Once college graduates unzip their gown and take off their mortarboard cap, they enter into the bloated ranks of overeducated but underemployed job seekers pounding the pavement, armed with similar skill sets and mindsets trained on the same mantra: find a job, find a job, find a job.
Their greatest asset in the job market is the degree they just earned. Hiring isn't booming, but it's also not bleak if you have at least a bachelor's degree. "College grads have it tough compared to what it was in the mid 2000s, but their prospects now and in the future are much better and secure than those with [just] a high school degree," says John Challenger, the chief executive officer of the jobs placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
The Department of Labor reports the unemployment rate for someone with a bachelor's degree is less than 4 percent, which is lower than the overall unemployment rate of 7.5 percent in April. A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers reports employers anticipate they'll hire 13 percent more job candidates from this year's graduating class than they did last spring from the class of 2012. Those who earn degrees in specialized fields like economics, engineering, finance, information sciences and marketing should scrape up the most job offers.
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What's against them, in addition to their inexperience, is a hat trick of not-so-nice stereotypes - entitlement, self-centeredness, laziness - that are often cited as barriers to this generation's integration into the real world.
With a still fledgling but not frozen job market, how well will these job-seeking rookies do, and what do hiring managers really think of their work ethic and preparedness for the professional world? If the class of 2013 were stock, would employers buy, sell or hold?
Employers expect college graduates to be green, and for the most part, green is good. "You have the ability to shape someone's view of you, without being tied to a résumé filled with past jobs," says Joe Echevarria, CEO of Deloitte, a professional services firm with approximately 57,000 employees in the United States. "Someone who is fresh out of school has the opportunity to shape themselves from scratch. That's a tremendous advantage. You get the chance to truly sell yourself when looking for your first job."
Employers are less forgiving of how inept new candidates may be at orchestrating a job search. Poorly formatted résumés and cover letters are all too common, as are coarse interview skills. "I was at a NACE conference, and there was a panel of employers who talked about interviewing candidates who were taking calls in the midst of the interview, who were texting or fiddling with their tablets," says Martin Yate, a certified personnel consultant and the author of the New York Times best-seller, "Knock 'em Dead: Secrets & Strategies for First-Time Job Seekers."
"One of the most important skills the class of 2013 needs to learn is how to manage themselves, or what I call 'how to treat yourself as a corporation called Me, Inc.,'" Yate adds. "The most important document you will ever earn is not a bill in your pocket, it's your résumé," Yate continues. "Graduates need to learn how to put a résumé together, how to build a social network, how to turn a job interview into a job offer and how to make a job secure. No one ever tells them that these are the most important things."
Graduates from the class of 2013 also need to be more savvy about social networking. A recent Bullhorn Reach survey notes that 97 percent of LinkedIn members use the site to find job candidates, while ReadWrite.com reports nearly half of all college students have never used LinkedIn. "This group is slow to understand how crucial a site like LinkedIn may be," says Lindsey Pollak, a Generation Y expert and the spokeswoman for the My Tomorrow Campaign, engineered by the insurance company The Hartford to educate and raise awareness of 18 to 31 year olds in the workplace and how and if they use workplace benefits. "And they're sometimes hesitant to use it because they don't have work experience. It's a mindset shift for a recent grad to use social media in a professional way, but they do need to understand that recruiters are looking for experience, but also leadership positions and specific skills, all of which can be included on a LinkedIn profile."
Something this class doesn't need to worry about? Their reputation as a group of entitled narcissists. Experts say this stigma is associated with every graduating class, whether it's true of the generation or not. "This has been said about every generation when they first enter the job market. They're lazy. They're ill prepared. They don't want to work," Yate says. "Anyone who graduates from college and enters the job market is crossing the bridge into adulthood and wants to work."
"Companies consistently see people enter their first jobs with unrealistic expectations to run before they've walked," Challenger says. "Just keep that in mind, and set yourself apart by being willing to be an apprentice. It's probable that you're smarter than the duties your first job requires of you, but no one skyrockets to the top."
Buy, Sell or Hold?
Employers are mostly enthusiastic about the class of 2013, but with provisos: They want the most-qualified candidate who is also willing to start from the bottom. "The graduates who are getting jobs are the ones who held internships, and who are willing to work entry-level positions and those who are able to adapt to what employers want," Yate says.
"There are about 76 million baby boomers, but there are about 80 million millennials," Pollak says. "And they're not just new college grads. Millennials are just turning 30, they're taking management positions, they're parents. We have our first millennial [Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois] serving in Congress. Smart companies have to think about their preferences and work styles, and see them not just as employees, but also consumers. So companies are also realizing that they need to hire the entry-level worker."
"The way you build up your résumé is by having a willingness to work the entry-level, basic job," Challenger says. "But you learn and develop in that mundane job. Often it's in those first jobs that you develop the skills that make you stand out."