The Biggest Fears for the Newest Job Seekers

Jada A. Graves
May 15, 2014
The Biggest Fears for the Newest Job Seekers

What a difference a few college years makes. Not long ago, you were a freshman with fears about clogged course loads, psycho roommates and the mythic freshman 15. Now, you're graduating and job hunting. You still have fears, but they're more consequential.

Here are some of those top fears about entering the job market, plus tips for overcoming them.

I won't find a job. First, the bad news. Job searching takes time, so you're better off beginning your hunt many months before the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" begin to play. According to Paul McDonald, senior executive director of the specialized staffing firm Robert Half International, it's a numbers game -- the more you apply and interview, the greater your chances of finding a job you want. "Job search the way you would study for an exam or work on a paper that's due, and devote an hour or so to it each day," he says. "Don't wait until the last minute to begin cramming."

But breathe easy; there's also good news. Graduates from a bevy of fields should have bright job prospects. The Labor Department reports an unemployment rate of just over 3 percent in April for those with a bachelor's degree or higher and highlights job creation in the professional and business services sector, as well as health care, retail and wholesale trade. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' annual job outlook report, employers expect to hire 7.8 percent more graduates from the class of 2014 than they did from the previous graduating class. They're particularly looking for graduates who studied business, engineering, computer and information science, general science and communications.

[See: The 22 Best Business Jobs of 2014.]

I will find a job. The flip side of the No. 1 fear. Working full time means responsibility. Bills. Adulthood. It's appropriate to feel scared. "It's really important for graduates to remember they're not alone in this process or in that fear," says Rachel A. Brown, assistant provost for career services at George Washington University. She recommends leaning on a support system in this transition. "Continuing support from your peers as well as your university after graduation is really important," she says. "You're experiencing things for the first time. It can be helpful to speak with alumni who was in the same position as you just two years ago."

I'm not qualified for the jobs I want. Consider this: "Everyone has this idea in their head that there's a perfect job with a perfect company, and you're going to travel a perfect career path," McDonald says. "But there aren't any jobs that will be a perfect fit. Most likely, there's going to be a skills gap for everyone at any level."

Don't focus on your deficits. Instead accentuate the relevant skills and experience you do have. "Apply for the jobs where you can realistically grow and train to learn what you lack," McDonald says.

Barry Salzberg is the CEO of the professional services firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and this year's commencement speaker at George Washington University's School of Business. One key piece of advice he gives new job seekers is to look to work with organizations that will nurture your career. "This is the beginning of your journey, not the end," he explains. "The development of skills is critical throughout your career, and you should look for a working environment that's conducive to learning and helping employees to grow their skills."

I'm doomed to intern forever. In some fields, entry level often means internship. Accept this as part of the process. McDonald describes internships as "an investment into your future. Many students have great success from being willing to work a temporary role with a company that could lead to a full-time job. It's your chance to audition your talent and skill set and to gain some skills that are necessary for future jobs."

Be just as judicious about the internships you accept as you would be with full-time offers. Internships are supposed to be learning opportunities and steppingstones, not just a means for an employer to gain cheap manpower. Use the interview to determine how well this opportunity fits into your larger goals. Ask how many interns are usually promoted to full-time positions in the company, both in the department and the job you'd like. If it never or rarely happens, it probably won't happen for you, either.

[Read: How to Avoid Being Confined to the Intern Pool Forever.]

What if I don't like my chosen profession? You've spent all this time studying market research, and of all the luck, market research bores you. Brown says fear not. "It's never too late to reset. There are some exceptions, but for the vast majority of majors, you're learning broad and even technical skills that you could transfer to different careers," she adds. Reassess how what you know relates to what you'd actually like to do. Your campus career services center can help with this, even after graduation. "We provide services to our alumni as well," Brown says. "If you need to repackage and retransfer your broad skills to tailor them to a new field, it is possible. Sometimes it's a matter of rebranding yourself and your experiences."

I don't know how to negotiate my job offer or if I should. Brown says green job seekers sometimes fall into two camps: They assume the first offer is the final one and leave money on the table, or they assume they should always negotiate, even when it isn't necessary. A 2013 survey by Harris Interactive and CareerBuilder of 3,000 full-time employees found 55 percent of workers age 35 or older negotiate the first offer, but only 45 percent of workers age 18 to 34 attempt to do the same.

The most important thing is to familiarize yourself with the industry standard. "You have to learn how to quantify what you bring to the table," Brown says. "You also have to think creatively. Go beyond salary and consider negotiating on the timing of your performance review or when you might start to take vacation time. Base what you ask for on the research you've done." Robert Half's website features annual salary guides that can help you determine what's appropriate. The Labor Department's website also lists salary ranges for many professions.

[Read: The Exact Words to Use When Negotiating Salary.]

My new boss regrets hiring me. You will screw up on the job. But Brown says you shouldn't be hard on yourself. "Making mistakes is human," she explains. "It's what you do about your mistake that matters. Be honest and accountable for what you did. Be willing to learn from it and move on." A good boss will be patient with your inexperience, particularly if you're truthful from the start about what you do and don't know. "Don't be so eager to get the job that you puff yourself up in the interview," McDonald says. "Appropriately sell -- but don't oversell -- your qualifications."

Ask questions to be sure you understand what's expected. "Employers want problem solvers," McDonald says. "Go to them and ask questions on how to do what you don't know how to, and bring potential solutions with you. It shows that you're thinking critically, which they'll value."



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