Surprise: Biz Grads Underemployed?


While their pay may be lagging, business majors may also hold expectations that the marketplace doesn’t share. “There’s very little salary transparency in general, and even less for people early in their career,” Josh Jarrett, Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer at Koru, tells PayScale. “What may be happening is people hear about high salaries via the rumor mill and assume the outliers are the norm.

In addition, there’s the possibility that workers’ assessments of their place in the market is based on a flawed understanding of what employers are looking for or what their skill sets are worth.”


So what are employers seeking? People skills, for one. According to a December 2012 study by McKinsey & Company, the top soft skills sought by employers include work ethic (80%), teamwork (79%), oral communications (73%), specific hands-on job training (69%), and problem-solving (66%).


For technical skills, Chegg Research reported in April that employers most valued word processing (89%), spreadsheet software (86%), data analytics and business (82%), database queries and manipulation (81%), and information management (77%).

While the market is (generally) in agreement on what it needs, 52% struggle to find qualified applicants for open positions according to a 2014 PayScale survey of 3,000 employers. In fact, 59% of employers cited “lack of qualified applicants” as the reason why many of their positions remain unfilled in this same survey.

This should come as troubling news to business majors, as their skill sets most align with the positions they struggle to fill. Although IT (22%) and engineering (18%) top the list from PayScale, employers also struggled to find suitable candidate s for management (18%), sales (15%), customer service (10%), executive level (10%), and finance (7%), and marketing (6%).

Not Listening

This trend may also reflect a schism between academics and employers according to PayScale. Recently, 64% of educators and 41% of employers agreed that colleges were teaching the skills employers value most. What’s behind this discrepancy? It really ties to what schools value in terms of education and what employers value in terms of new hires,” explains Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale. “Schools typically task themselves with providing students with the necessary critical thinking skills that make them pliable for learning new tasks, technologies and methodologies on the job. However, in today’s saturated labor market, employers are pickier and often want a new hire to come in with all the necessary skills to hit the ground running.”


Overall, 43% of the sample felt they were underemployed, while 80% described themselves as underpaid. Women were more likely than men to refer to themselves as underemployed (48% vs. 39%). Surprisingly, men were slightly more likely to describe themselves as underpaid (81% vs. 80%). That said, women held the majority in nine of the ten majors reporting the highest rates of underemployment, with criminal justice being the lone exception. However, this could stem from female college graduates outnumbering male college graduates by a 61.6%-38.4% margin in 2013 according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Gen-Y respondents (Those born between 1982-2002) produced the highest percentage of respondents who called themselves underemployed (45% vs. 44% for baby boomers and 40% for Gen-X). As a whole, they were less prone to label themselves as underemployed (77% vs. 82% for Gen-X and 81% for baby boomers).

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