Once college graduates unzip their gown and take off their mortarboard cap, they enter into the bloated ranks of overeducated but underemployed job seekers pounding the pavement, armed with similar skill sets and mindsets trained on the same mantra: find a job, find a job, find a job.
Their greatest asset in the job market is the degree they just earned. Hiring isn't booming, but it's also not bleak if you have at least a bachelor's degree. "College grads have it tough compared to what it was in the mid 2000s, but their prospects now and in the future are much better and secure than those with [just] a high school degree," says John Challenger, the chief executive officer of the jobs placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
The Department of Labor reports the unemployment rate for someone with a bachelor's degree is less than 4 percent, which is lower than the overall unemployment rate of 7.5 percent in April. A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers reports employers anticipate they'll hire 13 percent more job candidates from this year's graduating class than they did last spring from the class of 2012. Those who earn degrees in specialized fields like economics, engineering, finance, information sciences and marketing should scrape up the most job offers.
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What's against them, in addition to their inexperience, is a hat trick of not-so-nice stereotypes – entitlement, self-centeredness, laziness – that are often cited as barriers to this generation's integration into the real world.
With a still fledgling but not frozen job market, how well will these job-seeking rookies do, and what do hiring managers really think of their work ethic and preparedness for the professional world? If the class of 2013 were stock, would employers buy, sell or hold?
Employers expect college graduates to be green, and for the most part, green is good. "You have the ability to shape someone's view of you, without being tied to a résumé filled with past jobs," says Joe Echevarria, CEO of Deloitte, a professional services firm with approximately 57,000 employees in the United States. "Someone who is fresh out of school has the opportunity to shape themselves from scratch. That's a tremendous advantage. You get the chance to truly sell yourself when looking for your first job."
Employers are less forgiving of how inept new candidates may be at orchestrating a job search. Poorly formatted résumés and cover letters are all too common, as are coarse interview skills. "I was at a NACE conference, and there was a panel of employers who talked about interviewing candidates who were taking calls in the midst of the interview, who were texting or fiddling with their tablets," says Martin Yate, a certified personnel consultant and the author of the New York Times best-seller, "Knock 'em Dead: Secrets & Strategies for First-Time Job Seekers."
"One of the most important skills the class of 2013 needs to learn is how to manage themselves, or what I call 'how to treat yourself as a corporation called Me, Inc.,'" Yate adds. "The most important document you will ever earn is not a bill in your pocket, it's your résumé," Yate continues. "Graduates need to learn how to put a résumé together, how to build a social network, how to turn a job interview into a job offer and how to make a job secure. No one ever tells them that these are the most important things."
Graduates from the class of 2013 also need to be more savvy about social networking. A recent Bullhorn Reach survey notes that 97 percent of LinkedIn members use the site to find job candidates, while ReadWrite.com reports nearly half of all college students have never used LinkedIn. "This group is slow to understand how crucial a site like LinkedIn may be," says Lindsey Pollak, a Generation Y expert and the spokeswoman for the My Tomorrow Campaign, engineered by the insurance company The Hartford to educate and raise awareness of 18 to 31 year olds in the workplace and how and if they use workplace benefits. "And they're sometimes hesitant to use it because they don't have work experience. It's a mindset shift for a recent grad to use social media in a professional way, but they do need to understand that recruiters are looking for experience, but also leadership positions and specific skills, all of which can be included on a LinkedIn profile."