Campus Overload Live with Jenna Johnson: Educated. Graduated. Looking for work.

May 26, 2011

For the most part, the job market is better today than two years ago. But try telling that to a grad who endured four rigorous years of college just to move back home with Mom and Dad. And even if students do find work, chances are they don't receive full benefits or start at a lower salary than they might have in the past.

The headlines the last few weeks have been daunting, like this one in The New York Times: "Many with new college degree find the job market humbling." Meanwhile, a Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce analysis recently found that engineering, computer science or business majors make as much as 50 percent more in a lifetime than those who major in the humanities, the arts, education and psychology.

Millennials realize that it's bad out there, and several career centers say they had seen a boom in the number of freshmen and sophomores who want to start internships and career planning as soon as possible.

Still, what's a student to do? Are there jobs out there? How do you find them? Is it better to settle for your first offer or keep looking for a dream job? And what do employers need to know about this generation?

Jenna will be joined Thursday afternoon by Andrea Koncz, the employment information manager for the National Association of Colleges and Employers, and Beverly Lorig, director of career services at Washington and Lee University.

Campus Overload's Jenna Johnson chronicles national college news, drinking fads, admissions buzz and the latest exploits of interns on her blog each day. In her live chat, she answers your questions about life on campus -- and life off campus, too.

Happy Thursday, everyone! We are almost to Memorial Day weekend... almost...

If you know a recent college grad (like, my younger sister) then today's topic is likely one you talk about on a daily basis.

But unlike conversations over GChat or rounds of beers, here's your opportunity to bounce questions off two experts: Andrea Koncz of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, and Beverly Lorig of Washington and Lee University's career center.

Let's get started!

Hey Jenna , I have a question. A friend from college who's two years older than me and works in my field has been able to get me a really great job that would start later this summer, but there's a catch. Back in college his (then and now) roommate and I... um... hooked-up secretly for a few months. Nobody knew and after a few things went wrong messily, we stopped. Is it a bad idea to work for a former fling's best friend? It's a great job and a tough market out there!

Well, if there's ever a lesson in how small the world is and how you should think twice before casually hooking up with someone, here it is.

I don't know all of the details, but I really don't think this is as big of a deal as you think it is. You aren't working with the fling, you are working with the friend. And if no one knew about it then, chances are they aren't going to know about it now. And even if he does find out, who cares? It was years ago.

The best thing you can do is forget the past, be professional and take the job. You really don't have anything to worry about.


Andrea, tell us a little bit about the National Association of Colleges and Employers. What do you guys do?

NACE is a non-profit association that was established in 1956.  We are a membership organization consisting of  college career services professionals and employers who recruit college graduates.  We provide information on the college job market, to help connect the employers with the colleges looking to get jobs for their new graduates.

I know a few recent grads who are waiting to hear back from a bunch of employers. In the meantime, they are tempted to get part-time jobs -- maybe bartending or retail -- but worry they will have to quit after just a few weeks or that job search will take away from their real one. Still, it's nice to have SOME income. What do you recommend?

Having some type of income is important so consider positions that are flexible and get you connected with others who might provide leads.  For instance, working through a temporary agency can be a great transition and keeps you out of the house meeting people.

You're hinting at a similar question which is how much do you disclose to the PT employer. Is it okay to "lead them on"? I say no but it's a grey area...

When I finished school, I accepted a job with a defense contractor in DC. I just wanted to note a bit of caution for students who go into the engineering support services line of work. My first job only lasted a few months. I was given the impression it was a career position during the interview, but it was only to complete a task on a contract. The next job did the same. After two years, my resume listed employment at six firms! With this, even great references could not get me past human resources - six jobs in two years, something is wrong with the applicant. So I had to go back to school for another degree and take a different career path. My experience in that area is that they eat people alive. An 80 hr work week was not unusual. The project manager just wants to get the deliverable out on time, he or she is not interested in career pathways. And if you are required to get a clearance, things can get ugly real fast in these situations.

Oh wow, what a crazy couple years. Thank you for sharing. I hope everything has settled down for you!

Like you said, the lesson here is to make sure you clearly understand in the interview exactly what the position will be -- and then fully explain to future employers that these were contact positions, not jobs.

And, don't forget, the only person truly looking out for your future and your career is you. Take control.

 It is a challenge in the interviewing process to remember that you want to be interviewing the employer also.  Make a list of detailed questions so that you will gather as much of concrete info (length of employment, contractual situation, etc.) as possible.  Thanks for sharing  your situation -- this info can  be helpful to others.

Definitely think about creating a section on your resume that brings these jobs together perhaps under the heading of  Software Development Experience.

Hi, Jenna, I have a question. I graduated about a year ago from the University Of Nevada-Reno in English writing and speech communication and I was wondering is my degree worth anything, and should I consider relocating from the Reno area as I have had a extremely difficult time finding a decent paying job to pay off a loan I took out in my senior year?

A college degree of any sort is definitely still worth something. A recent Pew survey found that college graduates felt like their degree enabled them to make at least $20,000 more a year.

Now, what you do with that degree is up to you. I have friends who work in fields completely unrelated to what they studied in school. One friend writes student loan checks each month for a journalism masters, even though he's now working construction (and loving it).

If you only took a loan out your senior year, chances are it's not a crippling amount of debt. Calculate what you need to make at a bare minimum to live and pay off that loan.

Then, decide what you really want to do. What are your passions? What sort of job would make you happy? Where do you want to live?

And don't be afraid to try something new and different, even if to just find that it's not for you. Good luck out there!

Sure, as college grads apply for jobs, they are often up against workers with much more experience. But what advantages do they have? How should they play those up?

College  grads want to focus on their fresh outlook, knowledge of latest social marketing technology, and quick ability to learn in many disciplines.  Persistence and enthusiasm go a  long way.

Youth is an asset! I agree "fresh outlook" is a good way of saying that you're willing to learn and apply new ideas. Don't get cocky or -gasp- entitled but you are valuable.

I was thinking of doing an internship in Israel through Masa Israel Journey. What are the benefits of doing an internship abroad rather than at home?

A few years ago in one of our Job Outlook surveys, we asked employers about the importance of experience abroad.  It wasn't rated very important, but it really depends upon the outcome you are seeking after completing the internship.  If you have serious plans to work abroad after graduation, then it might be extremely useful to see if you like the location, etc.

My take is that some employers value language skills very highly and you can't beat experience abroad to develop language skills. Therefore, going abroad for an internship can have great benefit, if you use it wisely. Without forcing you to plan out your entire life, it can helpful to think about what your next career steps are as a way to frame whether this internship is a good idea.

Hi Jenna, I just graduated with an MBA but am relocating to an area where the closest [small] big town is 65 miles down the road. I know it's rough out there; I've been applying for months, was offered one job but turned it down when they finally told me the "salary" - $11/hr! I feel that some employers have been threatened by my degree, and I don't know if I want to commute over an hour every day (did I mention that this area gets 200 inches of snow a year?!). Should I hold out for something even remotely related to my degree that pays well or should I take what is offered? Will that put me in a negotiating position later in my career?

200 INCHES OF SNOW!?!? Is that even possible?

You have been searching for months. You say yourself that it's rough out there. And you finally have an offer... Although it's not ideal, you might want to take this one instead of continuing to be unemployed.

And you aren't locking yourself into this job forever. You can always stay for a year and then move on. I believe that not-ideal employment still looks better on a resume than no employment.

But I don't have an MBA. Anyone out there have better advice?

Hi Jenna, I have one year left of undergrad, and I'm wondering when the best time to start searching for a post-grad job is. Obviously a year is too soon, but do I have to wait until after graduation? A lot of my recently graduated friends seem to be searching now, but is it acceptable to get my resume out in, say, early spring? Thanks!

Applying for jobs can be a full-time job -- but I think it's a very good idea to start applying halfway through your last semester. It gets your name out there, it gets the ball rolling, even if employers only want to hire people who can start immediately.

I also know a lot of seniors who apply for summer internships during their fall semester. Now days a lot of jobs start as internships, plus it buys you a few more months to look for a "real" job.

What do Class of 2011 starting salaries look like? Are they higher or lower than in years past?

In our most recent NACE Spring 2011 Salary Survey report, we found that average salaries for new graduates are actually about 6 percent higher than last year.  This is good news, as we haven't seen salary increases in the past few years. 

I want to ask the panel if I did the right thing: After obtaining my Masters degree in Public Communications I chose to settle for the first job I recieved an offer from which turned out to be working in television advertisement sales. While I love the individuals I work with, my dream job is to work in communications/PR. Should I have not settled for the sales job and instead continued job searching in communication/PR even after 5 months of being unemployed with no pay and no benefits? Sincerely, PR Boy in Sales

Well, if you had kept searching for that dream job -- and not found it -- you would be writing us to ask if you should have taken that sales job!

You are young. No one has just one career these days. You still have time to look for that dream job!

Obviously, upping your employability starts with picking a major and career path. Any advice for picking the "right" major? Or maybe a couple majors?

NACE has found in our annual Student Surveys that students typically choose their major by what they "like" to do.  Despite the fact that engineering, computer science and other "technical" majors are paid well, enrollment in those programs remains low.  If you are thinking about a particular major, you may want to explore some of the employment opportunities that will be available upon graduation, and use that to help you consider your major.

Choice of major is a hot topic today!  I encourage students and their parents to focus not so much on the major but the quality of skills needed to survive the volatile economic changes now and in the future.  Learning to learn new disciplines, succeeding in the team work environment, STRONG writing skills,  ability to critically apply knowledge to new situations---these are the lifelong skills that create succcess.  The major is relevant typically in the first job but becomes less each year of experience.   Sorry for the long answer but studying for major based on today's job market can back-fire. 

Beverly, how are things going for the Class of 2011? Are they finding jobs? How is this year different than the last few?

Jenna, we are seeing quite a few "we need another person since business in picking up" calls for employers. The earlier recruitment and job postings were very conservative.  That seems to be loosing up.  Seniors, who just graduated, need to know that Career Services are often struggling to locate them for these just-in-time jobs.  Connect with the careers office with current contact info.  Last week we had 5 excellent jobs posted!  We graduate today and hope to make referrals before the W&L seniors leave campus!

Our NACE research also shows that employers plan to hire about 19 percent more new graduates in 2011.  This is the first major increase planned in hiring since the Class of 2007.

There's an article in the current issue of Money Magazine that describes how parents of college grads can help their children launch themselves into the working world, including tips on budgeting, student loan payment, etc. Another idea is to have people watch the Matthew McConnaughey movie, "Failure to Launch," as a way to encourage their kids to stop moping and start pounding the pavement to look for work. I recall when I graduated from grad school w/my MPA degree in 1982, the job market was also tough, and my folks hired a coach to help w/the job search. Thoughts?

Having another person providing encouragement and constructive critiques of your process can make significant difference in your confidence.  Consider if you are a college grad, to connect with your career services staff for advice and consultation.  Sometimes there are simple things, such as typos in resumes, that can be keeping you from succeeding. 

Relocation?  That is a complex question with a variety of answers depending on your situation.  Think about the issues linked to relocating (losing family/friends; cost of living; job market in new area, etc.)

I love that movie! Although, a quote: "It's going to take a stick of dynamite to get me out of my parents' house."

And don't forget that college career centers are filled with free "employment coaches."

As someone who graduated with a political science degree five years ago I cannot stress enough how important it is for humanities majors to take quantitative courses. In all of my job interviews the employer was most impressed by my statistics courses, quantitative research skills and computer programming experience. There are so many liberal arts graduates who can't/won't do math that even just an extra quantitative class or two will put you at the top of a pile of resumes. Employers are looking for social science majors who can write programs to analyze data and English majors who can write about technical subjects.

Great, great advice!

The job search process can be demoralizing: Lots of rejection letters. Living at home. Not having much extra money. Getting bored. What can grads do to not get down?

Amen. Half the battle is understanding the psychological state of where you are. Working with some friends of mine, our way of dealing with the boredom, rejection, and more was to blog about it in funny/light-hearted ways: like this.

Expect the ups and lots of downs in the job search.  You need to find a trust friend or colleague who can take your mind away from the job search at times.  Being down or discouraged while actively in the job search does not make you an attractive candidate.  My advice:  take a break, get exercise, eat healthy, and laugh.  When you are back in your re-vitalized mindset, return to the job search.

Your first salary is an important starting point for your future earnings. In this sort of economy, do students still have bargaining power? Is it worth trying to negotiate for more?

Students may have some negotiating ability but not necessarily around the salary.  Budgets are tight and many applicants for the position you are questioning about salary.   Perhaps you can negotiate start date, attending professional meetings, assignments for your work group, etc. CAUTION:  do not damage your image as the wonderful new hire by creating a negative tone with salary negotiations.  That extra $5,ooo may not be worth the discussion if it changes your reputation/image among your colleagues or new boss.

And yet, I think a lot of grads are told now that the starting salary of the first job is the most important since it often determines wages for the rest of your career. So, I say if you think you have some wiggle room, press hard for more salary. More important than anything: value yourself.

What should the Class of 2012 be doing right now to better their chances of getting a job a year from now?

My son is graduating a year from now, and I have stressed to him on several occasions to work closely with the career services office at his college.  He did complete an internship last Spring,  which he can now add to his resume.  The key is to be ready for the Fall 2011 recruiting season.  Our NACE surveys show time and time again that employers prefer to hire in the Fall.  They do most of their recruiting for the upcoming classes in the Fall, so my advice is to prepare this summer researching companies, update your resume, and have your interview suit ready for September.

Are students still able to apply for jobs during their senior year and lock-in employment months before graduation -- or do employers like to wait until students have completely graduated and are ready to start immediately?

Jenna, it is actually happening earlier that fall of senior year!  In fact, NACE has documented more than 70% of employers are "recruiting" interns with the expectation of generating the senior hires from this pool.  Post-graduate employment is becoming an internship recruitment strategy.  All employers want to see you have had some meaningful, substantive experience: maybe through volunteering, traveling, campus leadership, summer jobs, etc.  But yes, experience is particularly important for the valuable but perhaps overlooked liberal arts/science majors!

Is it even possible to get a job right now without having an "in"? How do you set yourself apart from hundreds of online applicants? Or is it just impossible to achieve without a connection who puts your resume at the top?

Connections really help -- even if it's a distant one -- so make sure to reach out to former employers, intern coordinators, professors, Facebook friends and family friends. Let people know you are looking. I talked to one grad last year who found a job through the family she nannied for while employment searching.

And most employers do still read resumes and cover letters. The best thing you can do to make yours stand out is to make it fit in well with their organization. Do your research. Personalize and tailor. Make your application packages look different for each employer.

I agree with Jenna and might even say the distant connections might get you further than the close connections. Imagine how many people you don't know well compared to the "inner circle" of those who you do know well. I think you have a greater chance at an "in" from those "loose ties" of people who are not your direct family and best friends.

As for the online aspect, customization is important but also I suggest customizing by trying to get inside the head of the employer: what do they need? why are they hiring and how do you help solve their problems?

I am one of those whose spark for education came later in life! I will be 34 when I gradute with a B.A. (History) and then apply to law school. Single mother of three to top it off. It's been expensive on many fronts and it's not over yet. That said I value my education and have a lot of faith in my plan because Law turns me on. It is not a dream it's a goal. Reading all the doom and gloom about college degrees has not cracked my plan yet, but have to ask, do I sound like a nut? Is it really THAT BAD out there or does this come dowm to the individual work ethic, connections, etc. ? Thanks so much.

GOOD FOR YOU! What an awesome and inspiring story, plus what a great way to teach your kids the importance of education.

Passion is important. Working hard is super important. The best job candidates are often the ones who LOVE their work.

The Pew survey about the worth of a college degree that I mentioned earlier queried people on this topic. Here's what they found:

While Americans value college, they value character even more. Asked what it takes for a young person to succeed in the world, 61% say a good work ethic is extremely important and 57% say the same about knowing how to get along with people. Just 42% say the same about a college education.

Do you have any recommendations on how to make known that you are looking for a job along with your internship? As a summer intern, I am also looking for a job come the fall. What do you think?

I think that everyone assumes that all interns are looking for full-time work -- so, don't be that annoying intern who only talks about not wanting to be an intern or slacks off on intern duties in favor of browsing job posting sites.

With that said, don't pass up and opportunity in one-on-one conversations with co-workers or meetings with your supervisor to share your plans for the future. Often the best way to do that is to ask for their advice and expertise (not their connections).

Given the job market, you will probably be asked by your coworkers what your plans are for next year.  If you internship host has made you an offer, carefully discuss your thoughts about next year's options.  Do you want to explore other employers? industries?  Have a thoughtful conversation so you know what to anticipate at the end of your internship.

Andrea, your organization has done a lot of research about female graduates -- and how their starting wages continue to lag behind those of men. Tell me a little bit more about what NACE found.

According to an article from our NACE Journal, the average starting salary for a Class of 2010 female bachelor's degree graduate was $36,451, which is 17 percent less than the $44,159 for a male Class of 2010 bachelor's degree graduate.  The discrepancy could not be explained by major, except in the case of "engineering."  Engineering has just 18 percent of graduates who are women, and they are highly sought after, commanding a premium price for their service.  But, women earning degrees in computer science are also scarce (18 percent of degrees conferred), yet they were paid less at $52,531 compared to $56,227, the average salary paid to men.

I'm not finding a job. I'm thinking my resume is going to look horrible with nothing on there after graduation. What do you suggest I do? Starbucks or Walmart really doesn't demonstrate I'm using my new degree.

Ah yes, the no-employment vs low-employment debate. If I were an employer, I would value employment over unemployment. I would also value financial stability over vanity.

What do others think?

Being willing to take a job that is not glamorous or high paying, indicates a willingness to get things done, work with a different population, etc.  You are working to earn money, meet people, and refine you personal skills too.  Staying at home logged into the computer is depressing!  Get out and you may find your best advocate in the check-0ut line or ordering the cafe latte!  But, keep working on your bigger plan by meeting others in the profession! Polite persistence is crucial!

Even if you get a job offer, how do you negotiate a reasonable, livable salary when you're just a dime a dozen?

Salary discussion can be very touchy and awkward.  Know what the going range is for your industry and location.  Is the offer within the range?  I recently worked with a student who had what seemed to be a lower salary.  But when researching the cost of living in her area, she found that her salary was actually higher when compared with the going salaries for both D.C. and NYCity.  NACE provides salary data by industry/major/function.  Check the website for more info.

One FB friend is in HR and has status updates that regale us with poorly-written cover letters and resumes. Quintuple-check both, then have someone else do it, too.

Oh, I bet! I have seen some painfully funny ones posted online, too. Gawker's Hamilton Nolan put together a list last year of funny tips for "How to avoid writing an awful cover letter."

I just graduated with a practical major (Economics) and a great GPA (Summa Cum Laude) and had substantial internships and extracurriculars throughout my 4 years but still I can't get interviews. I've been told my resume is more "grad school" then "work" even though I had 3 good internships in college. What will help me get my foot in the door for the interview?

Take a look at your language on your resume and cover letter.  Are your writing in the voice/language of a student researcher?  Translate your resume/cover letter in the language of work.  If you are getting interviews but no offers, evaluate how your are presenting yourself. Are you showing enthusiasm and interest for the position/employer?  Interviewers are insightful and can often see if there isn't a sincere enthusiasm or interest.  Have you done a videotaped interview?  This can tell a lost. Check with your career services program.

I disagree. I am a lawyer in DC and I can tell you that unless she goes to a top tier school or graduates near the top of her class AND she's on law review, she will end up doing low wage (relatively speaking) document review. As we speak there are thousands of lawyers toiling away in our fair city reviewing documents. Nothing else. No hope of advancement. No guarantee of long term employment. No benefits. And little prospect of paying off large student loans. We need to STOP encouraging higher education. I know that is counter to what we've all been taught. But guess what. . .the schools are happy to take our money and give us degrees. . .but the jobs just aren't there. If you encourage higher education, you're shilling for diploma mills. Sorry. . .that's how I see it.

Oh yikes... maybe it really is that bad out there... Don't worry, it's not to late to switch to a more lucrative career like journalism!


As college grads struggle to find a job, some members of older generations have issued blanket statements that these kids wouldn't have so much trouble if they just worked harder. The NYT Economix blog had a post headlined: "Are Young College Grads Too Lazy to Work?" What do you think of such statements? Is there any truth in them?

I would not agree with too lazy.  I would say that this generation often has a misunderstanding about work.  Work is call Work for a reason.  It is not play nor is it all about "YOU" then new hire.  Having spent 16 years in eduation where everything was defined, organized, and often planned by mom/dad, college students need to learn strong work ethic and how to be successful at work. I share with our students a list of items on How to Be a Successful Employee.  Included is suggestion that he/she solve problems not creat problems or work for others!  IT is these basics students find new and often surprising.

I've heard conflicting job search advice and I was wondering what your thoughts are. Some people have told me to apply to as many jobs as possible, you never know who you'll hear back from. The other advice I've heard is to target 5-10 employers you really want to work for.

I am not a believer in more is better.  What is important is the quality of your application, the enthusiasm for the employer/industry, AND most significant, the follow-up that you do.  Simply applying on-line should not be a significant part of your job search.  Identify individuals with whom you can seek advice, introduction, and pursue a meeting to talk about the firm/industry/etc.  THe majority of jobs are found through referral, suggestions, or serendity.  The more branches your network tree has the more leads that will come your way. 

Wow, that hour flew by fast. Andrea and Beverly, thank you so, so much for joining today! And thanks to everyone who sent in questions.

On Saturday I am headed to Omaha for a week for my college roommate's wedding -- so next week I will be blogging and chatting from Nebraska.

Have a great (and safe) holiday weekend!

In This Chat
Jenna Johnson
Jenna Johnson writes about college students and campus trends for the Post. She also runs the blog "Campus Overload," which chronicles national college news, drinking fads, admissions buzz and the latest exploits of Hill interns.
Andrea Koncz
Andrea Koncz is NACE's employment information manager. She analyzes and reports on employment and job market trends for new college graduates. She also researches starting salary information for NACE's Salary Survey report, and responds to inquiries regarding the national and regional job market for new college graduates, including starting salary information for more than 70 disciplines. She also reports on employers' hiring projections through NACE's annual Job Outlook report, and is available to discuss the recruiting methods employers favor, the skills they seek in college candidates, and the challenges they face in assimilating new hires into the workplace.
Beverly Lorig
Beverly Lorig has been director of career services at Washington and Lee since 1994. A graduate of Georgia Southwestern University with a degree in psychology, she served as a social work in the Flint Area Psychoeducational Center, where she was the liaison between the school system, parents and special education teachers. She earned her masters degree in higher education administration with practica in career counseling and judicial affairs from The University of Georgia.

She officially entered the career services field as the assistant director of career development at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta and became acting director the following year. She moved on to Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and then to the undergraduate career services at Yale University where she was assistant director for employment programs, including campus recruiting and working with top Wall Street investment banks, consulting firms, nonprofit organizations and consumer products companies.

As W&L's director of career services, she both manages the professional staff but also works individually with W&L's undergraduates on their career planning

As Director of Career Services, Beverly leads a comprehensive career services operation that emphasizes collaborative relationships with employers, alumni, faculty, peer institutions and the university community. She directs a professional staff that provides guidance and resources for students in developing and implemented their academic and career plans and also works individually with many of the university's students.
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