May 15, 2012 -- When Bowdoin College senior Danny Lowinger, 22, graduates this month, he won't be facing unemployment. He's landed a job and he's in good company as colleges send millions of his peers into the workplace.
Employment prospects for new college grads are better now than at any time since the start of the great recession, say college placement directors, employment experts and students themselves. According to the Associated Press, the unemployment rate for college grads aged 24 or younger has been dropping: From January through April, it averaged 7.2 percent. Comparable rates for 2011 and 2010, not seasonally adjusted, were 9.1 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively.
In a just-released study of 225 employers, Boston research company Millennial Branding finds 87 percent of employers say they will hire more new grads this year than last. Almost as many say that in the past six months they have already hired up to 25 new grads each. The study is a first for Millennial, which consults to companies on the characteristics of Generation-Y. The survey drew on data compiled by Experience, Inc., a provider of career services for some five million current students and recent graduates.
Dan Schawbel, Millennial's founder, says that while the job picture is brightening, it's not yet back to where it was before the recession.
Young job seekers, he says, still need to be realistic about their prospects. "The message of our survey is that you can't rely on anything anymore. Getting a degree doesn't mean you'll get a job. Getting an internship doesn't mean you'll get a job."
The most successful candidates, he says, are those who, as undergrads, pulled out all the stops: "You've got to get as many internships as you possibly can. Use social networks. Use your family and your friends."
Lowinger used an alumni connection to land his marketing job at Lego Systems in Connecticut. When Bowdoin grad Michael Moynihan, Lego's VP of marketing, came to speak on campus, Lowinger pounced. He applied for an opening at Lego and got it.
His advice to other seekers? Work whatever network you've got--alumni of your college, family friends, any adults you know. "That's the way most people get jobs," he says, "by focusing on the people side--who you know, and what you can find through that."
Timothy Diehl, director of career planning at Bowdoin, says that once you've identified someone in a company with whom you have a connection, you can turn that person into an ally and advocate. By doing so, you crack "the hidden job market that comes through networking. In many firms, the opportunities will not be publicly posted until the search is well advanced and they've already identified candidates by way of internal referrals. Those are given priority in the process. Your goal should be to be one of those--to separate yourself from the giant pool of people with no known connection to the firm."
What skills and attributes are employers looking for? Schawbel says 29 percent of companies say they want somebody with entrepreneurial experience. "Ten years ago," he says, "that number wouldn't have been anywhere near as high." What's changed, he says, is that companies now need "to innovate or die." There's more pressure on them to come up with new products and services.
Successful seekers, says Schawbel, don't necessarily have to have started a business. They just need to present their experience in a way that shows they have initiative and creative ability--that they are "independent minded."
"Maybe you started your own blog. Maybe you've freelanced or you created your own internship." Any of those, he says, would cary weight with an employer. A lot of students, he says, aren't told by college counselors how highly employers value entrepreneurship. Given a choice of a candidate with five internships or somebody who's started his own company, says Schawbel, "an employer will go for the entrepreneur every time."
Diehl of Bowdoin says some students use internships as a way to show entrepreneurial spirit: Sometimes, he says, a student will want an internship with an employer who doesn't offer any. In that case, he says, "We work with students to find a creative solution. We urge them to approach the organization with a proposal for an internship, then to go out and find a grant with which to fund it."