Renaissance student

Francie Johnson

Armed with a cup of coffee or three, a textbook and a laptop, students at The University of Alabama are facing increasingly frenetic schedules, fighting the temptation of sleep and tackling essays and assignments into the early hours of the morning.

For some students, these late nights will continue long after graduation. Only instead of studying, they will include pouring shots at a bar, mopping the floors of a restaurant or driving a cab full of drunken strangers through dark city streets.

It’s no secret that finding a job straight out of college is a challenge in itself, but that’s only the beginning of the problem. According to a 2013 study by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, about 48 percent of employed recent college graduates have jobs that don’t typically require college degrees. More and more graduates with bachelor’s degrees, and even master’s degrees, have jobs as bartenders, waiters, sales clerks and cab drivers.

Grayson Moore, a senior majoring in marketing, said the competitiveness of the job market doesn’t faze him.

“I had a great internship, and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to get a job where I had an internship,” Moore said. “I think that shows the importance of really finding a good internship after your junior year. Once you build connections, you’re more likely to get hired than if you’re trying to just send in a blind resume.”

In addition to completing a summer internship at ESPN, Moore is president of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. He’s also a marketing intern with the Alabama Athletic Department, employee at the dean of students’ office, member of the Student Alumni Association and director of athletics for the SGA.

Moore said he thinks his involvement on campus will play an important role in helping him find a job after graduation.

“A lot of kids are going to have [good GPA’s],” Moore said. “I think student involvement is really what would separate you from somebody else who has a similar GPA. You get more experiences that you can put down on your resume from being involved, not just a number that says you did well on a test.”

While employers do take GPA into consideration, straight A’s are not always the golden ticket to postgraduate employment. In a 2012 study by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace, 43 percent of employers surveyed placed more importance on experience than academics, while only 22 percent placed more importance on academics.

“Companies aren’t solely focused on the 4.0 necessarily,” Travis Railsback, executive director of the Career Center, said. “We encourage students to put themselves in the position to develop practical skills to use in the workforce. Frankly, you can find students that can study and have a strong GPA, but what companies are looking for is whether or not that student will be successful in that organization.”

Railsback, who has worked at the Career Center for almost two years, has seen students with resumes listing as many as 10 to 15 clubs and organizations. However, when it comes to student involvement, he said employers value quality over quantity.

“It’s not enough to be a member of an organization,” Railsback said. “If someone asks you about that organization, you should be able to talk about your contribution to that group. You’re better off not having it [on your resume] if you can’t talk about how you’ve been an active part of it.”

It may not sound like much, but even committing to just two or three extracurriculars can absorb a surprising amount of free time, especially when those activities are competing with schoolwork and having a social life.

“I’ve been feeling like I just don’t have enough time to finish everything that I want to do,” Meghan Steel, a senior majoring in anthropology, said. “I’ve had to spend a lot of time [on extracurricular activities]. These things always end up pushing out the fun stuff, like dinner with friends or going to the gym, or even just taking the time to cook myself a good dinner. Thank God for Crimson2Go or else I might not even have time to eat most days.”

Even with these time constraints, some students still feel the need to become involved in as many activities as possible in order to make themselves more attractive to potential employers. Steel participates in the Evolutionary Studies Club and the Human Behavioral Ecology Research Group, but she said she sometimes wonders if she’s doing enough.

“I constantly feel pressured to add as many ‘categories’ to my resume as possible,” Steel said. “[But] I’ve stuck with the belief that depth of participation as opposed to breadth is what really makes me marketable.”

The looming threat of unemployment not only influences the number of activities students choose to participate in, but the type of activities as well.

“Kids definitely feel pressure to participate in activities that make me more marketable solely because of the nature of the job market,” Chris Lancaster, a freshman majoring in economics and French, said. “Everyone wants to have a leg up on one another, and the easiest way to do that is to be more involved.”

Although he’s been at the University for less than a semester, Lancaster juggles Freshman Forum, business professional group Phi Beta Lambda, the 2014 Parent Ambassador team and the Emerging Scholars program.

“I think half of what kids do for extracurriculars is driven by being a resume builder,” Lancaster said. “I know that I do some things for resume and networking, but a couple of the things I do are because I genuinely get joy out of them. I think extracurriculars have a business and pleasure side that each kid taps into.”

Sometimes it’s difficult not to crack under the constant responsibilities and mile-long to-do lists that come with being in college.

“I mean it’s stressful sometimes, especially having a lot of responsibilities,” Moore said. “But I think organization and time management are the two most important things in college. So if you can master those skills, then you’d be able to be involved in a lot of things and still be successful in all of them.”

In order to stay on top of everything, Moore keeps an online calendar of important events, as well as a planner that lists all of his tests and projects for the entire semester. He also uses the time management website Asana.com to make checklists of tasks he has to complete.

Knowing how to manage one’s time can be a valuable asset when searching for a job. At the end of the day, employers don’t place as much emphasis on the extracurricular activities themselves as they do on the skills students acquire from becoming involved, Railsback said.

“It’s important that students develop transferable skills that would be of interest to employers,” Railsback said. “[For example], learning to lead a team, working with diverse groups of people and communicating effectively. Employers are looking for examples of when students might have done that kind of thing.”

Learning to be a team player is essential, he said.

“Companies are looking for people who can work well with others,” Railsback said. “It doesn’t matter what field you’re in or how smart you are, you won’t be successful if you can’t work well with other people.”

Moore said a little extra effort to stay informed about current events in one’s field can go a long way, especially when it comes time for an interview.

“When I interviewed with ESPN, I knew some current trends that were going on that affected their business, and I brought that up in the interview, and they were really impressed by it,” Moore said. “I think that’s one thing that maybe college students don’t do enough – read magazines, online articles, things of that nature about the industry that you want to go into so that you can take your interview to the next level.”

When preparing for the post-college job hunt, the sooner one starts, the better. Railsback encourages students to seek guidance from the Career Center as early as their freshman year, but he said it’s never too late to start planning ahead.

“I would say, ideally, a student would come and engage us early in their college career,” he said. ‘But if you’re a student that’s closer to graduation, we’re still here to help you as well.

“One thing that I would encourage students to do is reach out to people within their colleges who understand what the expectations are of those particular roles in the outside world.”

All in all, Railsback said the key to finding a job after college can be summed up in one word: perseverance.

“The job search in and of itself is a job,” he said. “The students we see succeed are the students who are very persistent and intentional in their search.”