Don’t look to get handed a job

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March 31, 2011

10:41 PM

As we all know, the job market for recent college graduates is not a pretty thing. Despite evidence of slight economic recovery, students still face an uphill battle. Part of the reason, of course, is the now infamous phenomenon of a jobless recovery, but a second factor is the nature of the current downturn. Recently, it seems, the majority of economists have concluded that current unemployment is due mainly to cyclical, rather than structural, forces. From a macro perspective, this is good news. Structural unemployment would mean that the skill sets of large numbers of workers are not suited for the current national economy, or that workers were not sufficiently mobile to move to regions with job opportunities. This would be a long lasting problem because it would require many unemployed people to go back to school to develop new skills or risk perennial joblessness.

Cyclical unemployment, on the other hand, is the result of a natural business cycle. Although it may be painful, it is, at least, temporary, and job seekers are likely to once again find employment once conditions improve. The irony is that, for recent college graduates, cyclical unemployment is much more pernicious. Graduates are perfectly suited to succeed in a climate marked by structural unemployment; they usually have skills relevant to the current market, or at the very least not outdated, and they are sufficiently mobile and may move to regions where jobs are plentiful. Conversely, with cyclical unemployment, college students fare worse than other job seekers. As the economy improves, the first workers to find jobs will be those who initially lost them. Their skills are still relevant and they have work experience and contacts in their industry. Even as national employment rates rise, employment of recent graduates will suffer a substantial lag period.

So what is a graduate to do? Obviously, a degree from the College gives us a boost, but that can only get us so far. The internet is rife with advice for job seekers, from the banal — “Prepare for your interview” and “Create a strong resume” — to the patronizing — “Young people text too much and need to practice phone etiquette.” But, in the mounds of advice, there are some points that may actually help.

Many employers in the business world have come around to the current social media obsession. Having a LinkedIn account and Twitter allows you to connect with professionals in your field and also enhances an applicant’s online presence, balancing out the job-destroying Facebook account. Some even suggest measures like creating your own website, which can serve as an easily accessible resume, or even writing a blog about your industry or interests to show you follow current, job-specific news, as well as to illustrate an understanding of your desired profession.

Another important point is that not all jobs are advertised. It is helpful to develop the right contacts so that you hear about these exclusive openings or even just e-mail or call a company’s human resources department and ask them about available positions. And, if there are no openings, offer to work for free doing anything a company needs. If you can demonstrate dedication and ability there is a good chance you will be on the short list when a position does open.

Finally, there are the steps everyone tells you to take but which still feel awkward. Follow up on applications and interviews by e-mail and phone, always observing the fine line between self-interest and obnoxious nagging. The hand written “Thank You” note is another frequently mentioned device which is many times conveniently forgotten.

Remember if all else fails, Qatar apparently has a CIA estimated .5 percent unemployment rate.

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