Crossing the Underemployment Gap

With the unemployment rate in America dropping to its lowest mark since 2000, there have been worse times to be a college graduate. It’s a job-seekers market and competent professional talent is in high demand. However, those facts don’t mean new college grads should approach their first-time job options with reckless abandon. Many of the jobs available at this early stage are exactly that – a job, not a career path. A first job out of college is more important than you think. In fact, it may be the most important choice you make in your professional career.

Believe me, I understand the temptation of wanting to accept the first offer (or highest paying job opportunity) out of school. You just busted your tail for four (or more) years, and now you’re eager to see that hard work come to fruition. Add in pressure coming from parents for recent grads to join “the real world” quickly, along with looming student loan debts and a need to feel like “you made it” and it is easy to see why young adults are quick to pull the trigger on potential mistaken first steps. Despite the wealth of employment possibilities, recent college graduates need to be particularly careful when choosing that first job.

All Jobs Are Not Created Equal

Yes, the unemployment rate in America is at a record low, but there is a new statistic that should frighten recent and soon-to-be college graduates – and it has to do with something termed “Underemployment.” Researchers from the Strada Institute for the Future of Work and Burning Glass Technologies recently looked through 4 million resumes of college graduates to try to predict where their careers may be headed. “Underemployment” relates to people holding a job that they are overqualified for and the study found that 43% of people looking for a first-time job end up underemployed. These jobs include roles like barista, restaurant server or fitness instructor.

Taking entry-level jobs are often synonymous with “paying your dues” or going through a “rite of passage” in some fashion, but underemployment isn’t any of those things. It is true that typically a first job is not a dream job. But it’s important to understand that there are real long-term ramifications to starting a professional career underemployed.

For starters, two-thirds of people in the study who were underemployed remained underemployed five years later. In fact, 74% of those people who were underemployed five years in, were still underemployed a whole 10 years after graduation. This means that deciding to “temporarily” start your professional career as a barista or say even a restaurant server can have a crippling long-term impact.

Why is this happening? Simply put, there is a paradox. The jobs at companies recent and soon-to-be graduates desire often value relevant experience over a specific degree. This is experience which can be hard to obtain and experience the vast majority of these young professionals don’t have. At the most, a typical (ambitious) college graduate may have taken part in a summer internship, but baring that limited business exposure, there is not much else they have in the experience department. And when these young adults get passed over for early-stage jobs, they are left with no choice but to turn to jobs which may pay a decent wage, but that they are overqualified for. In a nut shell, this is the root cause for the high level of underemployment for recent and soon-to-be college graduates.

It’s not incredibly hard to grasp why companies are reluctant to hire someone directly out of college. There is a risk that comes with hiring someone in this position. What if they are flat out terrible at the job? The companies name and reputation takes a hit along with the person who hired them. Furthermore, what if the young professional decides this job or career path simply isn’t for them? All that time and money spent finding, recruiting and training them goes out the window and the company has to go back on the search for a new candidate, which means starting that process all over again. Considering these factors, it’s hard to blame companies for shying away from being the entry point for new college grads. They might miss out on some good potential candidates, but the risk appears too great for many of them.

A Bridge to the Future

Bridge to the Future

How can new college grads bridge this gap without wasting years on a dead-end job path? Find a company that offers a mutually beneficial trade: great training and marketable experience in exchange for a few years of hard work. This is the specific model I personally found at memoryBlue. memoryBlue loves to hire passionate individuals who are at the very beginning of their professional journey. It is quite normal to enter the world after college without a clear idea of what you want to do for the rest of your professional career. Acting almost as a master’s degree in high-tech sales, memoryBlue brings new hires in through a 15-month program designed to jump-start professional sales careers.

In the entry-level Sales Development Representative role, individuals work as high-tech sales consultants and get the opportunity to build relationships with companies that have strong sales needs. These companies, for a variety of reasons, are not in a position to actively find, hire and train early-stage sales talent. Yet as sales campaigns successfully progress, it is quite common for companies working with memoryBlue to extend full-time offers to these employees. Part of why this works is because of the custom-built, immersive sales training program, which does not stop throughout employee tenure at memoryBlue. Team members are also surrounded by other early-stage professionals who are in the same position, and the collegial atmosphere supports a culture of continuous learning and growth. Ultimately, the firm offers individuals a variety of paths forward following the close of this initial 15-month work period (internal promotions, a “Rising Stars” outplacement program, and much more). Yet above all else, the real-world sales experience and skill-specific sales training makes every employee highly marketable and intensely in-demand in the modern high-tech arena.

As a young person, your most valuable asset is time. The goal for most new college grads is to start out in a strong professional environment and climb the corporate ranks as fast as possible. Most new grads that I know are willing to work hard and accept the fact that early-stage jobs are not all sunshine and rainbows. However, putting yourself in a position to learn and grow professionally is crucial upon graduation. Companies (like memoryBlue) that help college graduates close the experience gap and avoid the trap of underemployment deserve your full attention if building a long-term career interests you more than just bringing in a few near-term dollars.