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Options For Unemployed College Graduates

4 March 2009 33 Comments

The job market is terrible right now and not getting better.  Incredible amounts of 20-somethings are graduating college without an job.  Many of them go months without finding a job.  Let’s talk about some options should you find yourself in this situation.

Find Ways To Make Money

I know one person who graduated college in the last year and was not able to find a job.  Instead of being lazy, he decided to take on a restaurant job as a server, then he took on a second job at a restaurant.  I have a great deal of respect for this individual to put his pride aside and just work.  He’s able to make enough money to pay his bills.  Sure, it’s not his ideal situation after getting a college degree, but times are tough and he is doing what is necessary.  Or, consider focusing on florida football rather than academics!

Here are some potential part time jobs you should look into if you want to make some cash while you wait for a job:

  • Restaurant Job
  • Event Staff – Contact your local event company or destination management company – many of these staff make $15 / hour and up and the hours can be all over the place.
  • Wash cars – We have a guy who comes to our office building parking lot once a week and does pretty well

Go Back To School

I have mixed feelings on this strategy because I know so many people who go to graduate school simply to put off entering the “real world”.  In some cases, it can be a good idea especially in a terrible economy with fewer and fewer jobs.  Make sure you are going back to get a degree that is worth your time and money.  Otherwise, you’ll be accumulating debt without a great reason.

Start a Business

This is the most risky and the most unlikely especially for people in their early 20s.  However, if you think you have a great business idea and model, perhaps, being unemployed removes the need to “abandon ship” from a job in order to start your business.

I would focus on businesses that do not require much startup capital because you are unlikely to get funding from any investors and/or a bank.  Face it, you don’t have any experience so you will likely need to go at this on your own or possibly, with some family money.

If you have minimal expenses such as rent and bills, this actually might be a good time to take a stab at your own business.  It will get harder to put more on the line as you get older and have larger bills and more dependents.  I firmly believe that starting a business whether it succeeds or fails will always be a beneficial experience.  Just make sure you keep a journal so you can record your mistakes; that way you will avoid them during round 2.

Additional Reading

I encourage you to read the post entitled, “The 21st Century Worker” to get a better understanding of what it might take to survive in the economy of today.  Employment, income, benefits are all changing and you need to understand these changes.


  • susan said:

    About.com choose 3 websites where job seekers got the best results –

    http://www.linkedin.com (networking for professionals)
    http://www.indeed.com (aggregated listings)
    http://www.realmatch.com (matches you to the perfect job)

    For those looking, good luck!

  • Dave said:

    I just graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. and I’m a waiter. No shame. I’m off to grad school in the Fall. Waiting tables is good money for the near term. I’m 24. I figure I have time to start a career. Your blog is awesome by the way. Good post.

  • Jun Loayza said:

    If you’re an unemployed college grad, take the following steps and you should be fine within the year:

    1) Move back home with your parents (this will significantly cut your costs)

    2) Start a blog and build your personal brand. As a college graduate, your brand is pretty much on the face of a diploma.

    3) Read Jonathan Mead’s eBook because it will help you find out what you’re passionate about.

    4) Spend every single moment and piece of energy you have to build your authority and knowledge about what you’re passionate about

    5) Monetize your knowledge through sponsorships on your blog, speaker events, selling an eBook

    6) If this doesn’t work, become a waiter at a restaurant.

    – Jun

  • Natalie Steele said:

    I am currently taking an entrepreneurship course, and all of the CEO’s who have come to talk to us, feel this is the best time to start a business. We have little responsibilities and little to lose.

    I have a feeling a lot of new companies will emerge out of this recession… it is certainly something worth pursuing if you have a monetizable idea and a way of executing…

  • John said:

    I’m a recent graduate, currently unemployed, who sought out retail as a solution to the quick job need two years ago, and let me tell you: I’d rather get evicted and starve than go back to that world.

    It’s not that jobs like that are an insult, because if you want insulting, you should see my last couple of paychecks from my previous job and work out how much I actually earned per hour of work (hint: less than $7).

    The problem is that waiting tables is a waste of your time and your talent. Maybe you have no talent, and your time is worthless, but at the very least you should realize that having this on your resume is not going to help you in the job search. Employers who see it won’t take you seriously because you’re just a waiter, and if you leave it off they’ll wonder about why you didn’t work at all for a year.

    Don’t just think about the money you wasted spending four years at college so you can get a job that high-school dropouts excel at, think about all the addition money society invested in your education: scholarships, grants, subsidies, work study, funding to help defray university administrative costs, etc that run into the hundreds of thousands per pupil per year. If you take a job any moron can do, you’re basically deciding to make all that money a wasted investment on your future.

    Far better options include foraging for cash, tutoring, and joining the peace corps or the military. Insult yourself all you want, but don’t waste your education.

  • Senitra T. Mccombs said:

    I have always been extremely shy and I am starting to realize I selected the wrong major which is Communications/Print journalism. Although I was a top notch student and graduated with honors, I am having a terrible time getting hired. In addition to being very poor at interviewing, I have very little experince with the exception of very short term internships and writing for my school newspapers. My mother suggested that I find an unpaid internship to increase my experince level but my mom is on a fixed income and I must have a job to pay for transportation, my personal items and food. She will allow me live with her completely free. She suggested also, I try to get any odd job part-time and do an upaid intership part-time in the week. I have applied to all the local restuarants, all the local retail stores, All the chain grocery stores and I never even get call for an interview or when I call back to check status I was selected. I have run into two situations in my city of Washington DC in applying for jobs such as restuarants help, retail and even clerical work. They require experience in these positons as well. I have only had two paying jobs in my life and they were high school summer positions long ago. I am total screwed up and I am crying daily so depressed and it is upsetting my mom because she loves me so and knows I was always an excellent, hard working student and I am so willing to work now just anywhere. My older sister who immediate following her college graduation had cancer and her degree got very old but she when to a paralegal school accredited under the ABA at Georgetown unv. and now has a very high paying position in the FEderal Government and she suggested that maybe I should try that since it would be cheaper than grad school in my field snd my shyness might not be such a great problem. I am so depressed and my mom is the only one standing behind me?

  • Chris said:

    Senitra, my heart goes out to you. Remember you made it through 4 years of college, which is a lot better than people who don't go or drop out. Be confident in that. As far as job applications, make sure to follow up e-mails with phone calls, and send thank-you notes to anyone that replies. You gotta make yourself stand out.

    If you can't find any work, there's a few other options. You could join AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps, which help pay off college loans and usually allows you to defer them. Plus, volunteer experience never looks bad on a resume. Going back to school is another option, and 2-year associate degrees are doing better right now. Paralegals, nurses, and technicians are all jobs that will always be in demand.

    Remember, no one wants to see you fail; everyone wants to see you succeed.

  • Bukky said:

    A lot of jobs want tons of experience and want to pay barely above poverty level wages, so I can never leave the nest lol. Especially in major cities where there’s hundreds and thousands looking for work. I wish I hadn’t concentrated on print media so much. I feel like my school was behind the times (no online paper, no digital classes). I had internships but none translated to a job. I have some classmates that lucked out and got something in mass media while I’ve had to take anything and everything else. It seems like most people never find an exact match between what they studied and the jobs out there in the world. I think there is a great disconnect between the real world and colleges. Employers are extremely picky because they can be. Some will interrogate you about unemployment gaps and your major, gpa, everything. Some asked why can’t I look for a TV job, I wanted to say because there are none. When interviewing at media outlets, they would say I don’t have enough experience, despite internships. I didn’t understand why I was only getting jobs that were very entry level (telemarketing, stuffing envelopes, holiday retail-once Jan. comes, you no longer have a job, or part time gigs less than 20 hours per week). I didn’t know my degree would be seen as generic. It’s good to have a specialization.

  • Brian said:

    I am a 26 year old college graduate with an accounting degree and I work at a call center doing tech support on dvr boxes. It has been a rough ride, the important thing is to research the hell out of a degree before you take it on. I flunked out of engineering school, and couldn't get an interview with an accounting firm because my gpa was "too low". considering that I had over a 3.0 in accounting.

    I did my research and am now going into computer science. I am taking the pre reqs in order to get into a masters program and study programming all the time and am loving it. This time when I get out of school. I am going to have a portfolio of programs that I have wrote and I am already networking like crazy even though I still have over a year to go.

    The important thing is to plan ahead. If I had to do it over again, I would have done a lot more research on the career that I was going in. Then I would have done tons of networking. Even during my freshman year.

    One thing that no one has considered here is the military. I was considering it and am still considering it. When you have a college degree, then they will make you an officer and you start out at around 40,000 a year. If you don't like it, then you can get out after 3 years and you will have ton of leadership experience.

    If you stay in for 20 years, then you can retire and get 40-50,000 a year to do nothing.

  • Andrew said:

    Brian, oh my god, you just practically told my story. I am 25 years old, was an engineer and switched to accounting. I had the same problem as an undergraduate that you did, although I did manage to net a couple of internships totalling six months. I'm currently pursuing a master of science in forensic accounting though, so i'm hoping that my master's GPA will redeem my undergrad one. Come this December, hopefully I'll pass the CPA and my life will become much easier. Entry-level jobs that treat you like college graduates are tough to find. I see the future getting better for both of us though. will probably just end up working as a financial analyst at my father's firm if nothing pans out in accounting.

  • jones said:

    I graduated in last December with a degree in aerospace engineering, and I have been looking for 5 months doing everything I can think of and I haven't had an interview yet. It seems like no one is interested in a recent grad with no experience. The thing is, is that I can't get experience if I don't have experience. I don't know what else to do or what else to try.

    Gonna put some of everyone's tips to use and hopefully something will come of it. Although, there is nothing more frustrating than putting your all into something and having nothing come of it. Little more optimistic now though since I read this.

  • Snowflake said:

    Apply to GE in Lynn, MA. They have many openings for engineers.

  • Lisa406 said:

    I graduated in December of 2008, a semester early, with a 3.8 GPA and I still haven't had a good job. I think the problem is that the market is flooded with college graduates. There are simply too many of us. I think college admission should be more selective to allow only the truly bright, motivated students to attend. Unfortunately, education in the United States is a business and schools will not make admission more selective because then they will lose money. I worked extremely hard in college, and I noticed a lot of my peers constantly skipping classes and drinking every night of the week. Many of these same people now hold college degrees, and I feel like it has made my hard work meaningless.

    I know this sounds really course, but another problem is that many people who are working in white collar jobs shouldn't be. I work as an unpaid intern at a large, well-known charity and several of my co workers (particularly the older ones) can't even use Microsoft Word properly or don't know how to write a coherent paragraph, or can't do several other tasks that are considered pretty simple. These same people occupy titles such as "marketing director" but don't know basic principles of internet marketing. I often have to create power point presentations that spoon feed information to them. They are all incapable of learning things by themselves, or they are just too lazy. I believe if a person can't do his or her job and refuses to learn, he or she should get out of the way and let us smart, tech-savvy college grads have the jobs. I'm not trying to say that I know everything, but I spend time taking extra classes and reading books on my own time and at my own expense.

    The best advice I can give (though I'm not sure I can be giving advice) is don't settle unless you have to. Take unpaid internships, scour Craigslist for freelance work, and continue taking classes and reading books. See if your university has an alumni club and attend networking events. If you do have to work as a waiter, make sure it's only temporary and always have an escape route. Good luck everyone!

  • Paul26000 said:

    Sorry, guys and gals we all have a lot to learn and that is to work harder and pray a lot for a job. Keep making those phone calls that job will show up hopefully before it is shipped overseas.

  • Review said:

    I choose to make money on the net,is this a good option?I graduated two years ago and suffered from serious back pain so I can't go out to work.I start to join mlm and made some little success.It's not enough

  • insurancegal said:

    Why not wait tables to earn the capital to invest into your own business, such as selling insurance? Sell insurance by day, wait tables by night. I get the best of both worlds: I keep my dignity by working in the financial services industry and I'm making $100/night waiting tables. Works for me. I have no shame and I'm not complaining.

  • antigradschool said:

    Unpaid internships are great! I'm on my second internship right now. It is paid, but I get a very, very modest stipend. My internship before this one was not paid, either. Although the monetary benefits are not sufficient enough to cover my expenses, the internships were something to put on my resume and I do not regret it.

    I would argue that although the market right now is rather strenuous to enter, I wouldn't say there are "people in white collar jobs that shouldn't be." Although an older person may not be as technologically experienced as someone in their 20s, the older worker may have far more career savvy (such as solid networking connections) than a younger employee. I know in business school we learn that the older we get the more unemployable we become, but that statement is rather subjective. It all depends on your industry, really.

    I would highly suggest that any recent graduate obtain a state license in real estate or insurance. I know the pay is next to nothing starting out, but the barrier to entry is very low (especially in the insurance industry) and there are many companies out there looking to hire young college graduates (no matter your major) to come on as agents. Work during the day would give you sufficient time to wait tables or bartend at night.

    As long as you strategize, I do not see any blue collar job as being "beneath anyone's dignity" if it helps you pay the rent and invest in yourself professionally. If you're down right now because you're out of a job, hang in there!

    And, unless you're going to become an engineer, doctor or lawyer and you forsee it being a positive economic payback any time in the near future, STAY AWAY FROM GRAD SCHOOL!!!!!

  • what is a silverfish said:

    Good advice. The mistake I see most people make is they wait until they get their dream job and don't do anything else until then.

  • Caroline said:

    I have two Bachelor's degrees, graduated with a 3.7 GPA and recently quit an administrative job at a lobbying firm…and now I wait tables. As much as I'd absolutely love to apply for grad school for the spring, I still want to wait – particularly because I am not 200% sure about what I want to study. No need for me to acquire debt (I don't currently have any thankfully) on another degree that may not help me in the professional world. I apply for jobs every single day, probably have written over 20 cover letters in the past month and NO bites. It's a very tough market out there, and I envy my friends who have amazing jobs at our age. But they are surely the lucky ones and I know my time will come with persistence and patience!

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  • Rachel said:

    Unpaid internships are a SCAM. When I was 20, I (stupidly) took an unpaid internship at a bar because they told me it was going to be fun and good for people interested in pursuing a career in marketing. Well … my "trainer" was just a high school graduate, but was obviously a lot smarter than me because she actually got paid. I did such important tasks as moving boxes of alcohol from the basement to the upstairs storage, and making runs to Kmart to buy vitamin water. I had a "project" in which I was supposed to interview staff members about their "roles/responsibilities" at the bar, but after my "supervisor" saw my work, she didn't like it and said she was going to have to let me go, which is hilarious because I wasn't being paid. Fuck them. But hilariously, their "star" intern, who was offered a paying full-time job in the bar's management at the end of the internship, has since been arrested for selling drugs. And the bar went out of business just last year. Hilarious.

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