December 31, 2009: The Wall Street Journal’s lead story proclaims that 2009 was a banner year for stocks. This is great news for parents paying for their children’s increasingly expensive college education from hard-earned savings. Yet the good economic news disguises an ugly fact: unemployment figures continued to rise throughout 2009, only flattening out towards the end of the year. And, none of the experts expect a significant improvement in the employment picture anytime soon.
Based on my reading of the statistical tea leaves, along with anecdotal data from clients, I have five predictions each for college students, and for the career services offices that help them figure out and find their futures.
1) For the foreseeable future, it will be a buyer’s market for employers, not new college graduates. You won’t be able to “ride out” the poor economy—whether you’re a senior or a freshman. Building a career focus and skills early in your college career will be key.
2) A good GPA and a good school will no longer guarantee a good job. You’ll need relevant internships or jobs to prove that you can do the work you say you’re qualified to do.
3) Liberal arts students who are not at the top of the class may get left behind in the employment game. The less your major relates to your career field of choice, the more relevant experience and effective career strategies you’ll need.
4) You won’t find your job sitting in front of a computer. Forget job boards—except to get a sense of the kinds of organizations that are hiring. Success will only come to those who find a way to use connections to get their foot in the door, and who know how to exploit social media.
5) Students will need professional career help. Few students have sufficient background or training to understand how to achieve career goals, and your first interview may be the one that really counts. Expert advice on career strategy and thinking like an employer will be essential.
College careers offices
1) The number of employers signing up for career fairs will increase in 2010—a welcome budget boost for cash-strapped careers offices. But the number of interns and new grads sought by employers will not significantly increase from last year.
2) Career services budgets will remain flat, or sustain even further cuts. The careers office that doesn’t change will become increasingly marginalized.
3) The careers office that identifies ways to provide better services at lower costs will be the one that gets the positive attention of senior university leadership.
4) More partnerships will be formed between the careers office and academic advising, alumni affairs, and enrollment management, reflecting the importance of graduate success to other parts of a college or university.
5) Careers offices with diminished staff will struggle to provide the breadth and depth of services required by students and alumni in a difficult economy. Success in meeting client needs will require a different approach to career volunteers, partnerships, and outsourcing.