The Pitter-Patter of Big Feet: The Impending College Graduate Boomerang

The Pitter-Patter of Big Feet: The Impending College Graduate Boomerang

Posted Feb 24, 2009

It's almost May: Do you know where your college graduate is going to live? Every year around graduation articles appear about "boomerang kids": the college graduates who return home after college. But in this mother of all recessions, it's not exactly going out on a limb to predict that the answer to the opening question is going to be "home."

Transitioning from student life to adult life has its challenges even in good economic times. The switch from a nine-month academic calendar to a "real world" 12- month calendar, the loss of nearby friends, the lack of tangible measures of achievement like grades all create a temporary unsettling effect in the lives of recent college graduates. But this year is shaping up to be particularly challenging when it comes to the transition into the workplace.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers keeps a close watch on the job market for college graduates. Their latest research shows that average salary offers to the class of 2009 will be flat. That is when they're getting offers, because another survey shows that employer on-campus recruiting activity is down, and job postings at colleges are down at least 10% from last year. NACE has set up a blog centering on the job market and its implications for career services offices.

It's understandable that students would be discouraged about the job market right now and that as a parent of a college student you would be getting nervous also. But it's important to remember that even in a recession employers are still hiring.  Even companies which announce layoffs often hire at the entry level.

And tempting as it is for students to ride out their last semester and start the job hunt after graduation, that would be a mistake. They can take tangible steps now which may not result in a job tomorrow, but will lay the groundwork for success in the future.

Remember it's your child's job search, not yours, but here are four tips you can forward today to help ensure their upcoming stay in their old bedroom isn't any longer than either of you want it to be:

1. Use the campus career services office NOW. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? But it's not unusual for upwards of 40% of a student body not to use their career center.

  • Seek help now, because career centers have limited staff and when push comes to shove, most provide more comprehensive services to current students than alumni. As an alumnus, your child might be shut out of recruiting programs, personal appointments, etc. Also services which were formerly free may now come with a fee.
  • But don't just say to your child, "Go to the career center," because the guaranteed response will be, "I did but they weren't any help." Usually this phenomenon is due to inappropriate expectations ("The Career Center will find me a job.") or a superficial glance at the services ("I'm not interested in their recruiters, so there's no point in talking to them.") .
  • Discuss with your student what they hope to accomplish at the career center. At most centers, they can receive career counseling or coaching, have their resumes and cover letters critiqued, conduct a mock interview, attend workshops related to job-finding and other career issues, and stock up on useful handouts and material related to their area of interest. Many still have upcoming job fairs. Most career centers have nicely stocked libraries with the latest books and subscriptions to national job listings. It's not just about the on-campus recruiters.
  • Students may not leave their career center with a job, but they can leave with an action plan, a resume, information, and much more. The job will come-- most surveys show that the unemployment rate for college graduates is generally lower than the average unemployment rate.

2. Use the college's main library (or its website). A hidden gem in college libraries is access to extensive - and expensive - business and government databases. Many libraries have created both physical and virtual career sections that include free access to their resources. For example, at The University of Texas at Austin, the library has created an excellent Business Information Center which devotes one section to online career resources. But beware-- access to most college libraries can be limited to currently enrolled students only. (This is often due to restrictions from the database producers; not the library.) Some colleges and universities offer full library access to alumni or "guests" from the community; others don't. But why gamble? Do the research before graduation.

3. Get any letters of recommendation now. Professors are very busy toward the end of the semester, and often leave during the summer. Your child should solicit three potential recommenders: preferably at least one faculty member, perhaps an administrator with whom they worked as a student leader; and/or one or two employers.

4. Get thee to the web. Not only the website of their college career center, but start checking career blogs and other sites for updates and advice. Here are some links to get your college student started- just click on the links to check them out:

Great Career Websites:
The Riley Guide
Quintessential careers
Chimby Web Tracker

Interesting College/Career Blogs:
College Career Life
Quint Careers blog
Vault blog

Stay tuned...more posts coming soon on setting up a successful boomerang plan, making the connection from liberal arts to the workplace, how not to go crazy in the job search, and on...Suggestions for future postings are always welcome.