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Unemployed With an Advanced Degree? Here’s How to Get Back on Track

Every year, thousands of Americans earn advanced degrees in an effort to get better jobs and more lucrative paychecks. While these graduates may also hope that an advanced degree offers some job security, recent studies show that up to 20 percent of those who are unemployed have an advanced degree.

Every year, thousands of Americans earn advanced degrees in an effort to get better jobs and more lucrative paychecks. While these graduates may also hope that an advanced degree offers some job security, recent studies show that up to 20 percent of those who are unemployed have an advanced degree.

(Photo Credit: Simon Cunningham/Flickr)

Before you decide whether to earn an advanced degree, it’s important to do your homework to figure out if it’s going to be worth it — especially considering the risk of becoming unemployed. PayScale recently had a chance to speak with Sunil Sani, co-founder of CareerGlider, a site that gives prospective students information about programs that match their career goals, about why so many graduates with advanced degrees are unemployed — what what to do if you’re one of them.

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PayScale: Why are so many graduates with advanced degrees unemployed?
Sani: It’s simple; there are no positions for them. While there’s been a slow and steady overall job recovery, most of those jobs have been low-paying and service industry related. Those unemployed with advanced degrees face a much smaller pool of job openings, and it’s likely to stay that way until the economy fully recovers. Of course, by then, their skills will probably be obsolete. So it’s not pretty.

PayScale: What are the most common fields for those with advanced degrees to find themselves unemployed in?
Sani: Surprisingly, in an economic comeback that values STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) we’re seeing a lot of the folks with advanced engineering degrees having a tough go of it. This is probably because new construction and public works are down … but in general, these fields are seeing only mediocre growth prospects even 10 years out. The other sciences are doing well, however, with medical careers taking off significantly. As a side note, perhaps of little surprise, the arts continue their dominance on the least employable skills list … with those in journalism, English, and music seeing really steep odds at landing work.

PayScale: How long do they typically stay unemployed for?
Sani: We’re looking at folks who have been out of work for years now. They’re the long-term unemployed. They’re too overqualified for lesser positions and oftentimes, saddled with student debt, they find themselves having to move back in with parents or rely totally on their spouse for support. There’s a new term for this… the downward financially mobile.

PayScale: How can these graduates with advanced degrees bounce back from unemployment?
Sani: We’ve seen some success with candidates who go back to school and get certified in a course, related to their previous field of interest, that provides them with the skills employers are currently looking for. While they may not end up at the salary range or prestige level they’d been accustomed to, they will have gainful employment and a foot in the door — where their talents can be evaluated and, perhaps, promoted.

PayScale: What can these graduates do to minimize the gap between jobs — even if they aren’t actually employed?
Sani: There are several courses of action to take when it comes to preventing career gaps on the resume. First, if you can, enroll in some courses. Recruiters would much rather see you’ve been proactive with your time between positions. Coursework shows you are serious about keeping your skills up-to-date. Second, try to stay visible in your industry by creating an active online presence. This can take the shape of an informative blog about your field, LinkedIn posts, or participation in discussion forums where the issues facing your industry are discussed. Build a name for yourself with your peers. And thirdly, see if you can apply your skills to volunteer needs in your community. This looks great on a resume and the experience can lead to some great networking contacts.

PayScale: What can job applicants do to minimize gaps in their resumes?
Sani: Schooling is a great way to fill in a gap. If you can’t afford traditional courses, look in to the free online MOOC classes that more and more colleges are offering. Some even result in degrees and certificates.

PayScale: What advice would you offer folks who’ve been unemployed for longer than 26 weeks?
Sani: It may be time to consider a change in career paths. Go where the opportunities are and adapt your skills, technical or otherwise, to a new venture. This may involve some schooling — in order to be versed in the new field’s requirements. But if you’ve been out of work for more than six months, you may be holding out hope for a job that’s no longer relevant in today’s economy.

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