Is it fair that new graduates don't get hired?

When you're looking for a job, get "fair" out of your head -- it isn't relevant

Dear Bob ...

I'll be graduating with a B.S. degree this spring, and have started to look for my first real job. So far as I can tell, very few companies are hiring, and the ones that are hiring aren't interested in new college graduates ... they all want at least three years of professional experience.

[ Get sage IT career advice from Bob Lewis' Advice Line newsletter. ]

This doesn't seem fair to me -- it's a chicken-and-egg trap, because the only way I can get three years of experience is for some company to hire me.

What do you think?

- Stuck in my shell

Dear Stuck ...

When did you get the idea that "fair" has anything to do with the employment marketplace? It's no more meaningful for you to complain that employers aren't being fair to you than it is for General Motors to complain that car buyers aren't being fair to it. GM either makes cars people want to buy or it doesn't. You either offer services employers want to hire or you don't.

It isn't about you. It's about them and their desire to maximize the value they get from their payroll dollars. And right now, they can get more value because supply exceeds demand.

If you want to convince a potential employer to hire you, you need to think of yourself as a product, with all the dimensions of a product: branding, marketing, pricing, features and functionality ... the works. You're selling the product called you, and in sales it's all about benefit to the buyer, not fairness to the seller.

And now, a word of unsolicited advice:

In my experience, college graduates tend to think of larger companies when they look for work. In strong economic times, that's probably a good strategy.

Right now it's for the birds.

My best guess is that for new graduates, small companies are your best bet. You can often interview directly with the owner and talk about your willingness to work hard, for not all that much so that you can gain real-world experience. You can talk about what you've learned in the classroom (computer programming, for example) and how it can make you a jack-of-all-trades -- unimportant in large enterprises but essential in small firms.

Whatever you talk about, remember that it's all about how you'll provide much more value to your employer than you'll receive in compensation.

One more thing: Right now, you'll need a lot of persistence because even with the best strategy your or I can imagine, the employment marketplace is destroying three jobs for every two it's creating.

Good luck.

- Bob