College Grads Still Face Bleak Job Prospects

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

May is the start of college graduation season, when the nation’s bright and ambitious college seniors step out into the workforce — or hope to. But last week’s job numbers show job growth is still weak, and many soon-to-be college grads may find themselves dealing with bleak prospects for the time being.  

Aaron Smith is co-founder and executive director of Young Invincibles, the non-profit group behind the Campaign For Young America. Aaron is on the last stop of a 21-state bus tour holding roundtable discussions with young people to brainstorm solutions to youth unemployment.  Reporter Steven Greenhouse covers labor and the workplace for our partner The New York Times. 


Steven Greenhouse and Aaron Smith

Produced by:

Shia Levitt and Kristen Meinzer

Comments [18]

Robert Ubert from Las Vegas, NV

It really does not matter what you major in, it is all about what you plan on doing once you’re done. If you can effectively communicate and write clear sentences while not running with scissors anyone will do okay. It is all about how a person markets themselves. But if you think that majoring in art history is going to make a college grad a curator then they are flat out wrong. The problem that I have with STEM a major is that it feels limiting, I majored in politics and creative writing, but I have had a few careers over the years. Each experience has been amazing and I would not trade it for the world. Also your show sucks.

May. 09 2012 07:58 PM

I probably would study the same things - psychology, biology, education and journalism. They don't define me as much as they reflect my drive to be a lifelong learner.

May. 09 2012 10:51 AM
Leslie Hauser from Hallandale, FL

I majored in psychology & education, but should have majored in accounting. I would have been better off financially.

May. 09 2012 10:03 AM
Emily from New York

What I know now, if I knew then...I would have majored in a "STEM".

& that's Science, Technology, Engineering & Math for the rest of you Liberal Arts grads.

May. 09 2012 09:08 AM
Jim from New York

Years ago I thought my degree in economics was the most valuable thing I got out of college. And it has been valuable. But over time I came to see it that I was really paid to read and write, to interpret and explain. It wasn't economics, but the English literature classes that turned out to be most valuable.

My career did not exist when I was in college. I told my kids: two semesters economics, one stats. Major in what you want, just make sure you do it seriously and well. That will leave you prepared for the future whatever it holds.

May. 09 2012 08:56 AM
Forest Bell

Travel, travel, travel. These are the best years of your life. Be spontaneous, be irresponsible. The experiences you will have will be priceless. I spent months backpacking around Europe, spent time in Alaska, went to South America, drive around the country a countless number of times. Sure, I was broke and in debt, but I learned a lot about the world and life. Now, as a married 39 year old with three kids, I extremely content. I do not experience much stress, I have a wonderful marriage, and a great relationship with my kids. I attribute it to being a " free" young adult.

May. 09 2012 06:32 AM
Mary from Ithaca, NY

I graduated in 2010 and had no idea what the market was going to be so hard...

Network! When someone asks how you are or what's new, tell them you are looking for a job, what kind of job you are looking for, and what experience or skills you have.

If a friend or family member puts you in touch with someone, FOLLOW THROUGH and remember that you are a reflection of your friend or family member. If you embarrass them, they will not help you out and you just lost a networking connection.

Follow up with people you have interned for or networked e-mail once a month to check in is plenty. Flooding their inbox will get you on a list you don't want to be on.

Do not get discouraged if you get several rejects or no interview offers...especially right after you graduate. A rejection following an interview is a networking opportunity. Employers get a lot of applicants for few offers, and if you make a good impression but they only have one position available at that time, they will think of you next time or refer you to someone in the industry.

PROOFREAD! Employers have hundreds of applications to sift through. They are looking for ways to cut people out of the pool. Don't send a cover letter full or errors because it will quickly be in the trash.

Information interview: call the HR office of a business you are interested in and ask for an information interview. This is where you "interview" them and find out what the company is like to work for, as well as a quick way to get your foot in the door. If you are professional and they like you, they may think of you if they are hiring or know someone else who is.

Recent grads: do not expect your dream job right away...or one that requires a bachelor's degree. Do your best at every single job you have! The focus should be on building a skill set, getting great references and a start and end date on your resume that will speak to the new employer.

May. 08 2012 03:14 PM
Angel from Miami, FL

I thought this was a country of innovators and start-ups. If you can't find a job out of college start your own. Better yet, look for others in the same predicament and put something together using whatever was learned in school? Gen-Y, stop trying to do things like the Baby-boomers did. The war generations before them built things on their own 'til they got somewhere. Zuckerberg could've pounded the pavement but instead he took an existing idea (mySpace) and made it into an advertising data collection machine that people would love to populate for him. Come up with your own idea with your new broke friends or just find an existing idea and make it into something more marketable than the original. All it takes is a few years of building a site about nothing to get an IPO and you're made.

May. 08 2012 01:48 PM

If a person has a passion to teach English in a foreign country, then going to China, i.e., might make sense. I know a few folks who had a great experience doing that. Or join Americorps or Peace Corps. They're good for biding time. I would advise young people to interview friends and older mentors. Ask them, "What qualities do you see in me that would help me choose a major, or a career path?" And, "What fields do you see that may have openings?" We cannot see ourselves as others see us, as employers may see us. There are more than enough film producers now. It may be fun work, but there's only room at the top for the most gifted, lucky 1 percent. The rest are waiting tables.

May. 08 2012 10:00 AM
anna from new york

If I understand it correctly, at this point only a revolution can bring a solution. The country isn't reformable.

May. 08 2012 09:51 AM

The caller who suggested college grads “pound the pavement” is a bit out of touch. Try doing that in any major city and see what happens. Most mid to larger size corporations have security desks at the entrance way.
If you do not have an appointment you're not getting in. Unless you are a delivering lunch. If you keep showing up chances are you might get arrested or be deemed a nutcase.

The unpaid internship is in my view a ripoff. In most cases it's a way for companies to get free labor. How do people live without money?
The entire internship system seems to have gone off the rails.
There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

May. 08 2012 09:49 AM
anna from new york

I couldn't listen to all this nonsense. There aren't any jobs, but people work seventy hours a week without sick days, vacations, lives.
We don't have qualified engineers ... what? Don't we just continue wonderful traditions of imported slave labor?
I don't know how people can live their lives functioning on this level, etc.
To irritated to continue ...

May. 08 2012 09:48 AM
Adda Birnir from Brooklyn, NY

Get all the tech skills you can get your hands on! The tech industry is one of the only industries that is growing and its growing fast! According to conservative estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 250k new software development jobs added by 2020 and young people are perfectly poised to take advantage.

May. 08 2012 09:22 AM
John Marchioro from Cambridge, MA

I just howled when I heard the caller suggest that college grads pack up and go to China to teach English. You really should screen your calls better. First of all, I have been to China 10 times myself, and met plenty of foreigners working there, including people teaching English. They generally make around $10,000 to $15,000 a year in the coastal cities, less if they teach in parts of China with a lower standard of living. In other words, you can survive in China, but it is not a serious medium to long-term option. It is not a particularly rewarding thing to do either, from what most of them told me. If you want to solve the high unemployment program, here is a radical solution: Stop importing 100,000+ Indians, Chinese, etc. through the H1-B program. This program has been totally abused by Tata and other Indian hiring companies (they routinely exceed the annual quota, and the hirees generally work far beyond the stipulated time, some of them for years past it), and it is both driving down wages for native US citizen workers and also making it impossible for many of them to find jobs. Why is it that the US has all these arrangements with places like India and China that allow them to send their college grads here and deprive a US college grad of a job anyway? It is a classic one-way street. And do not give me that old line about how there are not enough US college grads with computer programming degrees and the like. The stats show the opposite, that there are plenty of US grads in such subjects, but Microsoft et al would rather hire a foreigner on a H1-B visa since they will work for less, not complain about overtime, etc. etc. Why should we let Bill Gates and the like set our employment policy this way? And why is this issue never raised on NPR, but we get a steady diet of idiotic suggestions like "Why don't you go teach English in China?". Just incredible.

May. 08 2012 09:19 AM
Laura from New York City

Go home to the folks or live with Aunt Suzie in New York City or on your best friend's futon:

Get an unpaid internship in a field you love; or offer yourself to Aunt Suzie's best friend's great uncle

No partying on week nights.

Show up and work your butt off!

There is a high probabillty there will be a job for you a year from now!

May. 08 2012 08:14 AM

I usually advise college students to pick a major that will get them a job, not one they love. If the two happen to jive, great. But don't major in Fiction Writing About Long-Haired Cats In The 18th Century just because you find it interesting, unless your goal in getting a college degree is something other than getting a job. Especially if they are not entirely sure what they want to do with their life (as I was not).

It sounds like a downer, but I found out the hard way-- note to everyone: Communications is NOT a broad major that will "let you do anything" as I mistakenly thought; don't do it-- and wish I would've been a bit more decisive and chosen something else, perhaps to do with business or something, that I may have been a bit bored with but may have been more favored by employers.

I also tell them to look early on at actual job ads for jobs they may want/that their major may get them, and make sure that their chosen job isn't one that every employer requires ten years' worth of experience for right off the bat.

May. 08 2012 08:13 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Until a paying job appears, my advice would be to do volunteer work: help someone. Many places are short people. Volunteer at a hospital, they need help, etc.

May. 08 2012 08:05 AM

My advice would have been shared prior to them starting college. I have never understood the idea of waiting until someone has completed their studies to bequeath a lifetime of experience.

I would tell them to learn outside the boundaries of the classroom and not to worry so much about grades, to focus more on the "learning" and not so much on the "proving." College seems to have become merely a place to punch-up once's CV and not a place to nurture interest and knowledge.

Finally, if I were pressed to impart some experience, I would tell this newly minted graduate to be flexible. While you may have studied International Political Economics, you may find you have a love of Education Administration. Don't feel limited by your past decisions to dictate the road you travel. Some may say you are compromising, not following your dreams. I say you are daring to live an exceptional life of exploration. With youth on your side you shouldn't feel compelled to find that "dream job" immediately. As a matter of fact, I'll dispel that illusion. There is no "Dream Job" (unless, perhaps you are an artist or NPR broadcaster.)

May. 08 2012 06:16 AM

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