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Un- and Under-Employment Awaits Many College Grads


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In a few weeks, long lines of college seniors will cross the stage, turn a tassel and walk into one of the worst job markets in a decade. According to an analysis by the Associated Press, about half of college graduates under the age of 25 were either jobless or underemployed last year, taking jobs as cashiers or barristas to pay the bills.

But that means that at least half did find a job that uses their education. So what works? If you're a recent graduate with a job, well, how did that happen? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne on the NRA, stand your ground and cowed politicians. But first, grads and jobs. Joining us now is a caller, and let's begin with - this is Mandolin, Mandolin with us from Rockford, Illinois.

MANDOLIN: Hi, hello.

CONAN: Hi, what worked?

MANDOLIN: Well, I graduated in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in public relations, and I graduated Saturday, and I started Monday, and I felt very fortunate. And I had an internship that turned into a full-time job offer.

CONAN: And obviously you managed to impress your future employers as an intern, but anything else in particular you could offer as advice to your fellow students who may not be so successful?

MANDOLIN: Yeah, well, I have a brother and a sister in college. So even though I feel fortunate, now I'm almost worried, you know, for them. I have a freshman and a sophomore brother and sister, and so what I've told them is write down every activity that you do so you have an example. Definitely do an internship. And for me, it was networking.

I met my boss, she owned a restaurant. I asked to volunteer for one of her other businesses, and that's how I started working for her. So just be willing to take on something extra, and that's what I'm telling them.

CONAN: No task too demeaning or too small.

MANDOLIN: Exactly.


CONAN: All right, Mandolin, congratulations.

MANDOLIN: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Joining us now on the line from Winnipeg, Manitoba is Marie Artim, the vice president of talent acquisition at Enterprise. She also serves as president of the National Association of Colleges and employers. And nice of you to be with us today.

MARIE ARTIM: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And you are among those who hire new graduates. You see a lot of resumes. Is Mandolin's experience typical, do you think?

ARTIM: I do think so. In fact, that's similar advice to what I would give is keeping an open mind, really thinking through all the different possibilities that are out there early in your career and then networking and making it a little more personal.

CONAN: Making it personal so that - as opposed to that faceless resume people say, oh, yeah, I remember her.

ARTIM: Exactly.

CONAN: And that job as an intern, a lot of people say wait a minute, this is indentured slavery.

ARTIM: Well, believe it or not, most internships are paid, and they're a great way to gain relevant work experience and also, you know, kind of add to that resume and skill set. But even if you can't get an official internship, you can get work experience. It gives you good soft skills that you can share in those examples that Mandolin talked about.

CONAN: So go volunteer if you need to?

ARTIM: Absolutely. If you can afford to do volunteer work, that's great. If you need to work, then how can you take those skills? So if you're a server at a restaurant, you're actually learning some great skills that you can apply in a professional experience, like thinking on your feet and problem-solving and empathy and customer service.

CONAN: So that is relevant experience to a lot of positions and should not be overlooked?

ARTIM: Absolutely, and we find a lot of students leave that off their resumes, thinking that it's not important enough, but it actually - it speaks volumes to their ability to - and to their work ethic. So not only their ability to do different skills.

CONAN: And also it helps explain that gap between graduation and now.

ARTIM: Absolutely.

CONAN: As you do a lot of hiring, are you hiring this year?

ARTIM: We are hiring this year. We are hiring into our internship program for the summer, and we'll also hire about 8,500 people across the U.S. into our management training program.

CONAN: And when you do that, where do you go to look for new employees?

ARTIM: You know, we look at all sources and all different ways to find people. We certainly have a strong presence on campus at about 800 universities across the country, and on top of that, we look to our employees. A large source of our hires are referrals from other employees.

CONAN: So you send the net out pretty wide?

ARTIM: We do.

CONAN: And we mentioned this is a tough market. Are you hiring more than last year or less?

ARTIM: We're steady from last year.

CONAN: Steady, so that suggests it wasn't great last year, and it's not going to be great this year.

ARTIM: Actually, we've been hiring in good numbers. Our business is doing well, and we're growing. So we - amongst other businesses out there are actually doing some significant hiring at the entry level, college level.

CONAN: OK, let's see if we can get another caller on the conversation. Let's go to Mary, Mary with us from Birmingham.

MARY: Hey, how are you doing, Neal?

CONAN: Well, thank you.

MARY: Thanks. I just wanted to make a comment about the kind of experience that I'm having as a recent graduate. I just graduated in December from a local university with a political science degree, hoping to be able to break into the nonprofit field. But what I was saying is that it's a little bit difficult, from my experience.

And I've done at least 40 interviews, and I'm being turned down just about everywhere. And I think, like the original caller said, you want to blame yourself and think that it's something you're doing because you just don't have any success. But I think really for me, what I'm hearing the most is that I'm overqualified for positions that I'm completely willing to take, such as being a receptionist or doing administrative work, but I'm not qualified enough, only having a college degree, for positions, you know, in the nonprofit field, in the nonprofit sector that I'd like to join into. It's really creating a big problem for me.

CONAN: And what do employers say when, you know, I'd be happy to work as a receptionist and hopefully work my way up?

MARY: I think a lot of it is the fear that you're going to leave. So companies are afraid to hire and put money and time investing into you as a receptionist, knowing that you don't have intentions of staying in that position. I think they'd really prefer to hire someone who, you know, that's what they want to do, that's what they're really, really good at, and that's where their skill set lies, and they are not interested in leaving in a year or two, even if it's within the same company.

CONAN: All right, Marie Artim, is there - there was once such a thing as the entry level job that you worked your way up out of, hopefully. Is that a thing of the past?

ARTIM: Funny that you should ask me that. At Enterprise, we promote pretty much entirely from within. So our management training program that I just spoke of is intended to bring people into our business, give them a chance to learn to run a business, learn a lot of different skills and then really kind of guide their career based on their skills, their qualifications, what they're strong at.

You know, I started as a management trainee a while back and, you know, so did our CEO, COO. So there are plenty of companies still out there that look at it that way. I think that's back to that whole idea of an open mind. So if the specific job you want today may not be available to you, what are some paths or some skill sets that you can learn to help you get there?

CONAN: So Mary, what are you doing in the meantime?

MARY: Right now I've got a little bit of success doing just some temporary work. I went to an employment agency, and they were able to find a part-time job doing technical writing for a local engineering firm, and I'm really loving the people there. But, you know, it doesn't pay enough. We have a two-year-old daughter. I'm getting married in May, and there are certain things that you need. You'd love to be able to do an internship to get an experience or start at a really low, entry-level position.

But at the same time, when you have a family, there are certain qualifications for a job you have to accept that have to be met.

CONAN: Well, Mary, good luck with the job search, and congratulations on the wedding.

MARY: Well, thank you so much, Neal, have a great day.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Joining us now from member station WVTF in Charlottesville, Virginia, is William Holland, the author of "Cracking the New Job Market: The Seven Rules for Getting Hired in Any Economy." He's also founder of R. William Holland Consulting, a firm that focuses on job searches and career management. It's nice to have you with us today.

WILLIAM HOLLAND: Well, it's certainly nice to be here.

CONAN: And looking at recent graduates, what's going to work for them?

HOLLAND: Well, I think it's really important that the job market is getting better, but we're telling graduates that they shouldn't fool themselves. Be optimistic, but don't relax because the truth of the matter is that the job market as we knew it a few years ago is now today and forevermore changed. And unless they understand that, unless they entered the job market with what I think is a new mindset, they're going to get stuck in the same ruts and be subject to the same economic ups and downs that they're experiencing right now.

And that new mindset is of critical importance.

CONAN: And the new mindset means take what you can while you can and keep an eye out for maybe something better?

HOLLAND: Well close, but that's not exactly what I'm talking about. I think the first thing that people need to understand, that their resumes today, unlike previous years, your resume is not about you. And that's a big change. Your resume is about what people want from you. And unless you understand in great detail what other people, what the hiring company wants, you're going to find it difficult to land in this job market.

And you can find that out by studying the position descriptions that they use to describe the jobs that they're hiring for.

CONAN: And then craft your resume to fit their requirements.

HOLLAND: Craft your resume to fit their requirements. Craft your experiences, craft your accomplishments, craft the way you approach the job market in general to what they need from you and not what you need.

CONAN: And keep it all on one page.


HOLLAND: Actually, that's going a little bit by the wayside. We encourage people to keep it on one page. The truth of the matter is you can spillover into two, but we encourage people to use one.

CONAN: Well, it's hard to list all the members of the Nobel committee that sent you that award on just one page.


CONAN: So, but the other part is of course to keep it - your expectations within reason? Wait a minute. Shouldn't you be shooting for the moon?

HOLLAND: You can always shoot for the moon, but you've got to keep your feet on the ground. And keeping your feet on the ground means that you've got to take advantage of opportunities that exist. And you do that by focusing on what those opportunities are, not on what they will be.

CONAN: All right, let's see if we can get another caller in on the conversation. Let's go to Carly, Carly with us from Houston.


CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, go ahead.

CARLY: Oh, hi.

CONAN: You're on the air, Carly. What's your story?

CARLY: Oh, when I got out of school, I actually went into waitressing. Well, I should say I continued a waitressing job until I found a company that I was really interested in. And then I sent them an email with all of my resume and my portfolio to their general contacts line, and actually because I was so enthusiastic and so passionate about what they were doing, things connected, and I've been working for them for a year.

CONAN: And what kind of a job is it?

CARLY: I'm a toy designer.

CONAN: Really?


CONAN: Is that what you hoped to be when you graduated?

CARLY: It's exactly what I hoped to be.

CONAN: Well, you have shot for the moon, and the eagle has landed.

CARLY: It absolutely has. I'm lucky, I'm really lucky.

CONAN: Well, Carly, thanks very much, congratulations.

CARLY: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking about recent graduates and the job market, said to be one of the toughest in many years. Well, if you've gotten a job, or if you're looking to get one, what works? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. College graduates still do better and earn more, over the long term or on average than those without a degree. The jobless rate for those over 25 with a degree stood at 4.2 percent in March. That compares with 8.2 percent overall. Getting that all-important first job out of college, though, remains a challenge.

It may help to pick a major that's in high demand. The Daily Beast recently compiled a list of the 13 most useless college majors. Among them: drama, architecture, philosophy, political science and - I'm sad to say - journalism. We've posted a link to the full list at our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

If you're a recent graduate who did get a job, well, how did that happen? Give us a call, tell us what works, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are Bill Holland, he wrote the book "Cracking the New Job Market: The Seven Rules for Getting Hired in Any Economy"; and Marie Artim, vice president of talent acquisition at Enterprise. She serves also as president of the National Association of Colleges and Employers. And let's see if we can get another caller in on the conversation. Let's go to - this is Dave(ph), Dave with us from Miami.

DAVE: Hey.

CONAN: Hi, Dave.

DAVE: How's it going?

CONAN: Not too bad. What's up?

DAVE: Neal, can I have a job?


DAVE: I really need a job, man.

CONAN: Are you working in radio?

DAVE: No, unfortunately no.

CONAN: And what kind of work are you looking for, though?

DAVE: Writing or journalism.

CONAN: And what degree did you graduate with, a journalism degree?

DAVE: Communications.

CONAN: Same kind of a deal. And what have you been doing?

DAVE: Freelancing.

CONAN: I hate to make such a recommendation on such short acquaintance, but you could try longer answers.


DAVE: OK. Well - no, I just write, you know, from time to time, and...

CONAN: For money?

DAVE: Yes, I do write for money, but it's not enough to live on.

CONAN: So you're freelancing at the moment, that's a part of almost every journalist's resume that I know.

HOLLAND: Let me say something to the caller because...

CONAN: Bill Holland, go ahead.

HOLLAND: Thank you. I think he's missing perhaps a very important point, and Tom Freidman talked about it in an editorial in the New York Times recently, and it's that it used to be that if you had a college degree, you had a job if you wanted one. And today, the truth of the matter is average is over. You can't come out and get a job because you need a job.

You get a job because you're good at something. You're - you are more than average. You are a tiger at what you want to do. And it's up to you to demonstrate that. That's the new job market. And no longer can we just, you know, hope that it's going to come our way. You've really got to go get it, and that has a lot of implications about how you approach the job market.

CONAN: And I have to say Dave, impressing people as a freelance can lead to a job.

DAVE: I'm hoping it will someday.

CONAN: All right, good luck.

DAVE: Thanks.

CONAN: All right, appreciate the phone call. Marie Artim, I wanted to bring you back into the conversation. Going after it, all those impressive things, do you hire people with communications degrees, journalism degrees, philosophy degrees? What are you looking for when you hire?

ARTIM: Sure, we actually do hire people from all different degrees, but it's people who no matter what the degree are interested in an opportunity in business and management or leadership because that's the opportunity we have available.

So we have plenty of great success stories that are communications majors or communications degrees, but those who are passionate about writing may not find their niche with us. But those that do that and use those skills as a way to then develop their leadership and their problem-solving and their flexibility in their communication, to take that and be successful in the business world, we have a training program to help them to kind of hone those skills and develop that into something they can use.

CONAN: And how would somebody with a communications degree communicate those abilities to you in a resume?

ARTIM: I think very similar to what William said. I agree, you know, wholeheartedly with a lot of what he shared. And that resume has to be about your accomplishments, your results and how they communicate to the job you're trying to get. So, you know, someone with a communications degree that's been involved in activities on campus, philanthropies, jobs while they're going to school that involve any type of business skill, any type of communication, leadership or management of a project, those are going to be transferable no matter what type of background you're going towards.

CONAN: All right, let's see if we can get another caller in. Jacob's(ph) on the line from Denver.

JACOB: Hi, I ended up getting a job overseas because it was so difficult. I graduated in May 2009, and I couldn't find a job, and so I went to the big trade show for bicycles. And so I ended up working in Taiwan to try to get a job.

CONAN: So you outsourced your own job?

JACOB: I did, I did. I outsourced my own job. I found myself in a foreign country and didn't know the language, and, you know, all those skills worked really well for, you know, jobs after that.

CONAN: So landing that first job, even at some remove, made it difficult to visit your parents' house, I assume, for Thanksgiving


CONAN: But in other respects it's worked out. The first job proved to be a key.

JACOB: It was. It really was. And I went to the trade show in the U.S., Interbike, it's a big bicycle trade show, because I wanted to work and do that. And the only people that were hiring were in Taiwan. So I went over there.

CONAN: What part of the bicycle business are you in?

JACOB: Well, I design bicycle pedals and components and all sorts of stuff because the company that I work for in Taiwan was huge. They just made parts for everybody. But they didn't have any of the design ability. So I helped them out with that.

CONAN: And are you still working for them, or did you get a job...

JACOB: No, I ended up getting a job in the States, and that just looked so great on the resume. You know, I was able to really move ahead.

CONAN: Bill Holland, that's an important point: Doing something as adventurous as that is going to stick out on the next resume.

HOLLAND: Absolutely. In fact, in anticipation of coming on this program, I set down and wrote out what a good lead-in to a resume might look like, if in fact you can back it up with accomplishments. And a good lead-in might sound something like this: Computer literate, graduating honors college senior with proven communication, team-building and leadership skills, who has been able to make a difference under challenging circumstances in communities in which she has volunteered and worked.

That, if you can put that forward like that and back it up with what you're doing and promise to do, that'll open a lot of eyes and a lot of opportunities.

CONAN: Jacob, thanks very much for the call, and continued good luck.

JACOB: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email from Jeb(ph): When graduating, it's a good idea to join the national trade association, if there is one, that represents your chosen profession. Most have job exchanges on their websites. Many of their employees are willing to help young graduates network. Marie Artim, is that right?

ARTIM: I would - yes, any way that you can find a way to network, meet people in that field or connected to it that they may not have the job, but they can at least help you make it personal again so that it's not just throwing a resume out there into, you know, a job board or, you know, just anywhere out there and hoping someone sees it.

CONAN: Network, everybody talks about it, what does it actually mean?

ARTIM: For me, networking is just, you know, making those connections, having a conversation. It can be virtual. It can be an email conversation. You can do it even through a LinkedIn, but, you know, something like that. But if you're making the connection where you have something in common, or you have an interest that you share or a connection that you share that allows you to get someone that's kind of an influencer, someone on your side as you go through this.

CONAN: OK, let's see if we can get Rachel(ph) on the line, Rachel's with us from Detroit.

RACHEL: Hello?

CONAN: Hi, you're on air, go ahead, please.

RACHEL: Hi, I graduated with a degree in English and sociology, and it took me a year and a half of working, you know, 10 or less hours a week in my field and waiting tables on the side before I ended up actually getting a referral to work at General Motors. So my degree, I couldn't find anything that was exactly, you know, what I had been looking for in either of those fields, but having the degree at all put me in a much better position to, you know, get hired in at one of the Big Three, which in Detroit, we're - it's still kind of a big deal.

CONAN: So that referral, where did you get that from?

RACHEL: My boyfriend's father works at the location that I do, and when - after the bankruptcy, they finally decided that they were going to be able to hire a couple hundred new people for an entry-level position. So we went through a process with, you know, standardized testing and phone interviews, things like that, until we got hired. And then after that, we were able to go through an apprenticeship program in order to move up, you know, to the next tier of employees. And I got to do that, too. So I'm in pretty great shape now...



RACHEL: But yeah, it definitely, it was pretty worrying for a while. But I'm glad that I went to college. You know, I think that especially with the English degree, I took a lot of classes about things like resume writing and being able to put yourself out there, and it gave me a lot more confidence to get through that...

CONAN: Well...

RACHEL: ...you know, interviewing process.


CONAN: Again, congratulations. And I - we'll all be working for you one day.


RACHEL: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Yeah. Thanks, Rachel. And networking, Bill Holland, that's an example. Family members, that's an important part of the network.

HOLLAND: Oh, absolutely. In fact, the truth of the matter is job leads can come from anybody at any level. So I encourage you to don't write anybody off. People from all walks of life are connected in strange and wondrous ways. So I encourage all of you to network and to let people know that you're out there looking.

CONAN: Here's a couple of emails that are related. This from Holly: I'm a career adviser for young adults who complete technical, vocational training programs. Jobs and fields such as welding, fabricating and other industrial trades are booming in certain parts of the Great Plains. I think young adults should start considering nontraditional trades that don't require a four-year degree. There are jobs available. Employers are looking. And this from Steven in Greenville, South Carolina: I actually dropped out of college my junior year, because it was obvious there were not many options for work after college.

I picked up a skilled trade - commercial roofing. And I've worked my way up to being a tech rep. I interviewed against college grads and in my field - and my field experience was more valuable than a degree. I'm happy I made the decision. And, Bill Holland, I guess, there are alternatives, but, you know, an awful lot of people want to get that degree and then move ahead.

HOLLAND: The - that's right. And I do think that that's important for people to do that. I recently encountered a young lady who had gone to a community college to become a physician's assistant. And I said, you know, tell me about your career. And long story short, she left high school with two children, which is a difficult mountain to climb over. And she then went on to community college, got her degree and got an internship, and that keeps coming back. That's a big thing.

And she said, but I understood that that the internship by itself would not land me a job. So I made sure of one thing, she said, I made sure that I did a better job every day, day in and day out, than any of the other interns there. So that when the one job came open, I was the obvious choice. And she has been working at that, now, for several years. So it's just, you know, it's called accomplish something. Average is over.

CONAN: And here...

HOLLAND: You've got to distinguish yourself.

CONAN: ...an email just to buttress your point, from Jason in Saint Paul: I would never had landed my current low pay but fantastic job at a museum if I had not both interned and volunteered there first. It gave me a huge advantage. We're talking with Bill Holland, who's the author of "Cracking the New Job Market: The 7 Rules for Getting Hired in Any Economy." Also with us, Marie Artim, who's the vice president of talent acquisition at Enterprise, current president of the National Association of Colleges and Employers. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And this is Joseph. Joseph calling us from Pittsburgh.

JOSEPH: Hello.

CONAN: You're on the air, Joseph.

JOSEPH: Hey. My name is Joseph Glover(ph). I'm from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So I graduated from Goucher College in 2008. And at first, you know, I did the Craigslist thing, the Monster.com thing, you know, all that jazz, and I found nothing. And I finally landed a line-cook job at a small little cafe in Baltimore, Maryland. And, well, before that, let me just start by saying me and friends, in college, we created a little game that somehow spread to hundreds and hundreds of universities around the world. So we were trying to monetize that, so we're going to start a company there. But, obviously, we can't just pay ourselves with, you know, the money that we don't have.

CONAN: Right.

JOSEPH: So we were looking for side work and, hopefully, ones within our field. And so that didn't end up happening with the line-cook work. So then I ended up moving to Pittsburgh with my girlfriend, and there I heard that there's, you know, a tech world booming, and I still found nothing. So I got another line-cook job. And after about two years of looking, I finally landed a decent IT job that was, you know, flexible enough for me to do both my own company and that. So maybe, I guess, I'm a success story, but I guess, the key is not to get discouraged.

CONAN: Sure doesn't sound easy.

JOSEPH: No, not at all.

CONAN: And, Marie...

JOSEPH: And you learn never to turn off (unintelligible) which is kind of a shame.

CONAN: That's kind of a shame. But on the other hand, maybe it's good experience for the tough world that's going to be out there, because few of us these days end up staying in the same company our entire careers.


CONAN: But I just wanted to thank you very much for the call and good luck there in Pittsburgh, Joseph. Marie Artim, I just wanted to ask you, have you ever hired anybody from Monster.com or from Craigslist?

ARTIM: We have. Yes, we've had - hired. Over the years, we've hired thousands of people from Monster. We still do hire from that site. And it's part of that casting a wide net. And we do actually post some of our positions, locally, through Craigslist and find some of the - especially some professional opportunities that actually some of the other opportunities as well, that do well in that venue.

CONAN: So don't listen to the advice that nobody ever gets a job via Monster.com. Here's an email from Jennifer in Minnesota. I graduated with a B.S. in biology in December - wildlife management - and a minor in geographic information science. I've been applying for jobs since then, and I've only been asked to two interviews. It's now late April. I've applied over 100 positions. I'm getting frustrated. I'm applying for internships within my field and for jobs outside my field of study. I'm applying to market research jobs rather than wildlife. I'm applying to jobs outside of my state. This process is really exhausting. Thank you for airing this show, but I need more advice. Bill Holland, any words you can send to Jennifer?

HOLLAND: Well, I - go to the library - note, I didn't say buy it - but, literally, go to the library and get a copy of "Cracking the New Job Market" because what I don't hear people saying is - I hear people say and I'm looking for a job, but I don't hear people saying this is what I've accomplished. And it really is about what you've accomplished. And until you start focusing on that and translating what you've done into the value you can create for the hiring institution, it's going to be a long ride because there are just more people out there than there are jobs.

And so you've got to stand head and shoulders above others. And so ask yourself the question, what have I done and where I've done it, so that I can make that claim. And that's a big part of landing a job.

CONAN: Bill Holland, thanks very much for your time today.

HOLLAND: Thank you.

CONAN: Bill Holland, founder of R. William Holland Consulting, focusing on job searching and career management, with us from member station WVTF in Charlottesville. Marie Artim, thank you for your time today.

ARTIM: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And Marie Artim, vice president of talent acquisition at Enterprise. We'll end with this email from Sarah. Despite The Daily Beast's list of useless majors, I double-majored in journalism and political science, and I've been working in journalism - newspapers, no less - since I graduated in 2009 - a dismal year. So you can go against that advice too. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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