Degree but can’t find a job.


By David Joel Miller.

You got a degree but you still haven’t gotten a job.

Why did this happen and what can you do? Unfortunately, there are more and more people in this boat these days. When the economy turns down, lots of people return to school to get an advanced degree. Student loan debt is moving ever higher.

Just because you get that new degree does not mean you are going to get a job. In some majors, less than half of the people who received the degree ever found a job in their major field. One study found that ten years after graduation as many of 10% of graduates from a major prestigious college still had not found a job.

Many, but not all of the better-paying jobs available today require an advanced degree but there are plenty of college graduates who are unemployed. Why the mismatch?

Finding a job is a separate skill from what you learned in obtaining your degree.

Many college graduates became technically proficient in a narrow skill but they have little or no skills in interviewing. Lots of people want to work in a technical field because they are more comfortable around things than people.

Then when they look for work they find they don’t have the people skills to be able to work in a company. Career counseling can help with this issue. Go to groups and meet people, learn to network. Networking has two advantages, it helps you find job openings to apply for and it may improve your people skills so that you land a job after your interview.

There may be no jobs for your specialty in the area you are planning to live.

Until very recently California did not license professional counselors. Students majored in those areas because that was what they wanted to do. Then they discovered that to pursue this goal they would need to leave the state and move away from family, friends and social networks. Some chose to go and some stayed and worked in fields unrelated to their degree.

Jobs that are only sort of related to your major, may not pay what you had expected and you may not be able to maintain your skills if you work outside you degree area. It pays to think about possible job openings and do the research before you graduate. Sometimes even well into your college program, it is worthwhile changing your major or adding a minor in a related field.

Some people may be majoring in a field in which there are few jobs.

This is especially problematic in fields that people enter for emotional rather than monetary reasons. There are way more photography majors than paying jobs for photographers. Most photographers go into business for themselves only to find they should have majored in business, not photography if they want to make a living.  Technical schools and private colleges have been especially at fault here. They develop programs that sound appealing in the ads, but the number of students they are teaching far exceeds the available jobs.

What you learn to get a degree and what you do on the job may be very different.

Teaching is a good example of this. The course of study is about how to be a good and effective teacher. The reality is getting along with parents and administrators and trying to keep discipline in the classroom. Lots of teaching students complain that the reality is more like being a babysitter than an educator.  Before you commit years of study and tens of thousands of dollars to getting a degree consider learning more about what people with that degree actually do. Research working conditions, and job satisfaction. What you see people doing on T. V. is not what most people in that field do most of the time. Interviewing people who are actually working in that career is helpful. Many will be glad to share their experiences with someone who cares enough to ask. Especially ask them, “If you had it to do over would you do something else? Why?”

The narrower the specialty the faster the field changes.

The more specialized the field the more likely that you will need to stay in school or return often to stay current. The computer field has provided lots of examples of this. I know of someone who went to school to become a keypunch operator, computers used to need large trays of punch cards to tell them what to do. By the time this person graduated, the companies in their town were doing away with punch cards. Unless your school and instructor are cutting edge it is possible that even with a degree the firm that hires you will need to retrain you on their equipment and process. More on the retraining issue in the post about Cordwainers and Redsmiths.

Have a realistic expectation for salary; know what salary you should expect.

More than one person I have met has returned to school and gotten a new degree to make a career change only to find that they can’t afford to give up their present job and start over at the entry level salary that the new field would offer. Do your research on salary and market conditions for a given field before you start and you will be more likely to be satisfied afterward. Monitor the job market while in school and be prepared to take some extra classes or adjust your program if the career field is changing. Salary should not be your only consideration. People who do things they love are happier, more productive and often more successful than people who are unsatisfied with the job. But make sure you can afford to live on the salary you will get for a given job before you are locked in. Otherwise, you may have a degree in one field and work at something totally different.

The more advanced the degree, the higher the pay the longer it may take to find a job.

Especially if you are limited geographically or because of a narrow specialization. Many recent college graduates expect to find a new job right away. In this economy that rarely happens. Even in good times, it takes longer to find a job that requires and pays for a master degree than if you have a two-year or four-year degree. Finding a position if you have a Ph.D. will probably take even longer. The conclusion? A degree by itself will not be enough to get you that good paying job. Do your research before, during and after your college experience. Develop job search and interviewing skills in addition to your technical skills. Especially work on people skills, anywhere you go there will be people you need to work for and with. Develop other skills to allow you use your skills, become better at communicating and expressing your thoughts. Have patience but continue looking and don’t give up.

Best wishes on finding that dream job.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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3 thoughts on “Degree but can’t find a job.

  1. Yep, I’m there. Just because you get a degree, ALSO doesn’t mean that you know what the hell to do with it. I got a degree in Public Policy from Georgia Tech (not too shabby), but I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. I think in many cases, students aim for a subject area in which they know they can make good grades and keep up their GPA in order to graduate, not necessarily giving thought to whether they can get a job in that field or whether that’s where they really want to be. Now, rather than looking for a career in Public Policy, I’m looking for an entry level position in Advertising, go figure. That’s a field that I want to work in, not what I can make good grades in. I eventually want to get an advertising job working with non-profit organizations, but until then, I’m just trying to get my foot in the door. Too bad it’s taken me 3 years to figure that out! But, I’m working on it, and believe it or not, I am hopeful for the future. Great advice.

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  2. Pingback: How safe is your job? | counselorssoapbox

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