Why Finding That Dream Job May Be an Illusion for New College Grads

By Francesca Maglione

After interning at a bank, Fadi Ghazi was over the moon to get a job offer. The only problem: the bank was First Republic – one of the lenders that just collapsed spectacularly.

His offer was rescinded.

Ghazi is one of the millions of US college seniors who are donning caps and gowns and — gulp! — graduating into the “real world.’’ For many, today’s job market isn’t exactly living up to their big freshman-year dreams.

Ghazi, a finance major at San Jose State University, said he felt “a little lost” when he first got the call. And he spent his final weeks at SJSU, home of Sammy the Spartan, trying to come up with a Plan B.

The job prospects these days are nowhere near as bad as they were for students who graduated into the Great Recession and, in many cases, still carry the economic scars. But after Covid-19 turned the nation’s campuses upside down and disrupted virtually every aspect of college life, the Class of 2023 is having one more can-you-believe-our-luck moment.

While the US labor market remains strong, the number of job openings has been dwindling for months. Layoffs in finance, technology and consulting — usually hot destinations for top grads — keep piling up. Stories like Ghazi’s, of rescinded offers and last-minute scrambles, are suddenly the talk of the quad.

Job Pivot

Take Eshika Saxena.

She’s graduating from Harvard University after four years with both a bachelor’s and master’s in Computer Science. She interned at Google, Microsoft and Meta, and her resume is packed with research experience and leadership positions in student clubs.

But last summer, while working at Meta as a software engineer, Saxena was told interns would not get return offers, at least not until the end of the year. 

Instead of waiting, she started applying to any tech job opportunity she could find. She’s interviewed, gotten to final rounds, been told by recruiters she might get an offer, gotten ghosted, and, in the end, been rejected because of “head count issues.” Then, she’s dusted off her resume and done it all over again.

Nine months and more than 100 job applications later — and she only recently got job offers at two startups. The trick? Pivoting away from big tech. 

“It’s been a very challenging, long process and I think it’s been unlike any other year from what I’ve heard,” she said. “To receive rejection after rejection or notices that the roles are filled, it definitely takes a toll in a way that’s very discouraging.”

It’s hardly news that some newly minted grads struggle to find work. Others take jobs for which they feel overqualified. After all, everyone has to start somewhere. But try telling that to an anxious 22-year-old (or parent), particularly given that the sticker price at Ivy League-level schools today stretches toward $90,000.

Warning Signs

At Yale, officials began to sense a shift back in mid-2022. Many rising seniors hope to lock down offers after summer internships. Last year, it seemed like fewer did.

“When students came back to campus in the fall, there was a little bit of a buzz that there were fewer return offers,’’ said David Halek, a director in Yale’s career center. “That summer-internship-to-offer pipeline serves as an early-warning system to the students.’’

Front-of-mind for many soon-to-be-grads: a growing number of layoffs at top-target employers. Major tech companies have laid off tens of thousands of workers, and Wall Street banks including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have also announced cuts.

In the consulting world, prominent firms like Accenture Plc, Bain & Co. and Boston Consulting Group have been pushing back start dates for some new hires. Many students who got jobs in the industry have started to look for other opportunities. Some are worried their offers will ultimately fall through, while others simply can’t afford to go without pay until 2024, according to Greg Victory, executive director of the career center at Duke University.

Brand Names

Barbara Hewitt, executive director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania, said there are still opportunities for recent grads, but suggests more have to look beyond big-name companies.

That’s apparently what students are doing. According to Handshake, a job-search platform for college students, the Class of ’23 seems to care less about a big brand name than the Class of ’22 did. For this year’s grads, job searches at major technology companies, for instance, are down 15% since their immediate predecessors collected their diplomas. Many students are throwing in more applications, too, and in a wider range of industries.

In recent days, Ghazi managed to nab a job working in client solutions at FactSet. Laura Darza, meanwhile, has been applying to every job she can.

Darza, a management information studies major who graduated from Santa Clara University in March, always thought she’d go into tech. But now, she spends her days scouring LinkedIn and other job search platforms looking for job postings across a variety of industries.

In the past few weeks, she’s reached out to about 60 people on LinkedIn for informational interviews with the hopes of connecting with someone who might be able to offer a referral or point her towards a potential opportunity. So far, she’s gotten only eight responses.

“I’ve done like 20 drafts of my resume for different jobs. I do one for marketing, I do one for business operations,” she said. “It kind of has made me sit down and reevaluate, okay, what should I be improving about myself.” 

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com.

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