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Fresh out of college and jobless: Now what?

Move back home if you can and get a job -- any job. And while you're at it, keep your nose clean.

By Karen Datko Jan 27, 2011 11:45AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


I get some variation of this question all the time: I'm fresh out of college, have lots of student loan debt, and no job. What do I do now?


The story is usually the same: They went to college, often majoring in a field that doesn't have enormous job possibilities with a bachelor's degree. Usually, they racked up a significant amount of student loan debt. They graduated in 2009 or 2010. They discovered that the job market is atrocious. They're jobless, out of college, and trying to figure out what comes next.

My advice to people in this situation varies a bit depending on the specifics, but I usually end up offering a similar set of suggestions to each of them:


If you don't have a job, get one, even if it's beneath you. Check the ego at the door. Here in the post-college real world, we don't spend years holding out for management positions. Yes, this means that you and your college degree might be working at Burger King or at the gas station. That's fine. Just turn your thinking off when you get to work and save your mental energy for later. For a lot of employers, a willingness to work anywhere shows that you have some initiative, which is always a net positive.


If you can't find employment, make sure your student loans are being deferred. Most student loan programs will defer your payments if you're under economic hardship, which you are if you're fresh out of college and jobless. Take advantage of this option.

If you're living on your own, move back in with Mom and Dad if at all possible. This minimizes expenses. It keeps you from going further into debt just to keep the lights on while you struggle to find work. Don't go it alone. If you can't move back in with your parents, find someone you can cohabitate with. The key is to get your living expenses as low as possible until you're on your feet.


Engage with the professional community in your area and online. Look for someone -- anyone -- who is involved with your field near where you live. Reach out to them. Get involved with organizations that might have something to do with your career path. Participate on Twitter and LinkedIn to discuss your chosen profession. The more you get your name out there in your field, the more likely it is you'll make a connection you need to find a job.


Live as lean as you can. If you go out, go to free activities. Hang out at other people's houses, doing things that don't require much additional cost. However, don't spend your time goofing off.


Spend your spare time working on projects related to your profession. There's likely some way you can be honing your skills in your spare time. Build an interesting Web app. Write some short stories. Do some volunteer work. Find things you can do to bolster your resume and your skill set.


Spend additional spare time working on transferable skills. Get involved with public-speaking opportunities. Take on seemingly menial tasks for civic organizations that help you build skills you can always use, like filing paperwork, or managing a calendar or website. If you find any sort of leadership position, jump on board. Again, even if these aren't skills you'll directly use in your career path, they're still noteworthy and will bolster your resume and skill set.


Look seriously into continuing your education. In some careers, there's a benefit to earning a master's degree. If there is real benefit in continuing your education, you're probably in the best possible position to do just that.


Don't rely only on job sites to find work. Many people come to me saying they searched for positionss on a few job search sites (like Monster) and gave up when nothing just fell into their lap. A good job search involves such sites as only one small component of a much bigger picture. Tap every social network you're involved in to see if you can find any leads. Ask people you know in that professional community if they know of any entry-level positions.


Keep your nose clean. Don't do anything that could cause you to lose the eventual opportunity when it comes along. Don't waste your time using substances that will make you have a poor first impression on potential employers. Don't engage in behaviors that even have a slight chance of resulting in a criminal record. It's not worth the risk.


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