When I was at St. Joe’s, there was one weekend toward the end of the spring semester where the entire school would congregate at Belmont Plateau for what was billed a “softball tournament.” While some softball was definitely played, the meeting’s real purpose, as far as I recall, was a massive end-of-the-year outdoor binge drinking event. So, at its end, tumbling and slurring my words, I hitched a ride home with two women—neither of whose names I recall—who had recently graduated from the Overbrook and Montgomery County-based college. I don’t remember how our conversation went, completely, but I do remember one thing they said: “Stay here as long as you can.”
“Here,” of course, meant St. Joe’s, but if we’d been somewhere else, in a different circumstance, it’s likely their advice would have been the same: Stay in college, enjoy it, coddle it, because life’s pleasures are all downhill from here.
That was early last decade. And things have gotten significantly worse out there for college graduates. Even in 2014, with the financial crisis-based Great Recession having waned, and with business booming again all over the nation, recent college graduates are still experiencing trouble finding work.
Unemployment of college grads, says the Economic Policy Institute, is at 8.5 percent, according to figures based on an analysis between April 2013 and March 2014, and 16.8 percent of recent grads are “underemployed,” which means they’re either working part-time and waiting for a better gig to come along, or, say, they’re working a service job that they could have gotten without a degree.
We were promised our dreams when we turned 22 and completed 18 straight years of schooling. But it’s not happening. White-collar entry-level jobs are moving overseas or, worse, getting automated. Employers are offering fewer benefits, and entire industries are disappearing. That’s why there are certain things to keep in mind, whether you’re graduating this coming winter, spring, or a year from now, or two.
Do anything. Whether you majored in English or finance, chances are, you’re not going to get the job you’d been hoping for upon graduation. (If you did, hey, congrats!) There are lots of people graduating college; there are lots of people still looking for work who graduated before you; there are lots of people, probably, more qualified than you.
Often called a “survival job,” low-end, low-paying employment often happens to new college grads or those well-developed in their careers but unemployed for an extended period. Thing is, I don’t care if you’re washing cars with a college degree or building sandwiches, wherever there’s a job, a work hierarchy and colleagues, there’s something to be learned.
According to Dr. Randall S. Hansen, founder of college, career and job guide Quintessential Careers, in addition to earning basic income, a survival job can help job seekers gain confidence and respect from colleagues, which will serve as a leg-up when you finally land an interview for something you actually want. “While many of us may fantasize about a life of doing nothing, in reality, we have a strong work ethic—and even the most basic survival job makes us feel we are doing our part,” says Hansen, adding: “Most employers report having respect for unemployed job-seekers who are willing to work survival jobs as a means to support their families.”
That said, you still have to interview for the job, and you still have to put yourself out there. When you do, according to a Monster.com survey, you shouldn’t let yourself come across as a know-it-all who’s too good for cleaning dishes. Tighten your resume, de-emphasize some things that may overqualify you—in other words, your master’s in anthropology won’t necessarily get you the clerk job at Anthropologie—and cut out irrelevant work experience.
Craigslist is not your enemy. Sure. People are on LinkedIn now. They’re networking online and using all sorts of boutique job search websites to help themselves out.
But still, you can’t knock Craigslist. The online job/housing/dating/whatever board may have a dated code and format, but it was first. People know that, employers know that, and lots of them use the site everyday to find local candidates for local jobs. Case in point: As I look at the “Writing/Editing Jobs” page right now, there are 16 Philly area-based writing jobs, and, perhaps surprisingly, almost none of them seem to carry the whiff of obvious bullshit.
Take “gigs.” Freelancing is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have the potential to do something different every single day. On the other, you’ll probably spend at least half of those days sending out query letters for potential jobs. That said, once you get into it, you, young person who recently graduated from college, can build up a client base for continuing work, networking purposes and future references. Plus, unlike a typical office job where employees watch the clock, goof off and browse violent Internet porn when the boss is absent, when you freelance, you make your own schedule. Any work you don’t do, you don’t get paid for. Work you do, and get in on time makes you—and you alone—look like a star.
As Coraline author Neil Gaiman told the University of the Arts 2012 graduating class: “You get work however you get work, but keep people keep working in a freelance world (and more and more of today’s world is freelance), because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine.”
Do something else. If you’re a traditional student looking for a job, don’t limit yourself to the 9-5 and hitting the gym after work everyday, watching Fallon and going to bed to do it all over again. That’s what you do when you’re old. Do something fun, because you’re probably in your 20s, and before you know it, you’re going to be in your 30s, and conversations will slowly begin focusing on when you’re going to pop out a baby. For now, join a band. Make a film. Paint. Take a weekend road trip to Kentucky. Do something that doesn’t suck. Right now, your hangovers aren’t that bad (considering). You don’t really need eight hours of sleep (unless you’re hung over) and you’re optimistic (relatively.) Mostly, though, you haven’t got years of work under your belt yet to create a perspective that tells you this is all for nothing.
Welcome, college students! Many of us were you not so very long ago. So take this issue as a hello from Philly to you.
Savage Love: Sondheim is solace