Why College Grads Still Can’t Find a Job

by Don Asher

I was recently on a radio show in Los Angeles, and one college student after another called in to say that they had followed all the rules and still couldn’t find a job. They had good grades and logical career plans, they had gotten the two internships (or at least one), and they were just flummoxed by this job market.

Their pain was palpable. They were trying desperately to make their educations pay off in a job, and they were getting absolutely nowhere. And worst of all, they were now dumped into the job market as recent college grads, competing directly with people with years of experience in every targeted field.

So what were they doing wrong? Or perhaps a better way to phrase it might be: What could they do differently to result in greater success in this admittedly tough job market?

One of the biggest errors jobseekers make is to spend all their time looking for work online. This generation is particularly comfortable with online processes. They socialize online, they get movie tickets and romantic dates and all their news and information strictly from online sources, so they expect that a job search works the same way. It doesn’t. There’s a critical missing part, that last little link in the chain, and that is when one human connects with another human, IRL.

That has to happen before they apply for a job, otherwise they’re just dumping their information into a databank with hundreds if not thousands of other applicants. It goes without saying that in this job market, dozens of those other applicants are going to have more experience, a better alma mater, higher grades, a classier home address, a better choice of fonts, and so on, than they have.
So applying for jobs online, from the safety of a mom’s basement, night after night, is unlikely to result in a hire. It’s comfortable, and insulates the jobseeker from personal rejection, but it’s simply not that effective.

“Having good grades and doing an internship is not enough,” says Justin McCummings, associate director of undergraduate career services at Boston University’s school of management. “Online can be a great starting point, but that face-to-face communication has to take place. Someone has to know about you, and know your story. I like to say it’s not who you know, but who knows you.

This is confirmed by some compelling new research by CareerXroads, an international recruiting strategy consultancy based in New Jersey. Their research is designed to help corporate HR functions be more effective at staffing, but it has implications for jobseekers. They sourced 309,600 hires at large American and Canadian companies to discover how successful new hires engage employers. Their data are absolutely fascinating. Here’s what they found:

External Sources of New Hires*

Employee Referrals


Corporate Web Site


Job Boards


Direct Sourcing


College Recruiting


Print Advertising


Search Engine Marketing


Career Fairs / Open Houses




Employment Agencies




Walk Ins


All Others


*Does not add up to 100% due to rounding. Adapted from “Sources of Hire (2008): Current Data, Trends, Opportunities and Challenges for 2009,” www.CareerXroads.com.

What does this mean? It means that the majority of hiring takes place IRL. Not only that, the easy-to- get jobs are found IRL.

Here’s why: If a placement is made from a job board or the corporate web site--in other words, 100% online--the winning candidate has to beat hundreds of other applicants. But hiring managers prefer to hire prospective employees who have been referred by current employees. This bias in favor of personal referral is huge. According to CareerXroads research, employers don’t require many referrals to make a hire. About one third makes a hire for every four referrals, another third makes a hire for every 10 referrals. So instead of competing with hundreds of candidates, most of those with a personal connection are competing with a handful!

“Never, ever, apply without having an employee refer you,” says Gerry Crispin, a global staffing guru and one of the principals in CareerXroads. “It is profoundly important to know that most organizations, for any specific opening, do not get that many referrals. Think about it as a lottery. Which lottery do you invest in? The one with a one-in-ten chance of winning? Or one with a one-in-fifty or one-in-five-hundred chance? The reward is the same either way. It’s a job.”

This perspective confirms the wisdom of networking through alumni and friends and family connections. Anyone can marry online and offline resources to maximum effect, says Crispin. “With Facebook, LinkedIn, my college alumni association, and my professional associations like SHRM, which has a member directory, there’s no company I can’t get an employee referral to inside of an hour.” Current employees win kudos for referring a new hire, so as long as a candidate is sane and presentable, they’re usually willing to do it.

Networking works, and it works best. CareerXroads research confirms it. The ultimate IRL experience is a networking lunch, but emails, IMs, phone calls, texts, tweets, pokes and pings will all work, too. In any case, a jobseeker has to stop talking to web sites and start talking to people.

So, college grads, modify your efforts, get out of that basement, and make some connections.

BIO:  Donald Asher is the author of eleven books on careers and higher education, including How to Get Any Job: Life Launch and Re-Launch for Everyone Under 30 and Graduate Admissions Essays, the best-selling guide to the graduate admissions process; as well as The Overnight Resume: Fastest Way to Your Next Job, Cracking the Hidden Job Market, and Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t and Why. He welcomes your comments at don@donaldasher.com or visit his web site at www.donaldasher.com. © 2010 Asher Associates.


© 2017 Asher Associates. Permission for any individual to use as needed. For institutional or company permission, contact don@donaldasher.com.

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