Did you recently graduate, but you haven't been able to find meaningful work yet? First things first, don’t be discouraged. You just worked your ass off for several years, and you deserve congratulations and some grace. That may be all that you deserve though.
If you grew up anything like me, you might remember the fairytale of doing well in school, going to college, getting a good job that you love, eventually making 6 figures, buying that nice house, and having the kids and the dog running around in the yard while you drink your lemonade on the porch. At least that was my fairytale. It’s what I was always told by my family, my teachers, and society in general. And people wonder why Millennials are entitled…
I just knew that was going to be my reality by this point in my life. Boy was I wrong. Nobody told me about student loan debt, living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to find a job, etc. I write this humbly, because I don’t want to see you have the same unrealistic expectations and set yourself up for failure.
Take this as a lesson learned. In my experience, most college students who graduate without a solid plan after graduation did not do what they needed to do in college. I know this isn’t true for everyone, but I see it happen every day. Sometimes we have to humble ourselves, even if we did work hard. Let me share a personal story, so I don’t sound like a complete asshole.
I graduated from college with a 3.95 GPA and very little work experience. I was under the impression that if I worked hard in school, I would have whatever job I wanted. I laugh at myself now for that mindset. I decided to go to grad school immediately after I graduated for 3 reasons. 1. I was not ready to be an adult. 2. I did not want to be a full-time K-12 teacher. I had a passion for education and found higher education as another option. In order to succeed in the higher education field, you need at least a Master’s degree. 3. I wanted to get the hell out of small-town Illinois the easiest way possible. Not great reasons to go, but that’s the honest truth.
I only applied to 2 graduate programs. I just knew I was going to get into both and receive assistantship offers, scholarships, gold medals, hugs...LOL
I got accepted into FIU, but I needed an assistantship to be able to afford the tuition. I went and interviewed for 4 different positions. I remember hearing others excited about getting offers and accepting. I watched my email in pity for weeks, as I pictured all of the amazing people I met enjoy the experience without me. I also did not get accepted into the other school.
I decided to reach out to the graduate program director to explain how much I wanted to attend the school, and I was open to any opportunity for an assistantship. There was only 1 opening available. I reached out to the supervisor, and I wrote a long emotional email to express my interest in the position and the university. After a few interviews, I was able to secure that assistantship and regain my excitement for grad school. I ended up loving that job by the way, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Only after first humbling myself and realizing that nothing is owed to me.
If you have found yourself in this situation or a similar one, here are some strategies to get you back on the right track:
Find somewhere to volunteer that will give you relevant work experience. You won't get paid, but you aren't really getting paid without a job either. This will also show your passion for the work that you do because you were willing to do it for free. Even if you can’t find something directly related to your career path, volunteering will help keep you productive. It may also make you feel better than just sitting around waiting for something to happen for you.
Create your own internship. For example, let's say you want to be a social media manager for a record label. Try asking a local radio station, recording studio, band, or artist if you can run their social media pages for a few months. Or, maybe you want to work in human resources. Find local non-profit organizations to see if you can serve in a volunteer coordinator role. That could give you experience on onboarding new “employees” and potentially some supervision. Employers will be impressed that you took initiative and control over your career. Take a look at one of my previous articles, “Can’t Find an Internship? Create Your Own!”
Re-evaluate your job search strategy, if you have one. If not, create one. If you are using the "spray and pray" strategy (video game reference) by sending hundreds of resumes out each month, it may be time to try something different. You will also want to understand how Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) work, but that is still not the only way to approach job searching. Try going old school. Visit the company in person, pick up the phone and call the office, or reach out to your school’s alumni relations office. Or try going new school. Develop an online portfolio to send to employers or reach out to employers via LinkedIn. Use those social media “creeping” skills to find people who work at companies that interest you and land a job, instead of finding out who is dating who. I’ve done it too…
Visit your college’s career services center. Many higher education institutions provide career services to alumni as well. You may not have stepped foot into the office during your entire college career like me (maybe we both should’ve, no shade), but it could save you hundreds of dollars versus hiring a professional career coach. It’s funny how I work in both career services and have my own business as a career coach now…That’s probably why I’m so passionate about this.
Network… I used to hate when people would say this. “It’s not what you know…” “Ughhh shut up!” But, it’s true. For someone like me, it’s not easy to go up to a stranger that potentially has your future in their hands and make small talk. Now here is a strategy that I don’t hear often. For me, LinkedIn was my way of getting through this. Try making intentional efforts to get to know professionals online, so when you meet in person, it is not as awkward. I can’t tell you how many times I have done this and still do. Mainly because I still don’t like making small talk with strangers in person.
Look outside of your comfort zone, but not too far. You don't want to have a job you like and live in a place you hate. Most young professionals want to graduate and move to the big city. That makes competition for those jobs in the big cities much more competitive. You have to be at the very top of your game, and even then, it's not guaranteed. Some smaller/more rural locations are actually paying relocation scholarships to young professionals to move and work there. The "There are no jobs." comment is actually not true anymore. This is the first time in a few decades that there are actually more jobs available than workers! Keep in mind though, it can be difficult to start from nothing and find your community. Doing your research on the area is a must.
Lastly, this is just a warning. Be careful of taking any job just because you feel like you need one. Make sure you ask questions during interviews and do your research to assess fit. Does it provide the work environment you like? Can you be your authentic self at work? Do they value professional development? Are there affinity groups to connect with other like-minded professionals with similar interests? DO NOT FORGET TO ASSESS YOUR FIT! It can be just as bad to have a job you hate and feel stuck as it is to be unemployed.