THE BLOG
03/19/2013 03:13 pm ET Updated May 19, 2013

Young College Grads Have No Idea What's Going On

The other day, a soon-to-be college graduate, facing commencement and the real world in a matter of three months, emailed me looking for help.

I'm writing because I've been having such a hard time recently: I applied to a few law schools, and so far it's looking like I'm going to have limited options. I'm starting to think about applying for jobs now, but I'm incredibly intimidated by the process and I really don't even know what I would be looking for.

First, I assured her that she should not beat herself up, as her predicament is a widespread, generational one. A whopping 53 percent of recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed. And so many, disenchanted by the ad hoc job search, apply to highly competitive graduate schools, irrespective of their undergraduate degree.

Students are told they'd be "great lawyers" if they even have the slightest aptitude for debate. Religion majors land jobs on Wall Street. And a degree in Writing Seminars might as well be the new one-way ticket into medical school, seeing as it shows "diversity of interest," or whatever it is admissions officers are looking for these days.

Needless to say, your undergraduate degree doesn't do much in the way of offering direction when it comes to both applying to jobs or grad schools.

Like many undergraduates, obtaining a professional degree immediately after receiving a bachelor's seemed like the natural next step for my friend. I mean, with employers so valuing "work experience," what next step is there for recent grads with a few summer internships to show for themselves, really? But, unfortunately, obtaining an advanced degree isn't exactly an attractive option either.

Even as law school applications are on track to hit a 30-year low, lawyering remains an over-saturated profession. The National Association for Legal Placement compared data from 2007 and 2011, concluding that the days of a J.D. leading to gainful employment were over, with only 60 percent on new J.D.s finding full-time employment. Now, with so many qualified lawyers competing for the same jobs, many are settling for legal assistant positions with meager salaries intended to support a life and pay off three-figures of student debt.

Those young grads gunning for business and medical school don't fare any better in the long run. Friends applying to business school are of the seemingly universal opinion that "if you can't get into a top tier school, you might as well scrap it," presumably because a good job is unlikely if the MBA isn't of the utmost quality.

As for med school, at a recent POLITICO Pro Deep Dive: Mental Health Care panel, Congressmen lamented, "You can graduate all the medical students that you want, but if they can't get into residency program, it doesn't matter."

So, what is a soon-to-be college graduate to do in this abysmal job market, where even graduate school alternatives look bleak?

Capitalize on who you know.

With email and social media sites like LinkedIn, human resource departments are increasingly inundated with mountains of resumes. To distribute your cover letter en masse, all you have to do is click send, et voila, your credentials are blasted to hundreds of overwhelmed employers.

A degree is necessary, but not sufficient. Differentiation hinges on connections -- on someone to put your resume at the top of that overflowing inbox.

I'm not talking about super outlandish connections either. You don't have to personally know the CEO of Goldman Sachs to get to Wall Street, or the Congressman himself to land a job on Capitol Hill. Use other people's connections to your advantage.

If the email resume blast has proven predictably ineffective, trust me, ask for help. Ask your parents, your parents' friends, your friends' parents' friends, neighbors, professors, customers from your summer gig at the restaurant. Ask someone, anyone. Because, in this job market, in which one-third of young people have a bachelor's and everyone is hoping for the same few spots at top tier grad schools, connections really are the golden ticket.