6 Reasons Why College Graduates Are Underemployed

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The fundamental reason people decide to pursue higher education is to have financial security.

In fact, many college students are “guaranteed” a high paying job after graduating. 

However, a recent study conducted by researchers from Burning-Glass Technologies reported that “43% of college graduates are underemployed in their first job.”  

Furthermore, the study revealed that “underemployment is persistent–that first job can set the tone for career success for as much as a decade.”

This is quite intimidating for upcoming college graduates.

Underemployment refers to individuals who are working in a lower capacity than they are qualified for. 

In other words: college graduates who are not landing jobs in their field and are settling for less. As an example, someone who graduated with a degree in STEM but works at a restaurant as a server. 

While unemployment rates in the United States are lower, soon-to-be graduates should be concerned about underemployment rates.

So why is this happening to college graduates?

The answer is simple.

Companies desire college graduates with relevant work experience that adds value to their organization’s mission, vision, and values.

Many college students assume that a college degree is sufficient enough to earn them a high paying job in their field.

Unfortunately, as you can see, this is no longer the case.

It is important that you start taking action and focus on relevant work experience to develop and enhance your level of expertise.

To help you better prepare for landing a job in your field, I decided to compile a list of reasons why college graduates are not landing their high paying jobs and what you can start doing today to prevent this outcome.

Are you ready?

Let’s get it!

College graduates are underemployed

1. No Work Experience

Sure, obtaining a degree from top universities like Harvard, Yale or MIT can bring a lot of opportunities solely due to their reputation. 

But just acquiring the degree doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the job of your dreams. 

I always like to pose the following question as an example: 

“Would you let a doctor with a Ph.D, but with no experience, perform surgery on you? Or would you let a doctor with a Masters degree and 4+ years of experience perform surgery on you?”

Hopefully you chose the person with experience…

Instead of spending time on unproductive behaviors -like scrolling through your Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social platforms, you should focus on spending your time more productively and developing yourself professionally

Too often, college students spend a majority of their time partying and drinking. 

While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself and connecting with peers every once in a while, you should be looking for ways to enhance your level of work experience.

Check out these ways to gain work experience:

Apply to internships

There are hundreds of companies that provide internships for college students.

Check out internships.com or Coolworks.com to find something that’s right for you!

You can also consult with your professors or advisors about any internships they might know of.

They should have plenty of connections on and off campus.

Apply to local volunteering opportunities

Volunteering obviously does not pay you any money.

However, it makes no difference to employers whether or not you got paid, as long as you gained experience.

Get a part-time job related to your major

For example, Mayra was able to work part-time as a student assistant working on graphic design jobs and it was related to her major. 

Since she is still working there part-time while taking MBA classes full-time, she can count those 4 years working there as relevant work experience.

Ask your colleagues, professors, advisors and even the head of your department to keep an eye out for any jobs that fit you.

Don’t be intimidated – faculty and staff are there to assist you in your college success. Remember that they were once in your shoes too. 

Contact local companies to shadow professionals in your career

One of my students aspires to be a dental hygienist.

We called a couple of local dental hygiene centers to see if they let college students shadow them.

Lucky for her, she was granted the opportunity to shadow a dental hygienist twice a week.

If you work well and learn a lot during the process, there’s a possibility they might offer you a job or could even be an excellent reference.

Remember: employers seek candidates who bring value to their company; the more work experience you have, the higher your chances of getting the job.

2. No Social Networking

According to a survey conducted in 2016, 85% of jobs are acquired through the sheer power of networking.

It was noted that most employers prefer to hire candidates who have been recommended by someone they know.

One of the most valuable concepts I learned in college was how powerful and profitable it is to create a social network. 

Wherever I went, I made sure to step out of my comfort zone and introduced myself to people of importance at mixers, colleges, work, you name it. 

You’d be surprised by how many internships, jobs, volunteering, and research assistant opportunities I received by simply networking with people. 

Get connected with the right people by:

  • Attending club meetings
  • Joining organizations
  • Volunteering or attending networking events put on by your college
  • Attending conferences
  • Attending info-sessions related to your career (career fairs)
  • Going to your professor’s office hours

Getting involved in clubs or organizations, and attending conferences, social events, and office hours, automatically puts you one step ahead of other students who are not taking advantage of these opportunities. 

Office hours are crucial. 

You might be intimidated to go because you don’t know what to say or ask.

That’s perfectly normal.

Believe me, a lot of students worldwide feel this way. But even if you don’t have questions, just walk in and be casual. 

Your professors are humans and they were once students before just like you.

This is the time to establish a relationship with them.

Get to know them beyond their bio and classroom introduction, and tell them more about you – your life, your passions,  your goals, where you see yourself after graduating…

Establishing these types of connections is important. 

Throughout your college trajectory, it is recommended that you establish 11 personal and professional connections with faculty or staff; 3-5 are also fine. 

Imagine applying to jobs and having multiple references to choose from; people with important titles (e.g. the head of your department, college dean, faculty with Ph.D, research mentors, advisors, etc.)

I know a lot of college students who visited professors during office hours and received professional advice, opportunities, internships, and adopted career skills.

3. Bad Resume

6 seconds! Not 60… six.

You only have about 6 seconds to capture an employer’s attention with your resume and read more about you. 

Take my advice and stop using those generic, old fashioned templates that everyone is using and polish up your resume. Make it stand out by adding something unique (color, font, logo, etc.)

Things to consider when making your resume:

  1. I can’t stress this enough: grammar is important. Spell check everything!
  2. According to Undercover Recruiter.com, “59% of recruiters will reject a candidate because of poor grammar or a spelling error.”
  3. Keep it to one page; only list relevant work experience to the job position if you have several years of work experience.
  4. If you have no work experience and are new to the job market, it’s okay to put all your work experience on your resume.
  5. Use font size 12 – 14 and use Times New Roman
  6. Under each of your job descriptions, use bullet points and get straight to the point to describe what you did (start with a verb and write in past-tense) For example: Collected and analyzed x data using y software
  7. Follow this resume format: education, work experience, leadership, accomplishments, strengths and volunteering if needed.
  8. According to Zety.com, “there’s a simple rule for how to put volunteer experience on a resume. The best place to include volunteer experience in your resume is the “work experience” section if: 1) it’s very relevant to the job or you’ve got very little paid experience or a resume gap.
  9. Review it 3-4 times and then have two different people review your resume and give you feedback (a different set of eyes is always helpful).
  10. Do NOT lie in your resume – they will know, and you will kill your shot
  11. Have a career services coach from your college to review your resume for some constructive feedback

Do not ignore these steps.

If you want more information on where I got my resume tips, here’s a post from Indeed.com, 10 Resume Writing Tips to Help You Land a Job

To help get you started, here are some cool websites with a variety of free resume templates you should check out:

(PSA:) Some employers are now using the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) 

The ATS process is a software that scans, collects, and sorts resumes by filtering candidate applications based on keywords related to the job description and other factors. 

Make sure you find out what the hiring process is like before applying for a specific position.

4. Lack of Interview Preparation

So your resume passed the screening test? 

That’s awesome. Good for you!

But how are your interview skills?

“49% of employers know within the first five minutes of an interview if a candidate is a good fit for a position” (Careerbuilder).

Their first impression of you can determine whether or not you get the job. 

You have to impress employers and convince them you are the right candidate within the first five minutes of your interview.

Statistics to know in preparing for job interviews:

  • Start with a positive attitude; give a firm handshake and thank them for having you there.
  • Smile more! Twin Employment reported that “40% of interviewers thought that a lack of a smile is a good enough reason not to consider a candidate.” 
  • Evaluate the job description ahead of time! This gives you general ideas of what you can say during the interview regarding the qualities they seek in a candidate.
  • “Poor eye contact, bad posture and weak handshakes are among most common body language mistakes.” (Careerbuilder)
  • “50% of interviewers think that a candidate can be eliminated for the position due to the way they dressed, acted or walked through the door.” (Twin Employment)

At the end of your interview, make sure you have at least 3 questions you would like to ask them about the position or organization. 

You should also consider doing some mock interviews. Ask a friend, family member, or professor to help you!

Mock interviews are real simulations that help you practice for an interview with someone, and they can provide you with tips and feedback to improve your interview skills.

5. No Self-Confidence

According to a Strada-Gallup survey, “a majority of students don’t believe they will graduate with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the job market…”

This survey was conducted using approximately 32,000 student participants.

This is quite alarming given that colleges and universities are responsible for ensuring that college students are getting jobs right out of college.

But let’s not make this an excuse. As adults, we have to learn to adapt and find ways to prevent this outcome from happening to us.

Here are things you need to know about employers:

  • 65% of interviewers said that candidates who failed to make eye contact didn’t get the role that they were applying for (Twin Employment)
  • 20% of interviewers said that candidates who sat with their arms crossed during their meetings were not considered for the role (Twin Employment)
  • Overall, 40% of the interviewers stated that the candidate’s level of confidence would influence whether or not they would be considered for the position (Twin Employment)

Developing self-confidence is a key factor in landing your dream job. 

Self-confidence generally develops naturally from the amount of work experience you gain, and it will definitely show during your interview as long as you remember these helpful tips and statistics.

Here is another blog to help you start building confidence by implementing powerful habits into your everyday schedule.

6. Did Not Research the Company!

9/10 times, when applying to a company, they are going to ask you why you want to work for them and what characteristics or strengths you would contribute to their success.

Be sure to study their website, bio, brand, customers, skim their profile on Glassdoor, Linkedin, Google and watch any of their videos on YouTube.

This is a great way to evaluate the culture and atmosphere of the organization before entering the interview.

“47% of interviewers said that they wouldn’t offer the job to a candidate if they had little knowledge of the company” (Twin Employment).

I don’t blame them, I wouldn’t either!

As you research the company, pay close attention to their mission, vision, and values and use that to your advantage. 

It is important to have a significant amount of knowledge regarding the company you are applying for in order to understand their problems and goals.


Going to college and graduating with your degree will NOT guarantee you your dream job.

  1. Make sure you are getting involved by joining clubs, volunteering, visiting office hours, and applying for internships and jobs that are related to your future career job.

  2. After building your work experience, put it on your resume and show employers you have more to bring to the table than just your college degree.


  3. Make an appointment with your Career Services Coach to learn various ways that can help you develop professionally and to find out about jobs and internships related to your field of study.


  4. Continue to social network and establish connections with as many professionals as you can – this will help you with references and letters of recommendation when applying to jobs.


  5. Practice your interview skills, and prepare by researching the company and employer to get a better understanding of how to approach the actual interview.

Now that you have seen the statistics, it’s time to start learning from people’s mistakes and find ways to land your dream job right out of college.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post.

Please share the link with your colleagues, social media followers, and family. 

Last but not least, were you surprised by any of the statistics I provided? Which ones stood out to you the most? 

Was it the one about how many college graduates are underemployed? 

What are some ways you’re going to start getting involved? 

Be sure to let me know in the comments below!

Yours Truly,


Yo! Yo! We are Marcos & Mayra

We help college students and millennials with ways to save & make money, eliminate debt, scholarship advice, resume & interview tips, and to achieve financial freedom to help you
 live the life you want.