Knowing hiring practices and employment trends places more college students in a position to succeed.
Many economic commentators, including CNBC, are declaring this the best job market in years for college graduates. What’s not to like? The economy is strong and employment is near an all-time high. It’s reasonable to assume, as most do, that companies will binge hire college graduates to become 21st century workers. All of this would seem to be welcome news for students graduating college and their families. The reality, however, is not what it seems. Here’s why.
I have researched hiring trends and polled students at a dozen universities. Below are four employment trends and some suggestions to help this year’s crop of college graduates get started in their careers.
The tight labor market is not all it is made out to be. Fueled by demand and opportunity to land favorable work, job candidates have become increasingly selective. This includes college graduates. According to data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, “Only 40% of college seniors who were interviewed in the fall accepted job offers from employers.”
Hiring companies have become disenfranchised with rejected offers, turnover and ghosting associated with a tight labor market. In fact, employers are adjusting to the labor market themselves by shifting to practices that give their companies less exposure and more leverage. As a result, the way companies recruit and hire for jobs is changing.
Rather than chase candidates and drive up labor costs, employers have decided to become equally selective in adding new hires. Selectivity is taking the shape of setting unrealistic expectations on college graduates. One HR professional who did not want to be identified said, “It is unrealistic for employers to expect new college graduates to have at least three years of work experience when they first enter the job market.”
The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), which represents 300,000 HR professionals and employers, confirms that selectivity among hiring companies is the main reason jobs go unfilled, saying, “The alleged talent gap (which is widely acknowledged by employers) isn’t about skills. It’s about companies’ expectations.”
Because of this, prospects of finding employment are less certain now for students who are looking for first jobs out of college. That’s why one senior at a university I polled recently mentioned to me that, “A lot of students are on the internship hunt and they’re stressing about future career endeavors.”
Expectations, selectivity, talent gaps and a tight labor market translate into employers emphasizing a new set of labor values. For college graduates, looking to find that all-important first job, your response to these employment trends could mean the difference between doing something for work, finding a job that pays the bills or starting a rewarding career.
Below I have listed key employment trends followed by what I believe are helpful responses college graduates should consider in order to get their careers off to a successful start.
I) Work Experience
Employment Trend – Employers expect candidates, including college graduates, to have years of work experience.
Candidate Response – Deal with unrealistic expectations.
It doesn’t matter if they are unreasonable, or even realistic, you should understand expectations of employers and do your best to satisfy them. In your mind, be clear that no one candidate will ever check all of the boxes required for the job. Always know there is a difference between an ideal and real candidate. Finally, understand that your job, when trying to find a job, is to know what employers want, and expect, from the candidates they hire. Having this perspective will boost your confidence and allow you to effectively communicate a match between your strengths and filling the more important requirement of delivering job performance over work experience.
II) Internships & Entry-Level Jobs
Employment Trend – Entry-level jobs are being redefined.
Candidate Response – Think of internships as entry-level jobs.
Entry-level job experience as a requirement for first jobs out of college is changing for graduates. If employers want graduates to have 1-3 years of work experience as a qualification to hire, internships will become increasingly important. This means internships have value to both you and employer organizations. For you, benefits come in the form of job-ready work experience and valuable contacts. For companies looking to hire you, it is an effective way of building a pipeline to future talent.
Because experience is being redefined and requirements are changing, graduates should rethink how they do internships. Candidates should take on more types of employment in the years leading up to, and during, college. The overall number of internships under your belt may count toward work experience with employers.
The closer you are to graduating college, the more relevant the internship must be. Your job internships should map closely to what you want to do when you graduate. You’re not looking just to list an internship to your resume, you want it to be legit and count toward work experience. Consider internships in junior and senior years of college to be less on a “trial basis” and more of a deliberate step toward a first job. Higher-quality internships are more likely to satisfy work experience requirements.
Employment Trend – Employers value practical know-how.
Candidate Response – Consider apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships, which have traditionally been very European and blue-collar, are now part of the professional employment scene appearing in the U.S. They provide practical knowledge, experience and exposure. According to SHRM, “Some companies are offering white-collar apprenticeships in financial services, insurance and other growing industries that are struggling to find new college graduates with the requisite skills and training.” Be on the lookout for, and ask about, apprenticeships. If this trend becomes commonly practiced among U.S. employers, it will allow candidates, such as you, another way into jobs and a method of building a directed path towards a rewarding career.
IV) On-the-Job Performance
Employment Trend – Employers favor candidates who can adapt and demonstrate agility.
Candidate Response – Become an agile learner.
Companies place an employment premium on a candidate’s willingness to develop and an ability to learn while adapting to many different situations and circumstances. Therefore, hiring managers look to recruit agile employees who can learn “on demand” and apply “know how” immediately to perform their jobs. Be flexible and do your best to show employers you have the energy and motivation to learn well, fast and often.
In response to a tight labor market, companies are emphasizing a new set of values. Knowing these employment trends is important. However, acting upon them will help you find the all-important first job that leads to starting a professional career.