If you've driven up Broadway Extension in Oklahoma City in the past week or so, you've probably seen it — a yellow billboard with the words “Hire Me!” in giant black letters.
Just next to the text is the picture of Mike Thompson, a recent graduate who took a creative approach to job-seeking.
Thompson, 27, graduated from Oklahoma Christian University in April with a master's of business administration. When he graduated, he entered a job market that experts say is still challenging for recent graduates.
Since he graduated, Thompson has sent out dozens of job applications. So far, he said, he's heard nothing back from any of them.
After spending about a month and a half searching, Thompson decided to get creative. So he bought billboard space in one of the more heavily trafficked areas of Oklahoma City highway.
“It's a total bottleneck,” Thompson said. “At 5:00, you've got to see me.”
Just a few months out of graduate school, Thompson said he's concerned about his job prospects. Thompson and his wife will be having a baby boy in November, so finding a steady source of income is all the more important, he said.
In the past, he said, he's done internal consulting work for firms in Tulsa and Joplin, Mo., finding ways to solve problems and make work run more smoothly and efficiently. He's looking for something similar now, but jobs like those can be difficult to find, he said.
“That's not a job that's ever posted,” he said. “The problem for me is finding the right job.”
Thompson isn't alone. Although the nation's labor market is improving slowly, experts say job prospects for recent graduates remain weak.
A recent report from the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute shows that the unemployment rate for recent college graduates spiked from 5.7 percent in 2007 — just before the onset of the recession — to 10.4 percent in 2010. Since then, the rate dropped slightly, to 9.4 percent in 2011. The report, titled “The Class of 2012,” was released in May.
That spike was even sharper for nonwhite recent graduates. In 2007, the unemployment rate of young black college graduates was 8.5 percent. By 2010, that rate had risen to 21.9 percent. Young Hispanic college graduates saw their unemployment rate increase from 7 percent in 2007 to 15.4 percent in 2010.
Labor economist Heidi Shierholz, one of the co-authors of the study, said young people in general — not just recent college graduates — tend to have a higher unemployment rate than the general population, no matter what the economic climate looks like.
Part of the reason behind that disparity, she said, is that young workers have less seniority, meaning they're typically more likely to lose their jobs when their companies begin layoffs.
Younger workers also tend to be more mobile and less stable, she said. Because they're often still trying to decide where they'd like to live and work, they often have short spells of unemployment. Although they may not last more than a few months, those brief periods are reflected in national job numbers, she said.
As high as they are, Shierholz said, the unemployment numbers for recent graduates may actually paint a rosier picture than the one recent graduates encounter in the real world. National unemployment numbers don't take into account recent graduates who have jobs that don't require a degree, like waiting tables.
Underemployment of young adults is generally fairly high — even in good times, there are always baristas with history degrees, Shierholz said. But since the onset of the depression, even those with more marketable degrees are having trouble finding jobs, she said.
Although the job outlook remains bleak for recent graduates, the numbers are steadily improving, she said. That improvement is slow, she said, so graduates in 2013 and 2014 can look forward to a difficult job search, as well. But the job market the Class of 2012 is entering is better than the one the Class of 2010 encountered.
“That's a really low bar,” she said. “It's better than then, which is about all you can say.”