Counseling recent grads trying to get jobs…tough work

Ok, here is one of the toughest and most frustrating parts of my work with university students: Counseling them on how to get a job after graduation. (Really they are alumni, but I still call them my students if they are coming to me for help)

Here is how many of our conversations start:

Student: Sir, I would like your help, please. I am trying to figure out how to get a job.

Me: OK, well, tell me what you have done so far.

Student: I made up a resume, searched and check the newspaper every day (the student’s face starts to look quite bleak at this early point in our conversation).

Me: So, what is the problem with your job search?

Student: Well, most of the jobs except telephone sales require relevant experience. And I have sent out 30 resumes to some possibilities that don’t require experience and I have never received one interview (at this point frustration is evident in their voice, facial expressions, and body language).

Me: What other reasons do you think besides experience might be resulting in you not hearing from potential employers? (No, I am not just asking questions to torment the poor student – I use questions as the foundation for most of my teaching and counseling).

Student: Sir, there is SO much competition from graduates at other universities. And I am new to Canada. And I don’t have straight ‘A’ grades. And I don’t know anyone (by now there are even tears peeking out around their eyes, and even possibly a quavering voice)

~~~~~~~~~~~~ TIME OUT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Why is this so painful for the students, tough on me and so darn frustrating for both of us? Well it is clear why the student is so hurt by the process. For me, it is because I have had the same conversation a zillion times in my teaching career! And seeing the pain the students are in makes me just plain ache inside in sympathy for their unhappiness and feelings of inadequacy, rejection, inability to be part of the great employment machine, be valuable to the world, and be a whole human being.

Why do I feel so strongly for these students? Well for one thing, I really like seeing students energized in life and not beaten down by it. But another reason I feel for them when they are really hurting is because…at one time I was in their exact situation. Yup, I felt the same way when I was a recent grad. I just wanted a chance to succeed at a good job – why wouldn’t anyone give me a chance to do so?


Now, some 20 years later, I can look back with gritted teeth and recall those horrible feelings. And with my eyes closed I can even dredge up remnants of them and relive the intensity of the feelings for a brief time.

So what? Is painful job hunting just something you go through? A rite of passage? A trial by fire?

No way. The terrible gut wrenching pain of feeling beaten, worthless and left out should NOT happen to young people looking for jobs. These people are the future of our organizations. They are the future of our society operating effeciently, effectively, and fairly.

Unfortunately this sad tale will repeat itself as long as students are taught that life is about following processes and not also about building relationships and constructing and focusing on goals. Yup, there I said it: They all have the same problem: They are trying to use their dominant process orientation to get a “job”. And to boot, the world of the 21st century is not even much about “jobs” anymore, either.

“Huh? Not about jobs? Hang on, you are losing me – but I want a job!”

Yup. And that is the problem. Let’s review some of the language going on in the earlier conversation. What success orientation are these words and phrases:

– “…how to get a job”
– “resume” and “…sent out 30 resumes”
– “searched”
– “require relevant experience”
– “never received one interview”
– “competition from graduates at other universities”
– “…I don’t have straight ‘A’ grades”

The language is a dead giveaway of their thinking. The student is trying to work through a job hunt process that is at best useless (some ridiculously small number of people become employed by applying to advertised jobs), and at worst degrading and humiliating. But because it is a seemingly normal, recognizable, and logical way for organizations to get their employees (“If I was a manager, I would of course advertise my jobs and hire this way!”), these highly process oriented students want it to work. And they want it to work so badly that they are willing to suffer mental torture and pain until the system finally delivers them into a nice job at a nice organization with nice people and nice instructions to follow and a nice amount of pay that arrives every 2 weeks in their nice bank account.

A friend of mine went 6 months in this manner and chewed through some $20,000 of his savings waiting for the system to deliver him his job. A graduate from a year ago contacted me recently – she had been waiting for over a year now.

What Can Be Done?

Yes, there is hope. Really. Here is how it works: First you get the students to understand that the world is not about jobs, but is about problems and goals. Then you help them understand that they can be part of the team that solves the problems and achieves the goals if they put themselves in contexts where they can present themselves in this way. Then they find themselves gainfully employed.

Simple! Isn’t it? Well no, of course not. But understanding that private companies see “jobs” as expenses is the first step. Then seeing that organizations exist to solve problems and achieve goals (profits in the private sector) is important. Finally, understanding that placing yourself in the appropriate context where you can interact with people whose job it is to solve problems and see that goals get achieved is the last thing you have to do. Assuming you have some shred of confidence, ability, motivation, and sincerity, indicating that you are a catalyst for the solving of problems and achieving of goals will result in you becoming employed. Employed doing just that: helping to solve problems and achieve goals for your organization.

Really, it is that simple. I have job hunt success stories to match each horror story I hear.

Simple it is, but easy it is not.


Because most students have not developed, or been encouraged to develop, abilities in all three of the success orientations. More importantly, they have had their relationship orientations discouraged (“don’t talk in class”) and their goal orientations squashed (tests, bells, assignments, etc.) again and again over their entire educational career. It is no surprise that upon graduation from their post-secondary education they are faced with a new playing field and a lack of skills for playing in it.

So how exactly would many of them know that they had to network at conferences, chat and discuss online, mingle at association and industry meeting and trade shows, shake hands at chamber of commerce meetings, etc.? How would they know that they would have to seek out the goals of individual organizations and find out the exact needs of managers – and then let them know that they could fulfill those needs.

Well, in my role as some form of career counselor, I have to start somewhere helping my students understand these ideas and ways of doing things. So I created a process of my own. One that leads them down a mental path they haven’t been down since they were children and before they had their natural inquisitiveness, sociability, abilities to think, and confidence beaten out of them by process oriented school systems. A path back to being able to figure out for themselves how the world really works.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ END TIME OUT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Me: So, if you were a manager, what do you think would be the problems you would face in your day to day job?…

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