The Realities of a College Graduate’s First Job Search

Elaine Varelas offers insight into a college graduate's first job search and the realities of the process.

Q: My daughter is graduating from college—quite an investment! We want her to find a job, but I’m hearing “All the seniors are going on spring break, and then I want to take a graduation trip this summer. After that, I’ll look for a job.” Is this the Millennial way? What are the realities of a college graduate job search?

A: This is both a graduating senior issue and a Millennial issue. Spring break is a great time for undergraduates to interview—unsurprisingly, most interviews aren’t happening when students are in Daytona Beach or Cancun. Typically, the college seniors graduating with a job in hand are accounting, finance, or IT majors who participated in on-campus recruiting, so if your student isn’t in one of those fields, try to balance your expectations of the job search process.

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What expectations are reasonable? You can expect your senior to have a complete and professional resume and LinkedIn profile. Hopefully, they will have had internships or summer jobs that contributed to their area of interest or demonstrate to potential employers that they know how to work: they are responsible, punctual, know how to report to someone, and can dress appropriately. These are the basics for starting a career—if your student has anything beyond that, that’s even better.

It can take graduating seniors three to six months to find their first job (after they start looking), and that’s if they’re dedicated to the job search process. While liberal arts degrees are very valuable, it can take these students longer to find their place in the economy. Whatever the case, they’ll need your support—but don’t start describing how you got your first job 30 years ago going door to door or clipping out newspaper ads. Times have changed and the job search process has changed with it.

Before graduating, your student should read extensively about getting a job (Dr. Paul Powers’ Winning Job Interviews is a good graduation gift!). Encourage them to use their college career center before graduation, such as attending company informational sessions and learning about access to local alumni and other support services. Work on exposing your child to industry options that she might not be thinking about and the kinds of jobs within those industries. Leverage your own network of contacts. Do you have a complete LinkedIn profile? Providing connections for informational interviews is helpful for your graduate, and the favor can be returned for friends’ kids, too.

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The average college graduate will change jobs about 20 times in their lifetime—the “work 40 years to retirement” approach is long gone, so eliminate this thinking. Your student might take a job for a year, realize it isn’t what she wants to do, and then change—this is perfectly acceptable in the economy now. Or she might take advantage of the burgeoning gig economy. Taking standalone projects based on skill sets is also becoming a trend, and students should focus on how these experiences add to their toolkit. Are they building skills and learning what makes them marketable? If they can expect multiple job changes throughout their lives, they need to know how to leverage their diverse skills and take advantage of this trend.

As for spring and summer travel, everything is a tradeoff. Where is the money coming from? Is your student contributing or are you funding an expensive trip? Recent graduates quickly learn that it’s expensive to live—they aren’t making enough, rent is too high, and student loans drain their budget. This is when we see this population living with multiple roommates or moving back home. Make sure this is part of the conversation early on, in addition to timing the beginning of a job search.

The jobs won’t dry up by fall, so if your student delays her search, know she will find a job. It takes energy perseverance, and commitment—kind of like college.

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