Job Fair 18 June 2012
Job applicants at a job fair in the United States. Reuters

Most recent college grads, as well as those about to graduate in a few weeks, realize that the U.S. job market is a challenging one, to put it diplomatically.

And don't let April's U.S. job report - in which the U.S. economy created a better-than-expected 165,000 jobs in April - fool you. The U.S.’ job deficit -- about 9 million jobs -- is likely to keep the job market super-competitive for both recent grads and experienced professionals -- for at least the next two years, barring the reappearance of “Roaring 90s” GDP growth.

Consider: According to research compiled by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington, D.C.-based think tank, to get back to the U.S.’ prerecession unemployment rate in three years -- by the end of 2015 -- the U.S. economy would have to add about 330,000 jobs per month! And that’s a much faster rate of job growth than 2012, when the world’s largest and most technologically advanced economy created only 153,000 new jobs per month.

With the aforementioned data in mind, what can recent college graduates -- those young and young at heart -- adjust to the brave new world of employment?

1-Accept a job offer you typically would not. This is not your father’s economy. In the current job market, scarcity is a reality. Even strong Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley grads are accepting less-attractive positions, ones they would typically ignore in a stronger economy.

That kick-down has affected the job food chain, if you will, which means grads from less-elite universities and colleges will have to do the same. (Unless you’re related to New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg or real estate mogul Donald Trump, of course.) Hence, consider a position you typically wouldn’t, just to hone some skills and remain connected to the work force.

Further, in addition to keeping some skills sharp, that less-than-preferred job will widen your professional contact network. You’d be surprised at how many recent grads obtained their preferred job via a contact at their current undesired job -- either through a tip from a colleague, or even via a contact with a supplier of the company.

2-Go lateral, go wide. With fewer jobs available, you have to expand your potential opportunities by increasing the number of fields you’ll consider. Example: If you’re a public relations/communications major who wants to work for a p.r. firm, but could not secure the post, consider all lateral positions. Try to apply your skills in health care communications -- health care is one U.S. sector that’s adding jobs and will continue to do so. Another growth field: oil/natural gas and oil/natural gas services. There’s a saying, early in this postmodern era: “There’s a surplus of everything, except doctors and oil/natural gas workers.” That says it all about the prospects for the health care and energy services sectors for at least the next decade. Also: consider communications posts in non-profit organizations -- they don’t pay as much as for-profit corporations, but you’ll still gain valuable p.r. experience.

3-Be tactfully bold. Within reason, try to impress a potential employer, without letting the company exploit you. Tell a few hiring officials -- try to speak with a department manager -- that you’re willing to work the first two weeks for free to let them evaluate you thoroughly and enable you to demonstrate your worth. True, offering a company free services is not without risk -- but at the very least, you can list that real-world experience on your resume. Further, more than one employer, after seeing a college grad perform well for free, has concluded, ‘Hey, this woman is talented and ambitious. What are we waiting for? Let’s hire her.’

4-Relocating may help. Next, consider moving to another region of the United States. However, this qualifer cannot be underscored enough: You must have secured a job that pays a salary you can live on in the region you move to. Don’t move to a new area assuming you’ll “find something.” Unless you have an allowance from parents to sponsor you in the big city, or your Aunt Frances is willing to provide room and board while you look for work, moving cold (without a job) to a new region is a lifestyle mistake waiting to happen. That said, by increasing the number of regions you’re willing to work in, you substantially increase your job prospects. In other words, a recent graduate with an accounting degree who's willing to work in Miami, Kansas City, Seattle or Boston is more likely to land a job than a similar grad who's only willing to work in Denver, all other factors being equal.

5-There is always graduate/professional school. Finally, if the job market looks ridiculously tight in your city/region, keep in mind you can always return to school to seek an advanced degree/additional training. Ignore what you hear about the cost of advanced training: it is high, but it always was high. However, the knowledge, skills and experiences you gain will increase your market value. And here’s the bonus: the opportunity cost for returning to graduate school is low. In their first year, only a low percentage of recent college grads will land their "dream job," given current economic conditions. Hence, now is a good time to learn those new skills.

The Sky Is The Limit

One can not sugarcoat it: It's still an employers' market, with roughly three job seekers for every job opening.

The only jobs reserved for anyone are for the rarified few, perhaps via family business or other close connections.

For all the rest, it pays to heed the mantra:

Stay flexible, stay positive, persevere, and keep graduate school in mind, and you’ll be on your way to that job you deserve and will attain, robust U.S. economy or not.