According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for young African-American college graduates more than doubles the unemployment rate for the White population. At 19 percent, the unemployment rate for Black college graduates far surpasses the 8 percent White unemployment rate, which includes those without even a high school degree. For White college graduates the rate is 8.4 percent.
“I have friends on both sides who for whatever reason have been unemployed and are still having a hard time finding a job. I have friends in different fields who are having trouble finding a job,” said Bruce Talbert, 42, of Philadelphia. “The competition now is so steep, more than it was a couple years ago, because of the economy and jobs are so scarce; a lot of companies have pulled back.”
With an undergraduate degree in marketing from Delaware State University and certification in mortuary science, Talbert currently finds himself working part time at Banana Republic and collecting unemployment. His story is similar to so many who have found themselves unemployed, underemployed, or working jobs unrelated to their degree in the years since graduating from college.
Four years after graduating from mortuary school, Talbert became licensed and began working in a funeral home where he remained until the business went under in 2003. In the years that followed, he found himself bouncing around to a new job every few years. Now he is working in retail with plans to start his own funeral home business.
“I was working at a funeral home for a long time and then I went to corporate America and I was let go,” Talbert said. “The maximum weekly unemployment isn’t enough to pay all of my bills. So it’s been a little bit stressful.”
So what can recent college graduates, or those older graduates who recently found themselves unemployed do? According to recent reports, today’s jobs aren’t found through online job postings or classified advertisements. Instead, 70 percent of jobs across the country are found through networking.
“There’s no question that the most important thing I’ve learned personally and professionally is you’ve got to network. It’s absolutely imperative to establish those relationships. I know that if it wasn’t for the folks when I came out of college, who were there for me professionally, I wouldn’t have got those jobs,” said K. Chase Patterson, president and CEO of Corporate Diversity Associates, LLC. “When an employer posts a job, there are thousands of people who are applying but there’s only one person they’re looking for. The reality is that’s life. Networking helps you develop relationships. The reality is this is a dog eat dog world; no one is given anything for free.”
Corporate Diversity Associates is a company that markets minority talent to corporate employers both locally and nationally. Patterson said the best way for a person to make themselves attractive to prospective employers is to develop a personal brand.
“I’ve been carrying a briefcase and business cards since the sixth grade. I learned early that those things are important. If you’re in leadership positions in college, it’s a demonstration to your employer that you know how to work with people and that you can take on more work than is necessary. When you’re going through that process you’ve got to know that people are looking for specific things on your resume,” Patterson said. “Regardless of nepotism or any internal politics, if you have the skills and you have the talent and you know how to market those skills and talents than that’s what you have to do.”
Patterson was the keynote speaker at the Point Park University Black Student Union’s Diversity Soul Food Social Dec. 9. The event served as an opportunity for students to network and discuss corporate diversity.
“We try to link people to different connections through events like this. But we don’t do any employment programs,” said Ciera Onley, president of Black Student Union. “They have a lot of career services like resume writing and how to do a cover letter at the career services center. They also have job fairs so they really push the idea of setting people up for a job. We also have to do internships; that’s a part of our curriculum.”
Both Patterson and Onley said it’s important to utilize a college’s career services center well in advance of graduation. These centers also sponsor career fairs where students can meet prospective employers.