Happy Hunting

Recent graduates have reason to be glum about finding jobs. They should keep smiling.

Even when economic times are tough, obtaining a college degree is still the most tried and true path to a good job and financial security. A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found, for example, that Americans aged 21 to 24 with college degrees had weathered the Great Recession far better than their non-degree bearing peers. Not only were those with diplomas more likely to find work, they almost always earned more doing it.

The findings do not suggest, however, that recent graduates have it easy. Just prior to the report’s publication, the unemployment rate for the youngest college grads was 7.4 percent — twice the rate experienced by graduates in their 30s and early 40s. Many who are hired report being “underemployed” in jobs that typically wouldn’t require a college degree. Among these recent grads struggling to find work — or the right work — feelings of anxiety and disillusionment are common.

None of this comes as surprise to MU’s Daniel Turban, a professor of management who specializes in issues related to worker and workplace psychology. “The search for a job can be a stressful time in anyone’s life, especially first-time college graduates,” Turban says. “Job searching isn’t rewarding until the end of the search when a job is actually secure.”

Determining who tends to end up with a rewarding search was the subject of a recent investigation Turban published in the journal Personnel Psychology. The study aimed to discover where a group of job seeking college seniors ranked in terms of “affectivity” — a term psychologists use to describe a person’s feelings or emotions on a positive-to-negative continuum — and how this affected their job hunting performances.

Not surprisingly, students who ranked highly in “positive affectivity” tended to get hired more often. But this wasn’t because their winning personalities immediately charmed potential employers. In fact, Turban found, even the most positive-affect job seekers experienced plenty of rejection. Their advantage over their more pessimistic peers involved greater persistence: because positive-affect students weren’t as likely to let a bum interview or two sour them on the whole job-hunting process, they tended to find their way to employment more consistently.

“Negative and positive affectivity aren’t polar opposites and it is possible for people to show signs of both,” Turban said. “People with positive affectivity may have more energy, be more optimistic and recover quicker from stressful events. These traits cause them to be more proactive in the job search because they can recover faster from rejection.”

The takeaway for all job hunters, Turban says, is to stay positive and maintain your motivation throughout the entire search. Having a plan, and sticking to it, can help.

“People who have a plan in place, engage in higher-intensity searches and maintain motivation will have the best success in the job search,” he says. “Even when they get frustrated, because they have a plan in place, they are able to recover more quickly than those who do not.”

Turban adds that it’s important to know that affectivity and personality are not the same things. A person may be able to change their affectivity for a short period of time during a job search, he says, even if their personality remains unaltered.

“Unlike affectivity, personality can take much longer to change and requires much more work than changing your affectivity during a job search,” Turban says.

Applicant putting smiley-face business card in breast pocket

Illustration by Blake Dinsdale

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