graduated a year ago, still can’t get hired

A reader writes:

I graduated from college last spring in June of 2008 and have been searching for employment since then but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a job. I have even looked at minimum wage jobs outside of my field as a dishwasher, custodian, painter etc. I was in competition for those jobs with people who were laid off with mba degrees and regular blue collar workers. It was a rather interesting experience, almost like something out of a twilight zone episode.

The advice I’ve continually gotten from employers was that I should try to attend graduate school. I can understand where they’re coming from but I honestly don’t think that’s the best idea to do, to hide out in graduate school and accumulate more debt. I realized something was wrong when I was speaking with some of my friends about student loans. We were all talking about how much we owed, you know the usual numbers came out 50k, 30k, 90k and then when it came to me I said 5k. I knew something was horribly wrong being that I can’t even get a measly job that will help me pay off 5k of debt.I’m no stranger to working menial jobs, that’s how I paid most of my way through college, earning skills from graphic design to driving forklifts, yet I still can’t find employment.

I sometimes wonder is it me? Or is it that I have just been brainwashed into thinking this piece of paper (bachelors degree) that I bought would actually help me to gain some footing? I keep updating and changing my resume and cover letter but sometimes I feel as if I’m making paper airplanes over and over again. I just would like to know if you have some advice for me or any other people like myself having difficulties.

I’m sorry. That sucks. You’re not alone, and because you’re not alone, it’s even harder — all those other job searchers are making it even harder. Simply put, there are more job searchers than there are jobs right now. That means that an awful lot of people are going through this. And it’s even harder for recent grads without an established work history. I linked to this scary article the other day, showing that only 19% of recent grads have found work so far.

So yeah, it’s kind of crappy right now.

Of course, it could still be you. Without seeing your resume and cover letter and knowing how you come across in interviews, I can’t say that it’s not you, in addition to the economy. It could be — and if it is, frankly that’s good news, because it means you can change it. There is a ton of advice available on how to write a good resume and cover letter and do well in an interview — are you reading it and living it? Slog through the archives here and at other similar blogs and see if any of that helps.

Aside from making sure you’re coming across as a good candidate, consider all the usual advice about volunteering, networking the hell out of everyone you know, blah blah. Here’s a recent post that covers this more extensively: advice for a recent grad

As for graduate school, I think these people might be advising it because it’s an easy answer. But unless you want to go into a field that requires a graduate degree, it’s a very expensive and unnecessary way to just put off the day of reckoning.

Hang in there.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. HRD*

    There are loads of things in the original question that, as an employer, I think are hugely positive strengths.

    1)You're not affraid of hardwork
    2)You worked during college to keep your debt low
    3)You're not falling into the Generation Y trap of demanding

    You are suffering from an economic downturn. When I graduated during the last recession My applications were rejected for hundreds of jobs. Eventually I found one three hours away from home.

    As the original reply rightly said, without seeing your CV and cover letter it hard to be absolutely sure whether these can be improved.

    But I think perserverence is the word here. Keep the chin up, keep on working and hoping and making the effort an I am sure you will get your reward.

  2. George Guajardo*

    I hear the graduate school suggestion a lot. As someone who went through that trial, I don't recommend it to anyone as an alternative to work. Go to graduate school if you love the field of study and can put up with being broke and under appreciated.

    Also, I have a ton of friends in a similar situation. They have masters and doctorates and they are also either unemployed, or underemployed at about the same rate as my undergraduate friends.

    Don't take it personally. It's the economy (probably).

  3. Joel*

    Hang in there, maybe try and temp. That seems to be a good way to get started these days.

    Graduate school is probably a bad idea. All of these people who are going to grad school just to avoid having to find a job are asking for trouble. I wouldn't advise that unless you had a very clear plan for what you're going to do with your graduate degree.

    What might be a good idea is taking a few courses at a local community college to upgrade various skills or learn something new that you think might be helpful. Good luck.

  4. Anonymous*

    Graduate school is a serious investment, and it's not like undergraduate where you can change majors as many times as you like and can explore your options by taking electives. Schools fail to explain that to the 22-24 year old applicants before they start with no career experience, and it's practically a negligent practice to allow a confused 23 year old who maybe doesn't have a lot of career guidance that graduate school should be an alternative to work experience. It's not as simple as "stalling until the economy recovers"–it's a huge amount of debt that can really get someone stuck!

  5. Anonymous*

    Well, I'm going to say the first thing that popped into my mind (other than the advice given)…the candidate's writing skills don't scream to me "fantastic communicator." Now, I don't know if this question was sent into AAM at 1am on a Tuesday night after 9 hours of browsing hotjobs, craigslist, and the like, but I know that in this economy – with this kind of competition, a grammatical mistake in the first sentence of a cover letter is going to make the wrong impression.

    It might be worthwhile to take a serious look at your cover letter and make sure that it's appropriate, clear of any errors and makes you stand out as someone the recruiter is interested in learning more about. I certainly don't mean to sound harsh, but I find recent grads rarely understand the importance of a cover letter.

  6. Anonymous*

    Have you tried your alma mater? Did you utilize your Career Services office and do they offer alumni services? The staff of these offices actually are professionals who make a living at providing training and resources in this area. I know it seems easier to utilize the internet and take advice from perfect strangers who may or may not have any knowledge in this area or even from family and friends. Keep this in mind, just because I voted doesn't mean I can teach political science and just because someone applied for and got a job at one time does not mean they are qualified to teach job seeking skills and career development. Try the professionals. You and the author of this blog are correct, graduate school may be appropriate for some but is often just a way to hide.

  7. Anonymous*

    Start your own business. There certainly are businesses out there you can start with little money and make a decent amount.

  8. Jason Wojcik*

    Hang in there! I know it�s been tough and I've been there. When that happened to me back in 2000, I ended up taking a really low level job with a 25% pay cut and worked my way up the totem pole. That amount came to a 28K/year wage and I worshiped overtime.

    Some of the best advice I have gotten that really helped me:

    1) If what you are doing isn't working, change your strategy.

    2) Learn the skill of getting past the gatekeeper/secretary to get to the hiring managers. That will get you an interview FASTER than just about every technique you can employ.

    As for graduate school, don't go yet. I have two Master degrees and I got let go because the company could not justify my salary despite the high level of performance. When I was looking for a job, I got all kinds of interesting comments:

    1) We probably cannot afford your salary in this economy.
    2) You are overqualified.
    3) You will leave at the drop of a hat for a better job.
    4) I (the hiring manager) fear you will usurp my job.

    The sad reality is that hiring managers and HR are low balling employees right now. They are in the position to ask for larger skill sets for less salary because they have a bigger pool to pick from. But when the economy gets better, employers used perks and signing bonuses to lure employees. Right now, the power is in the employer for and will be for a while.

  9. Anonymous*

    Do not go to graduate school, unless it's fairly inexpensive for you (and even then, it's probably not worth it).

    It takes about a year after graduating to get a really good job if you don't have the network in place already while you were in school. The network will be a lot of luck and include friends and family members, not everyone will have contacts that can help them.

    I took the LSAT and began applying to law schools soon after graduating. During that time I worked retail jobs as they gave me plenty of time to study and apply, and search for better jobs. I did that for about 6 months and then did temp work for another 6 months. About 10 months after graduation I started getting interviews with government agencies and for better careers, but I just went to law school instead.

    Now it's been a year after law school and I don't have a job. I took and passed the bar and got admitted, and that didn't help either. With my crushing debt, I can't take the jobs I could have taken beforehand, which ironically, by this time, would have let to at least the salaries I need to take now except I'd have a much higher standard of living without paying the loans back.

    So, take it from someone that tried and failed. Unless you're going to medical school, or a top 8 law school (and I'm sure this extends to graduate school in general) do not bother.

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