Job-Hunting Tips for New Grads
With the unemployment rate nudging 10%, this year’s college grads are getting plenty of expert guidance on how to land that first job: Be flexible. Be positive. Don’t be picky. Network, network, network.
That’s all good advice, if a bit general. As the mother of three twentysomething children, all of whom have been in the labor market one way or another over the past year, I’ve witnessed firsthand the ups and downs of the job hunt (my elder son received a master’s degree and was looking for a full-time position, my daughter applied to graduate school, and my younger son wanted to find a summer internship). Plus, as a magazine editor who interviews job candidates, I’ve seen the process from the employer’s perspective. So I’d like to offer my best advice for parents and their kids.
First, for parents: Steer but don’t hover. There’s nothing wrong with referring your children to people you know who can help them with their job search. But let them make the contact.
I have a friend whose husband is the director of a research lab. She received a call from a woman who was a casual acquaintance, asking for her husband’s phone number. The woman was planning to call on her son’s behalf to find out about a summer research position. My friend was willing to give her the number, but she strongly advised the woman to have her son make the call himself. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that’s the first of my top tips on what young people can do to enhance their chances of landing a job:
--Speak up. Insulated from face-to-face (or even voice-to-voice) contact by social networks and text messaging, the toughest thing for some young people to do is to pick up the phone or meet someone in person. My own children always worried about being a bother or fretted about what to say. And, yes, I know that some job ads specify contact via e-mail only.
But I think it’s helpful if people who are doing the hiring (like myself) can attach a face, or at least a voice, to an applicant. It’s harder to turn down someone you’ve looked in the eye or chatted with on the phone. (Note: My friend who directs the research lab ended up hiring the young man who contacted him because he showed up for a personal interview wearing a suit.)
--Stay in touch. Once you make a contact, send periodic reminders that you’re still interested. Even if I’m sympathetic to an applicant, a single e-mail is often buried under the daily deluge. The squeaky wheel still gets the grease, and polite but persistent e-mails are more likely to get an answer -- eventually.
--Do your research. Review the job description thoroughly and troll the company’s Web site to become familiar with what it does and how it operates. My husband is in charge of hiring entry-level employees at his small firm, and he recently received more than 100 responses to an ad posted on Craigslist. But he set up interviews with only five of those applicants. The rest were most often overqualified or had misread the job description. Some were careless -- one résumé began, “Objective: To continue developing my professional skills by getting an internship with (name of company).”
--Be professional. Don’t confuse a job-application e-mail with a text message. “RU hiring?” or the equivalent is no way to address a prospective employer. Get the spelling, grammar and punctuation right. And don’t ramble in a phone interview. If you’re shy or nervous, make notes and have them handy.
One of my Kiplinger colleagues, Jane Bennett Clark, is the editor of our college rankings and is often interviewed by students who write for their college papers. Some of them “simply don’t know how to conduct a courteous phone conversation,” says Jane. “They barely introduce themselves, interrupt their own interview to talk to their friends and neglect to say please and thank you.” In a job interview, that would be the kiss of death.
Jane was impressed, however, by a job applicant who contacted her personally to express her interest in being an education reporter. “She did her homework before getting in touch with me and has been persistent in following up,” says Jane. (Note: The applicant is a leading candidate for an internship here at Kiplinger.)
--Think strategically about graduate school. If you’re considering returning to school to wait out the sluggish job market, look ahead to your opportunities when you graduate. Yes, it’s important to be in a field you love. But it’s also important to be in a field in which there’s a demand for your skills -- especially if you’re going to borrow money to pay the tuition.
Before you enroll, calculate how much it makes sense to borrow given future salary prospects (see College Can Be Affordable). If you must borrow, borrow smart, using the lowest-cost government loans -- Perkins, Stafford and GradPlus (see Changes Coming for Student Loans).
And if you’ve already graduated and are having trouble repaying your loans, take advantage of programs that will either forgive the debt or set payments based on your income (see How to Shed Student Debt).
Postscript: After nearly a year of angst and plenty of dead ends, my kids have landed in good places with bright prospects. In general, I’m an optimist about the future of Gen Y. I have faith that they’ll do better financially than our generation, as long as we don’t saddle them with government debt and cripple the job-generating machine in the private economy.
Meanwhile, my own Gen Y offspring have sharpened their job-hunting skills, made their own lists of contacts for future jobs and graduate programs, and learned the value of speaking up. My youngest child had been quoted a salary for his summer internship, but when he received the paperwork from his prospective employer, the rate was $2 less an hour. He was going to let it pass, but his big brother encouraged him to politely question it. Sure enough, the company had made a mistake, which it was happy to correct. He’s getting the extra $2 per hour.