC, Fair Labor Standards, and non discriminatory mission statements would ensure that everyone’s interview lead to a job or at lease got a fair shake. The truth is many apps are disqualified and many applicants are turned down for petty reasons. “Lack of experience” is often a code for, “Your young, and therefore stupid for wasting my time, come back when you fit my expectations not the company’s…”, “I just do not like the way you look…” “Our diversity quota is full…” or finally, “You will NOT help us meet our diversity quota…”

    Face the facts, nepotism, contacts, and quotas are the way of the work world. A lot of HR managers have an axe to grind (and take their frustrations out on new applicants) and a lot more just generally dislike young applicants. It does not matter if your black, white, yellow, brown, the deck is stacked against you and even more so if you are young, have no contacts within the place you are applying for, and or lack a graduate, specialized, or IVY League level of education.

  9. Nancy Says:

    There’s another side of this coin—being 56 and not being able to get a job, in spite of looking quite good for my age and being slim. I’m being overlooked for younger employees. I’m being overlooked for being too skilled. I’m being overlooked for not having the right look. I’m being overlooked because they put a premium on having experience rather than having the personality and skill to learn the job well…and perhaps even better than the one who has the specific experience. And I’m being overlooked because they “know” the person they hired.

    I’m at the point where putting “me” into “self-employed” may be my only option.

  10. Americus DeVille Says:

    I would have to agree with Professionalism and Nancy’s posts. First off, there are no jobs open and there is no demand for labor. The U.S. has a $10 trillion deficit. We produce nothing of value as a nation. This deficit will expand $4 trillion more dollars, because we are now borrowing to sustain our economy from sliding worse.

    Now, as to how the real world works. I already stated that there is no demand for labor and there are a vast supply of workers that are basically desperate to break bread. Most work hours are being downsized. There is or was a heavy usage of temp workers to cut labor expenses. People sell themselves short out of their desperation. I don’t think working for free or proving how committed you are to a job is the answer. Employers don’t share that commitment as labor is looked at as a replaceable cost.

    Like Professionalism pointed out, it is more about who you know than what you know. A lot of times I am sure that even though there is an opening, a candidate is already selected from the inside, but they go through with the window dressing.

    I can’t really ad much to the discussion. But, I will say that if we had a stronger economy and if America was healthy and actually growing in its productivity, more people who have better results in their employment searches. The failure is a national failure of our policy leaders over the course of two decades. With new leadership, perhaps and hopefully things will change for the middle class. Perhaps real opportunities will become available for real wages and a future.

    Smiling and selling yourself and writing nice notes on pretty stationary is not going to solve real problems. I wish you the best. Remember, it’s not your fault. The problem is a lot larger than your individual situation.

  11. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Americus,

    Thanks for your input.

    With regard to it being more about who you know than what you know, I would have to agree. Networking does prove to be valuable in that respect.

    The only thing I would want to point out is to avoid placing the blame externally too much. Yes, there are factors out of one’s control but it is always up to the individual to make the best of the circumstances.

    I think it’s dangerous to think there are no jobs out there. There are jobs in certain sectors of the economy (health care, education, etc.,). People see what they believe.

    Change what you believe, you’ll change what you see.

  12. Jim Says:

    I graduated college, and have many friends who graduated, and its not that we can’t get jobs, but with the exception of ONLY TWO of my friends, none of us can do better than under $10 an hour retail.

    Increased competition, lack of genuine education, lack of interest in hiring, and lack of jobs. Our generation is getting absolutely screwed making sure all the bad decisions the baby boomers made are getting paid for. High unemployment now and insolvent programs when we retire, plus paying the taxes. Oh glory! We’re going to have as good of a life as our parents!

  13. bradley Says:

    The situation isn’t much better here in Australia either. I’m at the end of my tether. Every vacancy has literally hundreds of applicants - soooo competitive.

  14. Catherine Chang Says:

    I graduated last year from the University of Michigan and it took me 2 good months to finally land a job. I have friends who graduated the same year as me who are still underemployed right now (working at Best Buy/retails chains). Times are tough now, especially for college grads who have liberal arts degrees and only have soft skills to market to employers. I just started a blog about my own experiences with this and how to add value to a liberal arts degree if anyone is interested click on my name and take a peek.

  15. Brian Kim Says:

    Jim and Bradley,

    Times are tough indeed. And if the job market isn’t that hot, perhaps it will fuel a rise in entrepreneurship in your generation. Something to think about.

    Catherine,

    Thanks for dropping by and sharing your comments.

  16. Linda AZ Says:

    I am a female Manufacturing Engineer. I was lucky to find work when I graduated with my BS in 2006, being that I am in my late 40s and engineering is a major career change! My previous career was in IT. Chances are they hired me to fill a quota rather than to do good work. Women in engineering are rare and in even rarer in male dominated work such as manufacturing. I was laid off from my last job right before the market crashed in Oct 2008 and have been looking for work ever since. I’ve have plenty of interviews, but it didn’t take long to figure out the hiring managers (or HR) were just looking for an excuse not to hire a female engineer. In fact, I had one hiring manager suggest that I consider teaching instead.

    Early this year it was pretty obvious that my chances of getting hired as an engineer were pretty slim. So I decided to go back to school and learn more about metal working (machining) and automation, two subjects that I find interesting. I’m doing this more for credibility than anything else. With the coursework I’m taking I can prove that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to machining and automation processes (ie PLCs and pneumatics) by showing either certifications, college transcripts, or by actually performing some machining task as part of the interview process.

    Like you mentioned in your list of 10 reasons… sometimes you need to set your sights a little lower. In my field, that’s actually good advice. A lot of Manufacturing Engineers start their careers as machinists and I have no trouble taking a step back and doing the same. That is, if I can find a company that will hire a woman in her late 40s as an entry-level machinist!

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