- New grads are facing the toughest job market in a decade.
- Competition for entry-level jobs is fierce but manageable.
- Go into the job market prepared for battle.
If you’re a college student or recent college graduate, you’re facing the toughest entry-level job market in at least a decade. The statistics say it all:
- The nation’s unemployment rate jumped to 5.8 percent in December 2001, the highest it’s been since April 1995. Just one year earlier, America was at its lowest unemployment rate (3.9 percent) in 30 years.
- The year 2001 was "the largest downsizing year on record," according to international outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. Nearly 2 million jobs were cut nationwide, with some 40 percent of the losses coming after the September 11 terrorist incidents in New York City, Washington, DC, and rural Pennsylvania.
- New college graduates can expect to see a 6 percent to 13 percent decline in entry-level hiring during the 2001-2002 academic year, according to Michigan State University’s annual Recruiting Trends survey. The National Association of Colleges and Employers, meanwhile, puts the figure even higher at 20 percent, based on its recent survey of 237 entry-level employers.
Is your job hunt doomed? No. But you’ll need to be ready to compete not only with your immediate peers, but also with more experienced workers who have been laid off, and maybe with people who graduated a few months ago or even a full year ago. In other words, the pool of available jobs has decreased while the pool of available candidates has increased. That puts you in a position where you’ll probably have to use some guerrilla tactics to land the job you want.
So as you pursue your job search:
The whole idea of networking may make you sick to your stomach, but don’t make it more than it is. Networking is simply talking to people, usually starting with those you already know well, and asking for their advice and help in your job search. Why is it so critical? Because employers, especially in a tight job market, will always hire people they know (or who come recommended by people they know and trust) when they can. So it’s in your best interest to become known to others in your field; you do that by participating in networking activities like informational interviewing, attending the meetings of professional organizations in your field, and going to job fairs and similar events where you can talk to employers in person.
If you’re more willing than other candidates to take a temporary or limited-term contract position for a certain company, you’ll be in a better position to get your foot in the door for a more permanent job with that company later on. The same is true if you’re open to taking an internship spot instead of a full-time position. Show employers you’re the most flexible candidate they’ll come across, and you’ll increase your chances of getting an offer.
Everybody has a resume to show employers. So make yourself stand out by offering some more tangible evidence of your skills. Consider developing a portfolio, a three-ring binder featuring some of the materials you’ve produced for or received from jobs, internships, classes or volunteer experiences. Creativity grabs extra attention in a tough job market.
Practically all companies have work that isn’t getting done. Maybe the people who are supposed to be doing the work quit or got laid off, or maybe it isn’t the organization’s number-one priority. Whatever the circumstances, sometimes you can get paid to do some of this work, typically on a freelance or contract basis, simply by offering to do it.
Suppose, for example, that in talking to a representative of Company X at a campus job fair, you learn her department would like to expand its market-research activities. You could offer to take on one small market-research project, on a contract basis, as a win-win proposition: The representative’s department would get some of its market research done, and you’d gain some useful experience while building a tangible connection with the company. It’s the kind of thing that goes on all the time in organizations large and small, for-profit and nonprofit, but it’s almost always arranged behind the scenes.