The numbers are somewhat disturbing, if unsurprising: Company recruiters say nearly a third of the class of ‘17 college grads applying for entry-level jobs aren’t qualified for the positions for which they’ve applied. They say this despite having pretty flexible hiring criteria, with 82% saying they frequently hire candidates whose college majors don’t directly “align with or relate to” the positions they seek.
These are among the more interesting takeaways from “The Class of 2017 Job Outlook Report” published recently by iCIMS Inc., a talent recruitment software company.
We learn from the report that STEM majors (those receiving degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics) are most in demand. And their employers, the recruiters say, are willing to pay more (on average, 29% more than non-STEM majors) to get them. Nothing surprising here.
What is striking, perhaps, is that many of the graduating seniors have unrealistically high salary expectations. Some 52% of those surveyed said they’re expecting their first job after college to pay $50,000 or more per year; unfortunately, this is more than 10% higher than the average salary ($45,361) the recruiters say they’re prepared to offer. And even this number may be unrealistically high for many new grads.
First, the big picture—or, more accurately, the little picture. All of these stats are based on an online survey of 401 college seniors and 401 “HR recruiting professionals” conducted by Wakefield Research for iCIMS. So before we do too much hyperventilating, let’s acknowledge that samples of this size hardly provide a scientific representation of the vast U.S. job market or the 1.9 million U.S. college students expected to receive undergraduate degrees this year.
The stat on qualifications is disturbing, however. If a third of the (mostly) young people receiving newly minted college degrees this spring are unqualified for entry-level jobs, U.S. colleges and universities are failing us. And by many measures they are.
But let’s also be clear what the survey showed: that 401 “recruiting professionals” indicated that about a third (32%) of the entry-level applications they’d received were from job candidates unqualified for the positions for which they were applying. This doesn’t mean they’re unqualified for other positions, however.
More likely the bigger problem here is that nobody took the time to counsel these students on the types of jobs that might be a good match for them. As a result, many of them probably have been resume carpet-bombing, applying for anything and everything that looks interesting. Reality check: Just because a job looks interesting to you doesn’t mean you’ll look interesting to the recruiters.
Salary expectations are another area in which a reality check is in order.
The survey itself is somewhat problematic. Not every company has recruiters, or even a large human resources staff, so it’s probably safe to assume that the survey findings are skewed toward larger organizations that can afford the luxury of having recruiters. Larger organizations also are typically more capable of paying higher salaries.
Nationally, however, the $45,000 per year average entry-level salary cited in the survey seems out of whack. It may be realistic (or even on the low side) for a Fortune 500 company, for employers in high-cost urban areas—Chicago, as opposed to Toledo—and for STEM grads, but for many others it’s wishful thinking.
And that seems to be what many of the students—especially those with degrees in the arts and social sciences—are engaged in: wishful thinking.
Many students don’t realize that hiring them is a speculative investment from an employer’s standpoint, if not an act of faith. In effect, they’re freshmen again, starting at the bottom. A STEM graduate is expected to bring technical expertise to the table; a sociology major is an unknown quantity. And an unknown quantity doesn’t command top dollar.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in its most recent report on “The Labor Market for Recent College Graduates,” lists more than 73 college majors, showing what they might expect to earn at various stages in their careers.
The first category, “median wage early career,” covers recent college graduates (aged 22 to 27) with bachelor’s degrees working full time.
Of the 73 majors listed, only 20 reported earning $45,000 a year or more—sociology wasn’t among them. Most of the highest-paying jobs went to STEM majors, with chemical engineering topping the list (at $70,000 per year), followed by computer and electrical engineering (both at $63,000).
What were English majors earning? About $34,000 a year. Also in the low-to-mid 30s were degrees in anthropology, art history, biology, criminal justice, education, environmental studies, fine arts, foreign language, history, journalism, leisure and hospitality, performing arts, psychology, public policy and law, theology and religion, and more than a dozen others.
Admittedly, the data are a couple of years old (from 2014-15) and represent averages. But they ought to be displayed prominently at every college and university career services office.
We have learned in recent years that many college students hold themselves in very high regard. And, frankly, it’s often well deserved, based on the students I come in contact with in my classes at the Kellogg School of Management.
But unless they have some special skill, or are in a high-demand field, such as computer engineering, even the “brainiacs” in the class of ’17 probably will start at the bottom, at a salary that may be less than what they had hoped for.
We can only wish them well—and welcome them to the world of work.