Ask Stacy: Why Can’t My Son Find a Job?

Photo (cc) by David Blackwell.

I got this question a couple of years ago, but thought the information presented warranted repeating. It’s from the parents of an unemployed MBA:

Our son graduated with a master’s degree in business. His undergrad degree was political science and history. He has not found a job after 2 1/2 years because he does not have experience! No one will give him a chance or even an interview! He scored high but could not work due to the massive reading, writing during his master’s. We are scared!
— Gayle and Fred

I disagree with your assessment, Gayle and Fred. I don’t think the failure of your son to find a job is because he lacks experience. That’s simply not logical. Everyone who’s ever had a job found their first one without experience.

So if a lack of experience isn’t the problem, what is? There’s no way to know for certain from the information you’ve provided, and odds are it’s a combination of factors. But let’s go over some potential problems and possible solutions.

He’s not applying for the right job

Over the years, I’ve run ads for such positions as video producers. When I do, I specifically ask those without the required five years’ experience not to waste their time or mine by applying.

Result? Tons of applications from new grads with no experience. Needless to say, they don’t get a response.

Submit a thousand applications for jobs you’re not qualified for, and you’ll get a thousand rejections.

A different story: Six years ago I hired a guy right out of college for a position that required little experience and paid only $12 an hour. His degree wasn’t related to this business and his job was basically grunt work. Today that guy is in charge of all technical aspects of this website. I won’t say how much he’s making now, but it’s a heck of a lot more than $12 an hour.

The lesson: The way to prevent rejection due to lack of experience is to apply for jobs that don’t require it. They probably won’t pay well, but that’s OK. Create value for the company, then ask for more money. If that doesn’t work — if you can’t add value or make your voice heard — find a different job.

He’s not applying at the right company

Small businesses like this one are often easier to get into than giant ones. If you’re applying at IBM, there’s a rigid vetting process that can’t be deviated from. If you’re applying here, all you have to do is convince me you can add value.

Smaller businesses may also offer broader responsibilities, which makes the job more interesting. Our small staff has input into virtually everything we do, from editorial content to website design. You won’t find that at CNN or The New York Times.

As for advancement, a small staff means fewer layers of management and more opportunity for advancement, or at least recognition. At a business this size, no one can falsely take credit for your ideas.

He’s not applying in the right industry

Money Talks News competes in two vastly different businesses. One is television news, where it’s difficult to make money because, like newspapers and other traditional media, it’s losing audience and becoming less and less profitable. The other is online publication, a business that’s exploding in popularity.

Finding work in a shrinking industry is much harder than finding a job in one that’s growing.

If I were looking for work today, I’d look for something related to the Internet. It’s as much a game-changer as electricity, cars, TV and refrigeration. And while the industry may seem mature, it’s really just getting started.

He’s not interviewing well

There’s plenty of information out there on proper interviewing: See posts like 16 Tips to Make a Great Impression at Your Next Job Interview and How to Shine in a Video Interview.

But don’t stop with reading. Once you’ve learned the proper interview techniques, practice, practice, practice. Have someone pose as an employer and go through the entire process until it’s second nature. Tape yourself doing it, then pick it apart and do it again.

There’s a reason for the expression, “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” From body language to dress to the tone you use and the words you speak, get it right.

He’s not using all available resources

You can get training and advice for every facet of employment, including job leads, at your state’s employment offices. Some offer seminars on everything from creating a resume to interviewing. They can also provide networking opportunities and a sympathetic ear.

You can find a state employment office directory here.

In addition to regular job search sites, there are also some specifically targeted toward recent grads.

Then there’s networking — a fancy term for a simple idea: talking to people.

While I’ve run lots of ads, I rarely hire that way. Nearly every member of this team is someone I’ve known personally or were recommended by someone I know.

He’s not casting a wide enough net

Sometimes getting a job means radically changing your life. For example, if you can’t find work where you live, move. This is not a bad thing. New locations offer new experiences, and new experiences make you more well-rounded. The best time to pull up stakes? When you’re young and single.

So if you’re not finding what you want where you want it, prepare yourself for a little adventure and broaden your horizons. Now more than at any time in history, people work worldwide.

Flexibility applies to more than just geography. Be willing to consider not just your chosen career, but any career. My degree is in accounting, but the last time I worked as an accountant was 1981. I was a stockbroker for 10 years and then went into TV, which is a field about as far from accounting as you can get.

He’s not thinking outside the box

Suppose I said: “If you get a job at XYZ Co. within a month, I’ll give you a hundred million dollars.”

What would you do to get a job there? Answer: Anything.

You’d certainly find anyone you know who might have a friend at the company and ask for an introduction. But would you stop there? Not likely.

You’d use the Web and sites like LinkedIn to find out everything you could about the company and the specific people doing the hiring. Then you’d use that information to get close to them. You’d find out what clubs they belong to and join them. You’d find out what kind of volunteer work they do and do it. You might even “accidentally” run into them at their favorite watering hole.

Heck, you might find out where the company president plays golf and slip a course employee $50 to make sure you were placed in his foursome. You might hang out at his parking spot after work or maybe even join his church. In short, if the stakes were high enough, you’d risk a restraining order and stalking conviction to be in the right place at the right time.

The point is, when people say, “I’ve done everything I can,” that’s rarely what they mean. Since the dawn of time, people have used clever, imaginative and even bizarre ways to find work. (If you don’t believe it, do a search for “weird ways to find work.”) Will you always succeed? Absolutely not. But you’ll succeed more often than you will by doing nothing.

What are your tips and tricks for starting up — or amping up — a career? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Got a question you’d like answered?

A great way to get answers to just about any money-related question is to head to our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth and, most important, post questions and get answers. It’s also where I often look for questions to answer in this weekly column. You can also ask questions by replying to our daily emails. If you’re not getting them, fix that right now by subscribing here.

About me

I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I’ve earned a CPA (currently inactive), and have also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate. Got some time to kill? You can learn more about me here.

Got more money questions? Browse lots more Ask Stacy answers here.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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