An open letter to college juniors and seniors (and the parents of):
Since 2005, the year this ritual began, I have posed this annual question: “It’s September; what will you be doing in May?” Though the question is aimed at ambitious, promising 20- and 21-year-old future superstars, it appears here because of the likelihood of being read by that generation of readers who a) read newspapers, and b) pay those kids’ college bills.
Demographics may change, but customs don’t. Mom reads this article, thinks it’s a good idea for her kid, cuts it out, and either hands it or mails it to the kid. Who are we to break tradition? So here we go again.
In that first year of posing this question, little did we yet know that we were headed into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, although we couldn’t imagine how bad it would get. Then, in 2009, when everything hit the fan at once, we did see just how bad it could get—because it did. Fewer college grads had job offers in hand by graduation day that year than in any year in history: an anemic 20%. It took years to recover—slowly—but we did, up through 2020. We all went through that together, including many of your kids, so I needn’t say much other than we went through, from an employment point of view, the second once-in-a-lifetime event.
With great good fortune and timely legislation on a gigantic scale, we bounced back with the two greatest job creation years in history. (2022 will be the second, for sure; it’s on pace.)
So this is all good, right? Finish your junior year and get an internship, or graduate and get a job. Right? Not so fast. Although our job market is in good shape despite inflation and all sorts of other crises, and although corporate recruiters hired 25% more graduates in 2022 than in 2025, hiring will slow in 2023. To what degree is uncertain, but it will.
The message here is simple. There will be jobs and internships, but it’s on you to find
them. They will not come to you.
Now if that sounds like a remarkable grasp of the obvious, then tell me why the correlation between effort and results is so high. Plain and simple, the junior or senior who gets the earlier start this fall tends to get the earlier job offers—and, usually, the better ones.
Searching for a job or an internship, either way you’ve got a challenge—which you’ll meet by getting a jump on it, early this year. Like now. Not in your spring semester. Now. When school starts. What you do today can have critical leverage in May.
Here’s the reality. May is a lot closer than you think and, while the employment picture is good, the job market will be intensely competitive. You’ll increase your chance of success by starting now, not by waking up one day in April and, all of a sudden, realizing you need to get a job. The early bird really does catch the worm in this case.
As an independent career coach for 25 years, during which I’ve interacted with thousands of college students and grads, I know this: Jobs and internships do not necessarily go to the most qualified candidates. They go to those who are good at getting hired, the ones who begin the search process early, and who doggedly persevere. And that goes hand in hand with the ones who show their eagerness and drive to the career counselors who love working with students who mean business. So don’t wait until April and suddenly realize you’re way behind in the job search process. Get into gear right now.
Therefore, without delay, go to the career center—if you haven’t already—and cement a working relationship with one of their counselors. Tell them you intend to work closely and regularly with them. Then prove it.
This is all about being proactive, setting your sights on the goal, and doing everything possible—and then some—to reach it. After 25 years of coaching college students just like you, I can tell you that for sure. Those early birds are the ones catching the worms—and getting their promising careers off to great starts.
This isn’t easy; it takes a lot of work actually, but it’s a lot simpler to understand than the stuff you’re studying in finance or biochemistry, or systems management. So there’s no excuse.
Accordingly, I again ask my annual question again: It’s September; what will you be doing in May?
Career Coach Eli Amdur provides one-on-one coaching in job search, résumés, and interviewing. Reach him at [email protected] or 201-357-5844.