This is the time of year when college students are winding up their schooling, donning a cap and gown and muttering, "OMG, what do I do now?"
"We like to get to our students before they hit the panic button," comments San Francisco State’s Tony Robbins, who handles marketing and publicity for the university’s career center. "Our academic year begins in January and ends in May, but we like to counsel and prepare students about their future a year and a half in advance of their graduation."
The biggest mistake self-assured graduates make, according to Robbins, is not spending enough time on their resume. Many frantic grads slam it all together in the short time sandwiched between their last classes. A good resume will take a week or longer, and students should approach it like writing a term paper.
"Savvy graduates also spend some time to allow others to critique it and then rewrite it if necessary," adds Robbins. "Above all, it has to have focus. A resume is geared to getting an interview; therefore, if a prospective employer doesn’t see a decent resume, they won’t see you."
Think Outside Your Degree
"We also advise students to look at their degree in a different way," Robbins says. "For example, having a degree in accounting doesn’t necessarily mean it will have to be your life’s work. Many times, a fat salary does not equal job satisfaction."
Robbins notes that education, hospitality and nursing jobs will always be in demand, as well as jobs in accounting and finance.
"I would tell a newbie graduate not to waste time by personally going to large companies with resume in hand," he counsels. "If you don’t have a stellar resume, it just goes in a stack with other competitors."
In many cases, a graduate will go back to school for a second degree or a master’s degree to bolster their credentials before plunging into the job pool. Students should also check out campus job fairs where employers recruit for full-time employment and internships.
"Do your homework, even if you are out of school."
Regardless of the current economic situation, companies across the country are facing significant worker shortages as aging baby boomers reach retirement age and start leaving the workforce. Forward-thinking companies are taking steps now to establish a foundation for the future.
"We are not graduating enough students to replace retiring baby boomers," points out Steve Schroeder, director of the business career center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison Business School, which has seen a record number of companies participate in career fairs.
Schroeder observes that even as companies eliminate workers at higher levels of the organization, they are often adding people at the entry level. "These companies need good talent now more than anything. They are getting good, young talent for a fraction of what they are paying an older worker who has been with the company for ten years."
Tom Halasz, the associate director of the Career Resource Center at the University of Florida, agrees that current attrition levels suggest that entry-level recruiting will remain strong as companies seek to replace employees leaving for other job opportunities, retirement, or to raise a family.
Follow Your Heart
Allison Wahl of San Francisco chose a much less traditional post-grad path.
"I graduated from the University of California, Davis, last spring. I majored in English and philosophy and minored in psychology and began looking for a job about four months before the end of the term."
Her strategy was simple – to land a position as a legal secretary to get some experience while studying for the entrance exam to law school. Her plan seemed to be on track: She got a job with a law firm and began planning to enter law school. But then her law career was derailed by an unexpected revelation.
"I worked at the firm for two weeks and I realized I hated it," she admits. "They wanted me to have more training, but there was no way to get it. In addition, I hated the mundane work, bureaucratic filing and sending endless letters and forms. I realized I did not want to become an attorney."
Aside from her 9-to-5 job, Wahl was taking an aerial dancing class for exercise. "I realized I love the liberating feeling of dancing and spinning high off the ground," she explains. "I stumbled across [it] and now I am coming to terms with wanting to be an aerial dancer. I don’t know where I’m going, but it feels good."
She advanced to dancing with ropes and using a trapeze and trained at Circus Center in San Francisco, beginning a serious seven-day-a-week regimen. Her goal is to work up a solo act as a freelance performer for special or corporate events, or to join a dance company.
"I would advise graduates to follow their heart," she stresses. "I am taking time off to experiment and perhaps find a niche. I may return to law or psychology some day, but first of all I know I have to believe in myself.
"I realize I am young now and I don’t want to wake up years in the future with regrets. Dancing may not work out for me, but I have to take a chance."
Follow Your Head
Ron Tingley, general counselor at Modesto Junior College, disagrees with Wahl’s flight of fancy and fiercely advocates that graduates plunge into the job market immediately after taking off their cap and gown.
"I definitely believe it’s best to find a job first. The world has changed since college graduates took time to travel to Europe to find themselves. Graduates don’t have that luxury now because the global competition to find a job is so tough." He advises graduate candidates to begin looking for employment during their last semester of college by making contacts, sending out feelers, looking at professional journals and possibly considering intern work. To help with the job search they should utilize all the services of their college placement departments.
And what about changing job directions after graduation? Tingley says it’s more typical than most people think. Education is not just about one specific field of study anymore; it is about getting a broader foundation that will offer more options for employment.
"I think the most important thing is to take as many general courses as possible," he emphasizes. "If you do that, it will be easier to change career directions, even if you switch from one major to another."
"Postgraduate classes will always be available for those who want to learn more while they are in the workforce," Tingley concludes. "However, finding a first job may not be that easy or accessible."