Dear Sam: I have followed your excellent column for months now. I am a professor at a local college. I often hear from students, who have graduated, only to learn the hard time they are having finding a job with a degree in hand. That reality has hit home, unfortunately, as my daughter graduated in 2018 and still is unemployed.

My daughter has mentioned that either she won’t hear anything from her application or, if she does get an interview, she will hear nothing following that. I would have never suspected that after she worked so hard in college, that employment would be out of her reach. In my daughter’s case, she interned at a hospital where she fell in love with the Marketing Department. I am unsure if she is only looking at entry-level marketing jobs in healthcare or not. Even though she has this foundational experience and a Bachelor’s degree, she is not getting anywhere in her job search. Any thoughts? — Ellen

Dear Ellen:
I am sorry to hear of your students’ and daughter’s struggle securing their first professional engagement following graduation. This struggle is, unfortunately, all too common, and I have to point fingers at the institutions they are graduating from, not equipping their graduating students with the personal branding knowledge to turn their degree into a sustainable career path.

You will not believe how many resumes I see from graduates who have spent time at their career services office and have been ‘guided’ in the development of their resume, only to be delivered outdated advice, an overused template, and a lack of strategic direction on how to conduct an effective job search in 2020. I will say there are exceptions to this, but unfortunately, more often than not, the support graduating students receive is lackluster at best and comes far too late in their journey as a student.

I say this from a tremendous amount of experience, not only attending job fairs and reviewing the resumes of new graduates but also being invited to institutions by professors and Career Services Departments to not only educate their students on personal branding but also to provide professional development to the Career Services staff. Even though entry-level candidates possess limited experience, through the exploration of part-time jobs, internships, extracurricular activities, coursework, capstone projects, volunteer work, affiliations, and sometimes even personal passions and interests, they should be able to develop a ‘full’ one-page resume.

What I see more often than not, in entry-level resumes, is that the candidate believes the degree alone will differentiate his/her candidacy. This is absolutely not the case. I am sure there are times when an individual graduates from an Ivy League institution and secures his/her first position solely based on the caliber of the institution attended and the student’s academic performance, but for most individuals who are not in that situation, having a degree is not in and of itself a key differentiator. Think about it; your daughter graduated on the same day or in the same month as thousands of others who also are now hitting the market with that same piece of paper. How your daughter is different is through the activities she has engaged in, through the internship(s) she secured, through the project work she completed in her key courses, and I am sure, a multitude of other factors.

I would encourage your students and your daughter to review best practices-based presentations of entry-level candidates, either on a website like my own or through recently published books where you know the samples selected are representative of what a personal brand should look like in 2020. Entry-level candidates are some of my absolute favorite projects to work on simply because of the monumental impact a great personal brand can have on where the candidate starts his/her career. It’s not true that you have to have a job to get a job, so I am confident that once your daughter learns how to create an effective picture of her candidacy, the phones will start ringing for the opportunities she is seeking.