5 Reasons Recent Grads Get a Failing Grade at Job Search

Grads Get Failing Grade“I’ve been sending out my resume for months and not hearing anything back.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a recent grad call with that exact same statement. It’s practically epidemic – and certainly a symptom of bigger issues.

At last count, nearly 4 out of 10 new grads under the age of 25 are unemployed or underemployed. The word we’re using for this now is “mal-employment.”

What’s discouraging is that many give up the job search far too soon, and settle for one to two other options:

  • Taking a part time, low-wage job to create some level of sustainable income
  • Consider taking on more debt by going back to grad school

To both these options, my response: “Not yet!”

Why? Because many grads haven’t yet in the work to overcome the systemic issues which created their conundrum in the first place: A job search does take work. There is no “easy button.”

That’s not an indictment of the quality, intelligence or character of our new grads out there. It’s a reflection of the market, and the skill sets that need to be developed to win in that market. For many, those skills are far different from what it took to win in an the environment our graduates have been raised and how they, to this point, have been measured: academics. In fact, the skills they need in the real world are typically not learned in an academic setting.

Here are more reasons new grads are failing the job search test… and how to get them back on track:

1:  Treating the Job Search as a Transaction Rather Than a Long-term Project

A well-constructed job search is really a personal marketing project; where grads are the product. Many grads, most in my opinion, don’t look at the job search this way. They treat it as a transactional activity in which they are waiting for someone to offer them something… sometimes anything.

They think: “Oh, I submitted a resume, therefore I am conducting a job search” and “I applied for a job online; therefore I am working on my career.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. They are not job searching, or career starting, or marketing. They are transaction processing… they do a little thing, like put their money down on the counter for a purchase… and they expect something in return.

To be successful in the job search, however, grads need to construct a detailed, multi-faceted project plan that will take them from where they are now, to where they want to be soon.

2:  They Have a Short Term Mindset

All a good project manager will say: every project has a “schedule”. Many grads, though, approach their job search with unrealistic expectations of what this schedule should be. Take into account the latest stats which indicate a job search in the US takes an average of 22 weeks and ask yourself

What have our students done in 16 to 20 years of academics that has lasted 22 weeks?

The answer, for most, is nothing. School calendars are diced into periods, quarters, mods, semesters, and seasons. Virtually none of them extend to 22 weeks. Grads come out with a mindset that life happens in 90-day increments, or thereabouts. They aren’t mentally prepared for the long-haul journey that is a job search in today’s market.

Often I hear this relayed in a comment from a parent: “My daughter sends out five applications online every day, doesn’t hear back, and then has a meltdown on Friday.”

Grads need to build realistic expectations into how long a job search can last. That way, when you don’t get a job at the end of week one, you know there is no need to panic.

3:  They Don’t Understand They’re in the Self-Promotion Business

Because the job search is really about the marketing process, grads in any major would do well to take a course in marketing at some point in their collegiate careers. In class, they would learn that every marketing task begins with understanding the “product”. What you offer, who will want it, how you’ll add value. Next step is to identify potential customers (in this case, employers) who will buy what you are marketing.

Therefore a successful job search strategy requires that the grad:

  • Markets – identifies the potential employers who would be a good mutual fit for acquiring them as talent
  • Sells – turn those employers into buyers by convincing them to hire the gread

All the messages, documents, and interview prep a new grad develops must focus on marketing what they have to offer in all of their materials. And then they must be ready to sell, to close the deal. Yet very are prepared to promote, then sell, themselves.

4:  Their Self-Awareness Tank is Nearly Empty

How many times in the academic process do we ask students to describe themselves? Yet, this is the hallmark first question of many interviews, and a great metaphor for the job search in general:

“So, tell me about yourself.”

Whoa! This is a whole new level of self-awareness that grads do not learn in school.

In job search preparation I often ask clients to describe themselves, and I can tell immediately that many simply haven’t done that kind of homework. Frankly, they’ve never needed to. How does this show up in the job search? Well, everywhere:

  • It’s difficult to develop a job search strategy when you don’t know who you are, what you are looking for, and the kind of work you might find satisfying
  • It’s hard to write a resume when you don’t know how to describe yourself
  • It’s impossible to succeed at an interview when you can’t translate who you are and what you offer into a “value proposition” for an employer
  • It’s difficult to answer the question, “Why should I hire you?” when you don’t really know why an employer should (other than it would put money in your bank account)

Grads need to get clear on their identity and messaging before they can construct good marketing materials and be ready to answer the “tell me about yourself” question!

5:  They Don’t See Things From the Employer Perspective

One of the biggest misconceptions grads have about the job search is that it’s about finding work they love to do. “Follow your passion” they are told. And I agree, in Nirvana that would be awesome. But grads also need to understand what it’s like to be a hiring manger, and what that hiring manager is looking for:

  • They are NOT looking to provide grads the opportunity to make their dreams come true.
  • They ARE looking for smart, likable people who will fit into the organization and help them solve their business problems

See, no mention of “dream job” or “passion”… when that happens, those are just icing on the cake.

The crux of the effective job search strategy is to present the seller (job seeker) as someone who is capable of helping the buyer (employer) solve his or her business problems.

That’s it. If grads think about their job search strategy this way, then fundamentally they will start asking different questions.

  • They will stop asking: “How can I find a job that pays a lot and that I love?”
  • And they will start asking: “Who has a problem that I love solving, and how do I find them?”

The job search landscape for new grads is challenging right now, there’s no doubt. But after working with and talking to hundreds of young adults I’m sure of one thing: it’s not all about the economy, or really bad resumes, or a poor education system that isn’t teaching our young talent how to win in the workplace. And that starts with these five reasons recent grads are failing at job search… all five of which, with some reality-based education, are easy to fix!

Its time to stop the epidemic. We must help new grads develop the skills, the mindset and the strategy to get them successfully from college, to career… and help them earn the future they deserve.





For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Degrees of Transition!


Degrees of Transition


Lea McLeodAbout the Author: Lea McLeod is author of the Resume Coloring Book. Check it out if you are struggling with writing your resume in today’s job market. She’s also founder of the Job Success Lab so that you can GO PRO in any job! Follow her on Twitter and her blog: DegreesofTransition.com.



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