5 Common Problems Recent College Grads Face in the Job Search

by Sharon Elber

Problems College Grads Face

Having trouble landing a job after college? You are not alone. Here are the 5 most common problems you may be facing, and what to do about them.

1) Lack of Experience

Even if you aced all of your classes during college, you may find that employers pass you over due to a lack of real-world experience. Although it may be frustrating, understand that just because you know how to study for a test, doesn’t mean you have a strong work ethic, the ability to work well in diverse teams, or the skillset required to acknowledge your mistakes and quickly learn on the job.

Keep in mind that just a few years ago, another batch of students hit the job market with the same degree. Now those students have a little bit of experience under their belt in addition to their degree and they are competing with you for the same jobs. Many employers would rather hire a proven quantity rather than role the dice with someone who is untested.

How to fix a lack of experience:

If you are still in college, look for opportunities to get some work experience, even if it is not directly related to your field. A part-time job waiting tables may not sound like much, but at least you will have a previous employer who can speak to your strengths with teamwork, reliability, and work ethic.

Another option is to consider applying for internships after you graduate. Although they often do not pay well (or at all), they can give you vital experience while building your professional network at the same time.

Finally, make sure your resume highlights any relevant experience that emphasizes the qualities that will make you a good worker. For example, if you played sports, you can emphasize what you did to contribute to the success of the team. If you volunteered, list any skills you gained such as multitasking, organizing, or creating promotional materials. Don’t miss a chance to turn your extracurriculars into the kinds of transferable skills that employers are looking for in a candidate.

2) Unrealistic Expectations

Many college students suffer from the misconception that as soon as they get their degree, they will be able to land their dream job. Unfortunately, in most cases, this kind of pie-in-the-sky thinking is inaccurate. Part of it has to do with experience, as discussed above. However, the other piece of this puzzle has to do with the ebb and flow of the workforce.

Rather than a fixed quantity, the job market is fluid and dynamic. The demand for workers changes regionally and sporadically, as does the supply of workers. This means that finding the right job may mean adjusting your expectations and becoming more open to “next best” opportunities.

How to fix unrealistic expectations:

Think of your first job as a stepping stone towards your dream job. While it does not hurt to apply to jobs that are just out of reach, be sure that your job search also includes plenty of entry level positions that take you in the direction of your ultimate career ambitions.

Once you have some on the job experience you can leverage that to get promoted from within or find a better job elsewhere within the first few years of your working life.

In addition, you may want to get serious about the possibility of relocating to take advantage of regional differences in the job market. This can be particularly useful if you are looking to get your foot in the door in a very competitive field. Get up to date with regional news by subscribing to industry specific publications in your field and attending professional networking events in your sector.

3) Poor Interview Skills

Many recent grads struggle with the job interview. This critical aspect of the job search is your chance to sell yourself and your fit for the position you are applying for. And, it is not just about showing off how great you are, but also what you have to offer the company. It is a delicate balance that takes some skill to pull off.

How to fix poor interview skills:

Start with a visit to your college’s career center to find out if they offer interview workshops, mock interviews, or other resources to help you work on your interviewing skills. These are opportunities to get vital feedback to target your areas for improvement. Plus, the more you practice, the more comfortable you will get with the process, improving your performance when the pressure is on.

Another potential resource for getting better at the interview is to get some feedback from family and friends who have professional experience. This also has the advantage of getting the word out to your social network that you are in the job search which means you may hear about otherwise unknown job opportunities that your contacts may be aware of. They may even be able to provide you with a referral, a very helpful leg up in the process.

4) Lack of Clear Direction

It is not uncommon for students to get their degree, but still not have a clear idea about their ultimate career path. If this applies to you, then you may be feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, and confused about how to get started in the workforce.

A lack of direction can show up on your application materials such as your resume and cover letter, discouraging potential employers from wanting to take a risk on investing the time to train you for the work. Another cost of not having clarity on your ultimate career goals is that you may feel insecure and undersell yourself to potential employers.

How to fix a lack of clear direction:

First, keep in mind that you are not alone. Many college students are in the same boat. You don’t have to undersell the skills and qualifications you have gained just because you are unsure of where you are going to ultimately land. In addition, it is perfectly acceptable to frame yourself as a strong fit for a particular job even if you are unsure. Be honest about your skills, qualifications, and experience, but feel free to be optimistic about the job’s fit for your career trajectory.

Second, approach your first job as a chance to gain clarity on your career trajectory. Even if you decide to go in a different direction, you will have gained valuable work experience and transferable skills that will help you land a better job that better suits your ultimate career goals once you have a better idea about what they are.

Finally, look for work that keeps your doors open for the future. For example, jobs in large companies that offer multiple opportunities for advancement from within are a good way to grow into your career as you find the kinds of work that best suit your personality and strengths.

5) Difficulty Adulting

Just because you were a stellar student doesn’t mean you have what it takes to thrive in the adult world where expectations are higher and the milestones won’t be handed to you by your teachers. While the college experience has a lot of “check this box and then move on to the next box,” the workplace is messy, nonlinear, and full of dead ends and amazing opportunities.

If you need a metaphor, think of college life as an old-school scroller game, and the adult world as a massive multiplayer online role-playing game. In other words, it is a totally different kind of experience.

Employers have a tendency to be more demanding of your time and focus and less accepting of excuses. And, work-life balance is something that takes some practice for all of us. Add to that new responsibilities to pay bills on time, get the car to the shop, buy groceries, and clean the kitchen and it can be an overwhelming experience.

How to fix difficulty adulting:

Give yourself permission to make some mistakes as you adjust to a new life. Again, remember that you are not alone in dealing with the transition. Meanwhile, make work your priority. By the time your career starts to fall into place, the rest will follow.

Remember that the onus to adjust is on you. One mistake many new grads make is to expect their work to accommodate them rather than the other way around. Although some workplaces have a more flexible attitude, most don’t. However, if you set the right priorities, you will be well on your way to succeeding in work and life.

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