Job prospects for recent graduates are promising, but finding meaningful employment after college can be difficult without some extra help.
Laura Winig writer
It’s college graduation season, and, in the Boston area alone, that means more than 56,000 graduates will leave the comfort of their college cocoons and enter the job market. Funding four years of higher education is no enviable task these days with many parents shelling out close to $160,000 per child for undergraduate degrees from private liberal arts colleges. Now it’s time for these scholars to land "real jobs" so they can start paying their own bills.
Parents who invest tens of thousands of dollars in their children’s college education expect their newly-minted graduates to make easy transitions into jobs that will launch their lifetime vocations. Truth be known, it's not that simple. “It’s a myth,” says Wellesley resident D.A. Hayden, of Hayden-Wilder, a Boston-based, counseling service for entry-level job applicants. “It’s harder to get a career-building first job than it is to get into an Ivy League college,” she says.
So just what are the job prospects for this year’s new college graduates? First the good news. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, job prospects for the 2006 graduating class are expected to increase by 14.5 percent over last year. This year’s class will also earn higher starting salaries, according to the association, with demand being especially strong in engineering, finance, and management consulting. College counselors seem to agree that liberal arts graduates can also expect offers this year.
Wellesley College Center for Work and Service Director Joanne Murray concurs. According to Murray, over the past four years, the number of Wellesley College students who have had a job offer at the time of graduation has steadily increased. She says, “Current indicators suggest that hiring will be up again this year in many fields, including finance, consulting, law (legal assistants), biotechnology and other sciences, and teaching. In addition, the federal government has been recruiting heavily this year.”
The process of finding a job should begin well before a student leaves college. “It’s never too early for a student to begin working with the Center for Work and Service,” Murray says. The Center offers individual counseling, self-assessment workshops, resources for writing resumes and cover letters, and a program through which a student can borrow a suit to wear for a job interview. Funded summer internships are also available, and students are encouraged to take advantage of Wellesley’s strong alumnae network.
Wellesley College senior and economics major Sarah Zhang has taken full advantage of her school's resources and has been awarded with a consulting job at Fidelity Investments. She landed the job through senior recruiting arranged by the Center for Work and Service at the college. But she credits her previous summer internship as a business analyst for Goldman Sachs in New York and work as a research assistant with an MIT professor for giving her the real world experience her employer was seeking. She also prepared extensively for her interviews to ensure that nothing would catch her off guard. She adds, “I also personally think a tiny part (of landing the job) is due to me being an ice hockey player which is a bit unusual for a tiny Asian girl. At least, I think it was one of the reasons they remembered me.”
Yena Jung has also been fortunate enough to land a job well before graduating from Wellesley College. After working as a summer intern with Banc of America Securities in Charlotte, she was offered a full-time job in their New York City office, beginning after graduation. She credits the internship with providing her the invaluable exposure to potential employers, and her ability to work well with others as key factors in the final hiring decision. Jung says, “I think I was hired full time because of personality fit. I worked hard and did a good job with the work that I was given, but when it really came down to it, I think the fact that everyone in my group liked me and liked working with me was what sealed my full time offer.”
Dr. Carole Jabbawy, Director of the Internship Connection in Newton, says that internships are practically mandatory these days and can help students discover new career directions. She tells of a college student she worked with who was certain he was interested in broadcast television. His "defining moment" came on his internship when he was asked to file the employment contracts of on-air talent. He became fascinated with these legal documents and subsequently enrolled in law school for entertainment law.
With so many career-building opportunities available for college students, one would think they would all be well-prepared for landing the perfect job. But that's not necessarily the case. Many college students don’t take full advantage of internship opportunities and the career counseling programs their colleges offer. What’s more, not all colleges are fortunate enough to have career services departments as comprehensive and professional as the one at Wellesley College. As soon as they leave the comfort of campus, many recent graduates are confronted with the harsh reality that they are ill-equipped to sell themselves to potential employers. According to a national survey, human resource managers think that 85% of entry-level candidates are poorly prepared for the job search process.
Enter D.A. Hayden and her partner, Michael Wilder who are building a business on the idea that these candidates can benefit from professional counseling. “Parents spend so much money on a college education and then leave it to their child, who has never written a resume, interviewed, or even had anything to do with the business world, to land the perfect job without assistance,” says Wilder.
“We weren’t surprised by the findings,” says Hayden, who has hired and trained hundreds of new graduates during her 25-year career in advertising and public relations. “We knew that there was a need for recent college graduates to learn how to package their education and experience and sell it to a prospective employer,” she says.
Hayden and Wilder met over a decade ago at Arnold, a top Boston advertising agency, where they shared a penchant for brand management and an interest in nurturing young talent. But as former hiring managers themselves, they knew that applicants often had trouble getting a foot in the door, making mistakes born of ignorance. “People do crazy things in interviews, like reading comics in the waiting room or forgetting to wear socks,” says Wilder, ticking off two items on a list of interviewing faux pas he has observed over the last 30 years. “But the most common and fatal mistakes are those that reveal their lack of planning, such as not researching the company before the interview, for example,” he says.
Recognizing that their anecdotal experiences were actually part of a national trend, the pair launched Hayden-Wilder last September and began offering clients their own brand of common sense and pragmatic advice. “We’re very candid with our clients,” says Wilder. “We’re practical business people. We give candidates a dose of reality, which they need to market themselves and bridge the gap between college and career.”
Hayden-Wilder clients pay “tuition” and typically attend a series of eight, private, 90-minute counseling sessions upon or just before graduation. “The first session starts with a two-hour questionnaire which we use to assess the candidate’s qualifications along with his or her interests, strengths and weaknesses,” explains Hayden. She points out that candidates are often concerned about their lack of previous job experience and they don’t know how to identify and present their skills. “We often uncover skills that translate well in the job market but that the candidate didn’t recognize as valuable,” she says.
Bob Borden, president of Land Vest, a real estate consulting firm, and father of Hayden Wilder’s first graduate, Rob Borden, was impressed with his son’s transformation. “When Rob finished the program, he had much more confidence in his ability to handle difficult interviewing situations. In fact, I had a friend interview him—someone who puts candidates right up against the wall—and my son came through with flying colors. He wouldn’t have been able to do that right out of school,” said Borden.
By the end of the program, candidates have learned how to build a network of contacts, prospect for job opportunities, and even negotiate salaries. Hayden says it all boils down to educating candidates about appropriate behavior in the professional world. “In the end, we’re teaching life skills—basic manners, grammar, respect and how to respond to someone in an office environment.” Wilder sums it up in two words: confidence building.