3 Things Students Can Do to Position Themselves to Succeed in a Tough Job Market

It’s common knowledge that the job market has been persistently bad since 2008, and experts are predicting there is no end in sight. This means college students need to be proactive if they want to avoid joining the increasingly large ranks of unemployed and underemployed recent graduates.

Far too many students–even at Ivy League institutions–select humanities majors without considering the difficulty of obtaining employment in the arts or publishing or advertising. If they had done their homework ahead of time and researched the availability (or not!) of jobs in their chosen field, they may have anticipated they were dooming themselves to waiting tables, babysitting, or even volunteering. Choosing a major just because it sounds interesting might sound like a good idea, but it’s anything but a mature thing to do–particularly when one considers the burden of student loans.

Here are a few steps students can take to best set themselves up to succeed in an increasingly competitive market:

  1. Prepare a resume after the first semester. In so doing, omit most of your high school activities, so you can see how much you need to accomplish by your senior year to have a robust CV. The gaping holes will motivate you to make the right choices about activities, internships, and coursework that will tell your unique story and make you stand out as an appealing candidate for employment.
  2. Make an informed decision about your major. Your research ought to focus primarily on the post-graduation opportunities inherent in your selection. Understand what coursework, internships, and research experiences will position you most favorably, and consider selecting a minor that builds upon your major. Learn about the types of job offers recent graduates from your school have received, and do everything you can to best prepare for your job hunt before you actually have to face the uphill battle of securing full-time employment.
  3. Understand your choices have consequences. Underemployment, unemployment or conspicuous gaps in your resume can and will absolutely derail your job search. Those choices will tell a story which will damage your credibility. They reflect on your decision-making skills and will dissuade employers from hiring you.

All too often, students seem to have put little or no thought or research into the decisions they make in school. If you plan and prepare that will put you ahead of the game and will prevent you from becoming another underemployed statistic. Of course preparation won’t guarantee you a dream job immediately, but it will ensure you aren’t your own worst professional enemy.

On this day after the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, I would like to dedicate this post to my friend, Sheryl, who tragically perished in the World Trade Center a decade ago. She was both a friend and a client, a successful business professional, mother and wife, who listened endlessly and attentively to my career advice and always encouraged me to pursue my passion. 


Lesley is president and founder of Priority Candidates, which prepares college students and recent graduates nationwide to get hired for their first jobs.   Previously, Lesley spent more than 25 years in executive search, working with candidates from entry level to C-Suite executives in organizations ranging in size from small, family owned businesses to large international organizations.  Her fundamental knowledge of what hiring manager’s look for is the core of what Priority Candidates does to prepare college students/recent grads to get hired now.  An alumnus of Duke University who is based in New York City, Lesley has been featured in USA Today, ABC’s New York Viewpoint with Ken Rosato, ABC News with Art McFarland, The New York Times, NY Nightly News with NBC4’s Chuck Scarborough, eCampus News and John Tucker’s Small Business Report on Bloomberg Radio.   Lesley always welcomes connections via LinkedIn, on Twitter or by email or phone, available on her website.

Related posts:

  1. Are Employers Taking Advantage of the Difficult Job Market?
  2. Position Yourself Before You Brand
  3. Market Research on the Brand Called You

4 Responses to “3 Things Students Can Do to Position Themselves to Succeed in a Tough Job Market”

  1. avatar Lindsay says:

    I feel compelled to respectfully, yet firmly, disagree without about your second point. Most people in the workforce will tell you that the major you choose is almost inconsequential, with a few exceptions like Accounting, to your future success/job path. Most professionals end up in a field that was different from their undergraduate major, and instead experience plays a much larger part in job success than a major does. In addition, as and English major myself with an extensive and impressive resume of professional experience/success while still an undergrad, I think the tone of this article is unnecessarily condescending toward those who choose to study the humanities, when in fact this same group of people has up been very successful in the workforce. What is most important is that students study something they are good at, interested in, and passionate about. Those are qualities that any good employer looks for in perspective candidates and no matter the job market, people who do what they like and like what they do will always be more successful. So let’s squash the myth that a major is a main, determining factor. It’s what a student does in college that sets him or her up for success, not simply what they choose to study.

    • avatar Lesley Mitler says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog post. I would like to address some of your comments.

    • avatar Lesley Mitler says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog post. I would like to address some of your comments.

      • avatar Lesley Mitler says:

        I don’t know how you can say that most people in the workforce will tell you that your major is inconsequential. Are these people who are potential employers? According to a recent Job Outlook Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers indicated that the top majors they were looking for were: Accounting(62%); Finance(57%);Electrical Engineering(53.5%);Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering(53%); and Business(52%). That doesn’t sound like the major you chose is “inconsequential,” especially when your take into consideration that about 1/2 of today’s college graduates take a first job that doesn’t require a college degree.
        To address the tone as being condescending toward “humanities” majors, I think you are completely mistaken. I am simply stating that, according to data that has been published and what I have witnessed in my professional capacity, it is far more difficult for a humanities major to get an entry level job when there are so few jobs for recent grads. Employers are naturally gravitating to those who have specific skills, such as computer programming, accounting, etc.
        You advice to you is that you should know your facts before commenting. It is not a myth that your major is a
        “main, determining factor” – It is reality.

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