Expert offers tips on when your college grad can’t find that first job

Most parents assume they can exhale once they pilot their children into college, at which point the school will take over the adulting lessons, including how to land a job after graduation.

Not so, says career coach Beth Hendler-Grunt.

“There is a challenge in higher education. The goal of the college is to educate. Students are there to get a job,” said Hendler-Grunt, in a telephone interview from her home in New Jersey.

In a new book, “The Next Great Step: The Parents’ Guide to Launching Your New Grad Into a Career,” Hendler-Grunt warns parents that college grads without job-hunting aptitude could end up back home on the couch asking what’s for dinner. Parents have to be prepared to offer pep talks, confidence-building and guidance on effective job searches, she said.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Despite a robust job market, 4 out of 10 college graduates take positions that don’t require a degree, according to federal data. COVID-19 created even more barriers for college students seeking to hone their job-hunting skills. Students, especially those from lower-income households, often lack the family and social networks to tap for job leads.

Yes, campuses offer career services to students, but it’s optional whether students use them. Surveys show many students either don’t consult the career centers or don’t find them that helpful when they do, said Hendler-Grunt. The 2021 Student Voice survey, a data collection effort by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse, with support from Kaplan, found 6 in 10 college students agreed their career centers had sufficient services and supports during the pandemic, yet 1 in 4 students didn’t utilize the services.

Internships, which Hendler-Grunt said often generated job offers, also suffered in the pandemic. A survey by the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions found internship participation during the pandemic was low — about 1 out of 5 students.

Job search skills are not part of university curriculums, so students don’t learn how to create a network or how to break out of the online scrum and win an interview, said Hendler-Grunt, who has worked in sales, marketing and executive consulting.

As digital natives, today’s graduates believe that applying for jobs is mostly a matter of filling out a hundred online applications. However, Hendler-Grunt says 80% of jobs come from referrals, not job boards. Yes, companies use technology to advertise positions, but Hendler-Grunt said, “Hiring decisions still follow an older way, which is people hire people. People. Not AI. Not an algorithm. Not a tracking system.”

When they score an interview, college graduates often don’t understand it’s not enough to cite a high grade-point average and assure employers, as Hendler-Grunt did herself three decades ago in her first interviews, “I’m a hard worker and I’m responsible.”

Nothing in that statement sets anyone apart, said Hendler-Grunt. “Not 30 years ago and not now.”

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What college grads have to understand is employers want them to demonstrate they researched the company goals, metrics and culture and can detail how they can contribute, she said.

Ideally, parents ought to encourage their kids to take small steps in the first year of college — getting to know their professors and becoming involved in activities and clubs that both widen their networks and teach them work-related skills. “They ought to go to a career fair to practice introducing themselves, shaking hands, looking someone in the eye and asking some good questions so when it counts, they can do it,” said Hendler-Grunt.

In their junior year, students should reach out to the career centers and start figuring out the skills they have to offer and how to present and market those skills. If their resumes don’t include launching your own cosmetic line or creating a campus nonprofit, Hendler-Grunt says they need to dig and identify their core skills. Employers want to know what job candidates have done that can benefit them.

“What are the skills you want somebody to know you have? Are you a great writer? Are you good at analytics or problem-solving? You have to get clarity on your skill story — you have to be able to give an example. Maybe, you scooped ice cream in your summer job but developed great communications skills as a result,” said Hendler-Grunt.

Hendler-Grunt cautions parents to limit their role to mentor. They shouldn’t be setting up job interviews or submitting applications. Yes, they can read over their child’s resume or a LinkedIn profile, she said, but they shouldn’t write them. The confidence of young adults can be undermined by helicoptering, she said, urging parents “to maintain a healthy distance and encourage rather than hover.”