Top Of The Class and Without a Job to Show For It

February 13th, 2011 § 1 comment

This question comes from a recent graduate that expected to receive his degree on top of the world. The realities of today’s competitive landscape in New York job market were a shock to him and tell a disappointingly common tale.

I graduated in December at the top of my class (Summa Cum Laude) with a bachelor’s degree in finance from a respectable state school. I now live in the NYC area, and am having absolutely no luck with my job search. I must have applied for about 100 jobs by now, and I’ve only received 2 call backs. Can you offer me any advice? I’m starting to become discouraged (although this may be a bit of an understatement at this point).

As a recent grad, it can be difficult to understand why, despite impressive accomplishments, the market for you seems limited. Entry-level hires will always be a cost to an organization – coming in with only your education, most practical skills for the job will have to be developed at the employer’s cost and time. With both being limited resources in a down economy, the number of roles appropriate for college graduates is far fewer than the top candidates coming out of the nation’s best schools.

Be careful not to fall into an entitlement trap given your situation. While you’ve done remarkably well amongst your peers, the competition at all levels of hiring is great. Though you rose to the top of your class at a state school, would you have achieved the same GPA in a more competitive academic environment? One point it’s important to realize is that it’s better to be at the top of a very good group than mediocre in an excellent one. In New York, many firms advertise “cherry” jobs – Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, UBS – the first year Associate roles that every finance major dreams of. Each of those firms will probably hire no more than 20 of your peers for those first-year positions in a given year. Most candidates never receive a response to their applications, let alone a phone or first round interview. Moving away from the impossible-to-achieve banking jobs and looking towards traditional finance and accounting might yield more success during your search.

One should not become discouraged from applying for any job, no matter how selective it might be, so long as they are genuinely qualified. Being realistic and knowing that the odds for success are slim will encourage you to spend just as much, if not more time on the efforts that will land you a job, not the world’s best. Careers aren’t permanent – some choices work out well for the long-term and others do not. At this point in your career the ultimate goal should be to enter the workforce at a reasonable and respectable level.

Don’t get lost in the shuffle of electronic applications.

Fifty years ago New York’s candidates turned to the Employment section of the Times and put meticulously hand typed resumes into linen envelopes for postal mail. Technology has certainly simplified the process, but it’s also taken away the necessity of hard work that used to accompany job seeking. When pressing a button is all that’s required to submit a resume and cover letter, think of how many others – so many of whom likely aren’t qualified for the role – are doing the same. An already-strained HR department is going to have a difficult time keeping up just with the influx of resumes and will certainly overlook some who are qualified by mistake.

Internet job boards should serve as a research tool first and a method of communication second, as a last resort. Through these boards you’ll know what positions are open and at which firms. Those two pieces of information can allow you to, through LinkedIn and other online resources, identify individuals who are likely involved in the hiring process. Making a human connection so ensure that your credentials are given consideration should have an immediate impact on the number of responses you receive when approaching potential employers.

Applying for a Private Equity Associate role with the Latin American fund of a large bank? Research the name of a portfolio manager and that’s likely someone who can make sure that your resume gets on the right desk, even if it isn’t his.

Through some basic Googling, use the firm’s domain name and locate the format of their email addresses and you have – electronically and with very little effort – a human being that you can speak to regarding a hiring need.
There are times where it’s difficult to locate the proper individuals or when good efforts to contact them fail. It’s still important to be proactive. Call the firm’s main number and ask for the Human Resources department. Even if you are transferred to a voicemail, you’ll still have located a name which will allow you to continue to follow-up.

Don’t wait for companies to contact you – there are too many people vying for their limited time. Take action and seek out the job with more passion than your competition does. When you approach your job search with the attitude you would a full-time job, success can’t be too far away.

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