Graduates must be innovative & flexible in tough marketplace

Several years ago, futurists studying demographics predicted that the "Baby Busters" had it made. Unlike their Baby Boomer parents, their numbers were small, suggesting a rosy picture at graduation time. In demand... Have your pick of jobs...

What's wrong with this picture? The economy and corporate downsizing, that's what.

College and university graduates face the toughest job hunt in thirty years. Many companies are cautious about hiring at all and those that are adding staff can get experienced employees at bargain prices.

The resumes of most recent grads aren't yielding many interviews. Their inexperience jumps off their resumes and screams "Train me!" Employers who have thinned their ranks are already having trouble with the "do more with less" situation, let alone taking on green recruits to train. No wonder inexperienced graduates are struggling to get their toes in the door.

So what do you do? Here are some ideas:

·        If you're still in school, find an internship in your field. For example, The Milwaukee School of Engineering has an aggressive program of class projects and internships done in cooperation with the business community. The school's emphasis on practical application of learning in real businesses helps to account for their graduates' high placement rate.

·        If your school doesn't have a program as active as MSOE's, create your own. Don't wait for the college to set it up for you. Talk to friends and relatives and seek out companies who are willing to let you apply what you learn as a class project, part-time work or an unpaid internship.

·        If you've already graduated, it's not too late. Many companies are struggling with too much to do and not enough employees to do it. They don't have time to train you, though, so approach companies with a skill or ability you can apply with little supervision. Start with professors, relatives and neighbors to identify a list of potential companies. Use your contacts to connect with the right person to talk to about your "internship." Even if you don't get paid, the experience (and reference) can be worth it. Often, these experiences turn into full-time jobs.

·        If you've had no luck getting into your job of choice, consider going after a different job in your field of choice. For example, a young woman who had no luck getting a job as a public relations specialist took a job as a receptionist in a small PR firm. Her willingness to take on more advanced responsibilities led to a promotion to a bigger job a year later.

·        Go after small to middle-sized companies. The old philosophy of getting a job with a big, secure company with lots of benefits no longer exists. THE ONLY JOB SECURITY IS THE SECURITY YOU CREATE BY TAKING CARE OF YOUR OWN CAREER. Many big companies are laying off employees and every graduate applies to them, so competition is ridiculous. Instead, go after younger, vigorous companies. These environments can teach you more because you'll be forced to take on more.

·        Unless you're in a field that requires a graduate degree, avoid the temptation of going back to graduate school to "hide out" until the rocky economy passes. This may make your bad situation worse. As current graduate students will tell you, two or three degrees with no real world experience makes it even nastier when trying to find employment. Now, besides being inexperienced, you look over-educated. Employers perceive that they have to pay more money for an "over qualified" entry level employee. They'd rather hire someone with a bachelor's and some work experience.

·        Don't just rely on your college placement office or the want ads. On campus interviews can be another disappointing experience. For every job there are hundreds of students waiting in line. You can't afford to be passive. A proactive job search campaign is your best bet. Join a professional organization in your field and get involved. Start networking. Take charge of your own career.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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