I often say that one of the happiest times of my life was when I was a college senior. Why? Because that's the last time in my life that I truly felt like I had the world by the tail. There wasn't anything I didn't know. Then, of course, I graduated, got a job...and realized I knew nothing.
So, when I did this story for Ganett/USA Today, it brought back a lot of memories of my last days in college, and the naive belief that the world was waiting for me with open arms....
Even though the economy is slowly improving, finding a job still can be extremely difficult.
Yet, this reality isn't quite sinking in with many graduating from college this spring. Students' current reality is course work, final projects and papers. While some have visited their school's career center or filled out applications, few seem to have grasped how much harder they need to work to land a job, one long-time recruiter says.
"I think a lot of career-service offices on campuses don't give a real-world view of what's going on and what these young people are facing," says Yolanda Owens, a company recruiter at colleges for the past 15 years.Yet, this reality isn't quite sinking in with many graduating from college this spring. Students' current reality is course work, final projects and papers. While some have visited their school's career center or filled out applications, few seem to have grasped how much harder they need to work to land a job, one long-time recruiter says.
She says she's visited campuses where students aren't even interested in talking to recruiters who show up without gifts or other goodies.
"They want tchotchkes. They want bells and whistles," Owens says. "They want to be courted like they're top athletes.
"Many in this generation still feel entitled to this kind of treatment" despite the poor job market, she says.
Some colleges put so many restrictions on recruiters — they can visit campuses only during certain periods or face being blackballed, for example — that the schools are further harming students who need to have as much contact with recruiters and employers as possible before they graduate.
"In some cases, the colleges say that any student offered a job has to be given up to three months to consider the job offer," Owens says.
And these days, more experienced workers often are vying for the same jobs as college graduates.
"I doubt those (more experienced) people would take very long to decide on a job offer," she says.
Meg Eckman, who is graduating this spring with an English degree from Duke University, says she heard enough horror stories about the job market that she began looking online in the fall.
So far, Eckman says she has filled out about a dozen applications and has interviewed with a company she's really interested in. She says she hasn't had a chance to take the advice of her college's career center to do more networking because she's so busy trying to keep up with classes and complete a senior thesis.
Even though her professors say they can help her find a teaching position, she's says she's more interested in pursuing a marketing job.
"I'm really not locked into a certain industry and am interested in any job that looks interesting," she says.
Owens, author of "How to Score a Date with Your Potential Employer" says Eckman's lack of networking is often a big mistake among college students.
"I cringe when I hear they're not networking," she says. "That's going to be the way to get in with an employer, and these students need to be letting everyone know in their circle — their relatives, their neighbors, alumni — that they are looking. Six months after graduation when they need to start making student loan payments and they don't have a job, they're going to wish they networked more."
Owens also suggests that professors from a variety of classes — not just a major field of study — can provide job help.
"You've got to work those connections," she says. "Learn to stroke the egos of the professors and ask for their help."
Owens says any college student graduating soon who doesn't have a job should:
• Set new priorities. While coursework and projects may have dominated a student's life for the past several years, the new focus should be on finding a job.
"Don't worry about your grades so much," she says. "Employers aren't really going to be looking at your last semester's grades unless you really bomb. They won't mean a hill of beans to most employers."
• Understand that referrals are critical. If you can find a contact willing to mention your name to a hiring manager, submit your resume or introduce you to key people, "it moves you to the top of the food chain," she says.
• Stop blind contacts. Don't send out mass e-mails or make dozens of LinkedIninvitations to people "who don't know you from a can of paint," she says. Instead, look for connections you might have in common before asking for an informational interview or submitting a resume.
• Do the homework. Before attending a career fair, for example, find out which employers will be attending and then Google them to find information. Being prepared with more questions for the recruiter will make a good impression.
"When I see someone approach me with a list of written questions, I know they've taken time to think about it," she says.
• Be ready for a bumpy ride. "Many of these students who are graduating have very high expectations. They really need a reality check. The truth is you're not going to find your dream job right away, but you can take a job that will serve as a stepping stone. They need to understand they're going to have to take a few bumps along the way," Owens says.
What other advice would you give those preparing to graduate?