In times gone by, one pursued higher education with the reasonable expectation of securing gainful employment relatively quickly upon attaining the degree. While considered “entry level” by nature of the responsibilities, the jobs nevertheless usually fell within the industry in which the graduate wished to maneuver. Thus, the new recruit was guaranteed relevant hands-on experience upon which to build a foundation for career advancement in the field of his or her choice.
Now, an ever-tightening job market has transformed the predictable into the unexpected. Once a clear-cut path to job entry and career progression, the search for that post-college, entry level position has become more like a maze, with wrong turns and dead-ends clouding the correct course. If you are a recent graduate confronting this conundrum, do you stay the course and hope for the best, or do you accept a detour? And, what are the consequences of both choices?
Delayed entry into your chosen field will not be attractive to a potential employee. Conversely, a total lack of employment will be equally unappealing, painting you as less than ambitious. Given the need to produce a paycheck, and perhaps exacerbated by the demands of a student loan, the most expedient option would be to accept the first job offer that you receive, even if it is in an unrelated field. In addition to the ability to meet your financial obligations, the status of “currently employed” is more agreeable to potential employers than “unemployed.” Psychologically, it telegraphs that another company is willing to utilize your talents, and infers that you have desirable qualities as a staff member.
What if, however, your search for a position in your own field continues in a fruitless vein due to fewer opportunities in a post-$1.25 trillion bailout economy? Reality will tempt and perhaps even force you to remain where you are, making the best of what you have been given and striving to outshine your colleagues in order to snag a promotion equating to expanded responsibilities and higher pay.
Is there no alternative to these options that appear more and more like inevitabilities? If you are creative and resilient enough to take risks, there are other avenues that you can explore!
For example, you may have attained a degree in Business Administration, assuming that you would make your first mark in a traditional business environment, such as manufacturing or finance. With so much manufacturing exported overseas for lower costs and many financial institutions curtailing their operations and recruiting, you may find the need to explore other opportunities. Do your research and locate growth-oriented economic sectors. Isolate opportunities within industries that do not merely survive, but thrive during periods of economic contraction. Even if you determine not to remain in this environment for the rest of your career, the experience gained and expertise cultivated can be promoted as transferable skills in your ultimate quest to secure employment within an industry and environment more suited to your academic preparation.
If you have targeted a specific field and must delay entering that field, ensure that you remain cognizant of emerging trends in the industry. Join an industry-related association; if you must pay a fee for membership, it will be money well spent. Initiate a subscription to a widely-read industry journal. Research and negotiate your way into a relevant project on a voluntary basis, even for a few hours a week. All of these strategies will allow you to speak more intelligently and enthusiastically when you do secure an interview for an opening in your field. The project experience can actually be incorporated into your resume!
Although those graduating college at this point in our economic history may not want to hear it, finding career opportunities will be significantly more challenging for them than for their brethren of the past number of years. To succeed in securing employment that will actually be beneficial to their future career development, this year’s graduates must aspire to the same characteristics as the organizations with which they hope to ultimately associate: flexibility, adaptability, and innovation.