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Career coach says job market is challenging, but ‘not hopeless’

The job search for college graduates in the class of 2020 may be challenging, but it's not impossible. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

College graduates in the class of 2020 find themselves entering what, by all accounts, is the worst job market since the Depression, but it’s not hopeless.

“It’s probably pretty hard, but it’s not hopeless,” Kathryn Saxer, a career coach and Seattle Times columnist, told Seattle’s Morning News about the current job market. “The last couple clients I’ve had conversations with recently were both … negotiating multiple offers, so it’s not completely dead out there.”

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Even in the best of circumstances, entering the job market is challenging. Saxer says there are three things at risk for the class of 2020: confidence, opportunities, and wages.

“This job search is probably going to take longer than they’re expecting or wanting,” she said. “It’s not impossible, but it might take longer, and they are risk of losing confidence. The second sort of thing at risk is opportunity. And then the third risk is their wages.”

Right now, it is an employer’s market, and not necessarily the best time for a hard-ball salary negotiation.

“I would coach these young people, as soon as you land that first job, you start planting the seeds for the next one,” Saxer said. “… If you have to take a job at a lower salary than you were hoping for, than you wanted, than you feel like you know is market rate, you start planning the next job. So two years from now, you can you can move, and [you] want to be actively, proactively pushing your salary up so that you don’t take this long-term hit on your earning power.”

Saxer also suggests college graduates use this time to network and take time to explore, if they can afford to do so, rather than frantically searching for a job.

“A network starts with one person because that person, that neighbor that you just happen to be talking to who isn’t in your field is maybe married to somebody who is, or has a sister who is,” she said.

“Networking is just about making friends. It’s about being excited about exploring what’s out there, what the opportunities are,” Saxer added.

She said networking is not humiliating and shouldn’t be viewed as begging for help. By talking to a lot of people, graduates can get a better idea of what they might want to do, and it’s OK if they’re not yet sure what they want to do.

“Most of us don’t really know,” Saxer said. “When you’re about to start a networking project, there’s a whole lot of preparation you want to do ahead of time so that it sounds like you have a plan, even if you don’t have a plan.”

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Saxer has a list of six “dreadful questions” that graduates and job searchers can expect and prepare answers for so they’re not caught off guard.

The first is: Tell me a little about yourself.

“Since you know you’re going to get that question, if you can get ahead of that to have a really good answer to that question … so that your your mouth can be busy answering the question and your brain gets to be funny, and making eye contact, and managing your body language, and thinking about the next thing and improvising in the moment, doing all the things we want your brain doing, not stumbling over words and not being able to answer a super simple question.”

No matter what the economic times are at the moment, graduates can’t blow off basic job search strategy, Saxer said. She also suggested college graduates take advantage of career services at their schools for resume help, mock interviews, and connections while they can.

“You end up doing, oftentimes, completely different things than you thought you were gonna be doing at the beginning,” she said.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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