While most of us will spend December drinking eggnog, returning gifts and complaining that New Year’s Eve is overrated, winter break could be better spent working on the job or internship search. With the unemployment rate for 20-24-year-olds at 10.3 percent, up from 8.2 percent two years ago, landing a job today requires effort, strategy and time. Lonnie Dunlap, Northwestern’s director of University Career Services, spoke with North by Northwestern and offered tips about how the employment market is changing and how you can land a job.
Is the job market as tight as everyone says?
Yes. I’ve been in this field a long time so I’ve seen it go up and down but now is different because it’s across all industries. Students from all different majors are finding it challenging. There is also greater uncertainty about how long it’s going to go.
How should students adjust their career search?
A lot of it has to do with expanding your search to consider things that might be new and different. Students are very narrow about which employers they’ll consider. They know the ones that have high visibility on campus, but some employers that are smaller or not as well-known have amazing career opportunities. It’s also important to do thorough research about employers. Some students don’t do the depth of research they need to get past the first-round. We also encourage students to look at networking and informal connections. The role of alumni is increasing every year.
How should students approach alumni?
They need to do it with a respect for time and an understanding that they need to be professional. Sometimes students are nervous about approaching people they don’t know, but that alumni connection is an excellent starting place.
Have you noticed trends in post-graduate interests?
A lot of students are looking to grad school. But there are important trade-offs. They can incur more debt, and sometimes it takes them in a direction they don’t want to go. It’s also getting more competitive, so you can’t assume it’s going to be available.
What do you think about online tools, like LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is essential, not just in contacts but in having a professional presence. Employers do research, and they want to see you as a potential colleague and someone they want to work alongside.
What are common mistakes students make while searching for a job?
Starting too late. You want to start early so you have time to fully prepare so you feel confident. The other thing is students who think they have a good résumé but really don’t. Without a strong résumé, you aren’t going to do as well. They need to have a lot of people review it and make sure it’s customized to the position. It’s important that an employer can see the relevance of the student’s background in connection to the job.
What career services programs do you wish more students used?
All of them at the appropriate time. It’s the continuity from year to year that really strengthens where they are at the time of graduation. When you say “career services,” a lot of students don’t see any relevance until they’re graduating. The challenge is showing how we can support students in the overall career development process from freshman year on.