recent grad in despair over job market

A reader writes:

I’m a recent college graduate. I apply to countless job postings per day. Most of these are through online job boards (monster and craigslist). In recent months I have gotten crafty and researched (via google and linked in) those in the department I would like to work for and emailed them directly in tandem with applying online through the proper HR channels.

I have networked my life away for the past year, only to get a small response. I even tried to join a networking group in Philadelphia, only to have emails unanswered and I seem to have been removed from the email blast list (now THAT’S depressing). When it comes to networking I thought being outgoing and professional was key. I arrived on-time, dressed professionally (J Crew always) and even had business cards with my info and qualifications printed on them. I was always quick to respond (within 48 hours) and courteous in exchanges. I even attended a SHRM event and actually met some really inspiring, seasoned professionals.

I have gone up and down the street in 90 degree heat wearing a suit and handed out resumes to anyone and any business that would take them.

I have gone to jobs fairs with a stack of resumes and tried my best to coax people into giving me a business card. Followed up with them and out of all the times ONLY ONE has ever responded. She was quite helpful but it was for a position with the IRS that I was not qualified for.

All the while, I worked retail just to bring in some money and gain experience.

I completed several internships during college so the thought of working for free again is cringe-inducing.

I also created my own fashion blog. I have learned content editing, some html, and lot about journalism. I often do boutique write ups, comment on current events in media, design and fashion, and I also now write for the local paper.

I have had to relocated back home with parents (the ultimate nail in the coffin) and am unable to find employment here.

I am a courageous, intelligent and resourceful person who feels completely lost and like I have exhausted many avenues. I am capable, articulate and assertive. I do not fear interviews because who better to market myself than me. Sooooooo .. Please please please tell me what I am doing wrong? I network, I apply day in and day out and I have exhausted family connections. I have even started a blog to hone my skills and utilize my time off wisely. I am willing to work but no one seems to want to hire college students. Every job says I need 3-5 years of experience. How will I ever get experience if no one gives me a chance?

I’m sorry. This sucks.

You’re doing everything right — seriously, your list is ridiculously impressive. I don’t think it’s you. (I looked at your resume too, so I’m even more sure that it’s not you.) It’s the job market; it’s abysmal. There are more great candidates than there are jobs right now, so it’s just simple math. You are being screwed by math.

And recent grads are being especially hard hit, because you’re competing with people who have more experience than you do. You’re in an incredibly hard situation.

The good news: It’s not going to stay like this forever. The job market will recover. You will get a job. But not in anything approaching a normal time frame. You just need to hunker down and know that this will pass.

Something I’d suggest meanwhile: Volunteer. Volunteer anywhere and everywhere that interests you and has a use for your skills. This has the potential to open a lot of doors; not only will you meet people and expand your network, but you’ll become a known quantity to them, which counts for a lot. And if it doesn’t lead to a job, you’re adding to your resume, which will help you with paid employers. (Plus, you’ll be doing something good.)

Hang in there. You’re not alone, not by a long shot. Focus on positioning yourself to be an even stronger candidate when the job market picks up, and something will come together for you.

Related: Sometimes it’s not about you.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. Natalie*

    Wow I really know where this person is coming from. I'm doing the same things, the only difference – I have a master's and 1+ yr experience at a PR agency. Oh, and I've been unemployed for 2 years now. I took time off to help a sick family member, only to have my career get stuck in the mud. In a sick way it makes me feel better to know I'm not alone, but how can you have hope when people like the person above can't even find something. Good luck recent grad, hopefully you won't be like me!

  2. Anonymous*

    My husband has a PhD in physics from a very reputable university. Multiple awards, prestigious publications… We are all in this boat! If he's not qualified I don't know what is. Sadly, it just seems it takes time.

  3. @saraevents*

    I'm in the same boat! And I've been frustrated for months, but after finding your blog and reading for inspiration, I've found a way to look at the market different. Now I know chances are I won't hear back, so I make sure to give it my all. Making sure no regrets. I seek to improve my skills. I look at postings that I would love to have, a few years down the road and I'm looking for ways to earn those skills. I'm volunteering more and actually "networking" less, or just my attitude has changed. I go hoping to meet some new friends. While I'm still frustrated that I am not moving anywhere or achieving the career success I want, I know that greater things will come, eventually. Also, I would highly recommend reading to seek new motivation. Personally I enjoyed Ivanka Trump's book, and am currently reading Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire. The reality is, nothing comes easy, and it will be all that much better when it does. Chin up!

  4. LSA*

    Wow, I can relate to this. When I graduated in '05 with a B.A. in Journalism, I thought I needed more experience and to connect more with my professors and the material on a deeper level, so I went to grad school, gained mentors in my professors, interned and attended two great conferences.

    I graduated in '08 and moved to a bigger city in hopes of jump-starting my career, but I ended up doing a telemarketing job & losing it. Hindsight, I should've gotten a professional resume writer to beef up my resume in '05 and hopped a flight to a major city! But, here I am now, with bright, talented, capable candidates who WANT to work. It's just an all-around frustrating situation.

    For an extended search like this one, what are some suggestions you guys may have for avoiding burnout? Also, how is volunteering helping some of you? Does it make you feel resentful that you're not doing that job for pay when you know you're qualified to do so?

  5. Aubrey*

    I'm in the same boat. Anyone who has a job right now should be thanking their lucky stars.

    Seriously, best of luck to you. Keep trying, and don't forget to make time for yourself (exercising, reading, lunch dates with friends). Don't let yourself get desperate or depressed, because it'll be a downhill slope from there.

  6. Mary*

    Wait, did I write this?!!

    Everything you have done is hauntingly familiar. I take it you're in the fashion industry, too? What part?

  7. Richard*

    To LSA:
    Volunteering within the industry you want to work in is important if you're having trouble finding work, or taking on temp work if it's available (although I somehow doubt that's common in fashion!). You gain valuable experience within a work environment. This is obviously a bonus if you're a graduate with little or no experience already, although it sounds a lot like the poster is doing everything that they can to get that all important experience!

  8. Kerry*

    I agree with everything AAM said. You're doing everything right. You really are. I know other excellent, hire-able people who are in the same boat. It's really, really not just you.

    You know, kids who graduated during the great depression grew up to have books written about them…books with titles like "The Greatest Generation." This sucky thing that you are going through is going to make you smarter, more mature and more resourceful than those of us who had it easier when we were young.

    This too shall pass. Hang in there.

  9. Rosezilla*

    Move overseas. Move overseas. Move overseas. Move overseas.

    Seriously, you're young and living with your parents. What is stopping you from making money and seeing the world? Employers aren't wild about it on your resume, but its probably better than doing nothing and you can always blame it on the economy.

    Here's three teaching jobs hiring right now with no experience necessary:

    My mind is continually blown that more people aren't doing this, especially when they are desperate for employees in Asia…..

  10. Em-Dash*

    Many people who work overseas have great soft skill sets that can benefit US employers: adaptability, humor in the face of difficulties, determination, fresh perspective… I could go on, but wanted to ask author if she has considered Peace Corps?

    They have business and development programs that might interest her (among many others). A volunteer gets out of his service what he puts into it. Considering everything that you've put your job search, I think you might get A LOT out of Peace Corps. It's a two-year commitment too, so you are likely to return to a better job market, be eligible for graduate school fellowships, and it's competitive to get in (especially now).

    It may or may not be for you (and not everyone can commit to two years abroad), but you might want to consider it.

  11. Kerry*

    Actually, that overseas thing is a great idea. I have a friend who is wrapping up an amazing year of teaching English in Indonesia. That's something you'll never get to do once you're married with kids and a mortgage and a minivan (like me).

  12. Anonymous*

    Don't underestimate the value of a great internship. We had three interns this year, and we've now hired two of them on full time. We had to pause hiring in the face of the bad economy, but as business picks back up, we need one or two people at a time, and who better to hire than the eager go-getter who already has been working at our company? Seriously, its a great way to find top talent. And a great way for college grads to get experience.
    Good luck no matter what, and hang in there!

  13. Caitlin*

    Where is the question-writer from? I work in an office in McLean, VA that currently has some entry-level type positions that we are having trouble filling (Go figure!).

  14. Keek*

    I know EXACTLY how you feel. I had killer internships, a great degree, and started interviewing last October for jobs after graduation. And yet, I moved home, and couldn't even get a retail job. Talk about depressing.

    My best advice? Temp. Sign up for every temp agency in a 30 mile radius. It gives you something to do, experience, money, and sometimes it leads to a full time job. I'm at a long term temp assignment right now and people have offered contacts, help, and any advice they can give me. You might not be doing glamorous jobs, but you have to start somewhere.

    Good luck!

  15. CK*

    I could have written this back when I graduated from college (during the last recession). Essentially, I did everything right- internships, networking, follow-ups, everything this person did, and got very little response. I, too, had to move home with my mom after working a stint in retail management.

    Eventually, after two years of job searching, I found a job in my field. It's tough out there for seasoned job seekers right now (like me!), let alone a recent grad. It's frustrating and disheartening, but like AAM said, it's not you, it's the economy and it will get better.

  16. Abby*

    I have been in the same boat although I am not a recent grad. I have a two master's degrees and great work experience. It is tough out. I also highly recommend volunteering. I did it while I was unemployed for 15 months. It changed my life because of the kids I met while tutoring. And, it looks good to future employers that volunteering was how I chose to spend my time.

    I think you are doing everything right as well although I think most job fairs are worthless. I went to them as well but I found them depressing and I never got any good leads.

    I am not convinced that temp work (if you are overqualified) is the best route as I think your time is better spent looking for a job and volunteering but obviously finances can leave you with no choice.

    Good luck.

  17. Caitlin*

    Woops, just saw the note about a networking group in Philadelphia. Well, if she'd be interested in trying out Virginia, she can look at our website.

  18. Pele*

    I understand how people suggest interning or volunteering after you've already graduated (and interned while in school) because, yes, you're getting more experience and that is always a big plus.

    BUT, after you graduate there are these things called student loans, and dangit, they have to be repaid! Argh!

    I know many people will share the sentiment with me that its not about working for free. Yes, that does kind of suck after you've been poor and in college for so long. But, its about not actually being able to afford to GET to places because you're unemployed and barely paying your bills staying put.

    Could I put gas and other travel expenses on a credit card? Totally. But, I'm also kinda leery about gathering up more debt for a position that may not materialize into a paying job, you know?

    Its really a crummy position to be in- you'd like to be doing something relevant with your time until something permanent comes along, but you're not in a financial position to do so.

  19. Chris*

    I feel your pain. Since graduating in May, I've applied to a lot of places, but most don't want to pay above minimum wage, if at all.

    I've found that marketing groups tend to have mixers, and they tend to be fairly accepting of new people. By the way, have you tried I started with that networking site a few months ago, and while I haven't landed a job yet, the people who are employed have been great about giving ideas and information. I know it isn't much, but I hope it helps some.

  20. Sabrina*

    I knew I hated math for a reason.

    Having experience doesn't always help. I have over 10 years and live in a city where Unemployment is under 5%. And can't find a job. I have no answers. :( It just sucks.

  21. Melancholic in Large Metro*

    Hang in there. I graduated from a respected Big Ten school in 2007 and thought I had what I needed to succeed.

    Phi Beta Kappa, 3.9, two majors and a minor, several internships and a year of professional journalism experience under my belt… not too bad, right?

    But then I moved to my fiance's city and that's where everything fell apart.

    I was unemployed for 9 months and have been underemployed (16 hrs a week) since.

    I know exactly how you feel. Entry-level has disappeared and I can't even get retail to cover a few days a week because I'm "overqualified."

    I don't mean to gripe, I just want you to take heart that it really ISN'T you. I spent a lot of despondent days and money in therapy figuring that out for myself.

    Good luck and God bless you! You will remember this when you are in a position to help young people one day. (I know I sure will!)

  22. Anonymous*

    The job market will pick, but not until after the midterm elections and the so called "universal health coverage" is gone.

    AAM ought to be aware that Obama�s health plan will increase the cost of hiring.

  23. Original Poster*

    I am the Original Poster and I would first like to thank AAM! I did not expect for a response. I know she is inundated with mail daily AND is employed. So to receive a personal and thoughtful response really lifted my spirits. While the recession/job stagnation is a universal problem, the way many of us process it (and take it personally) can leave us feeling isolated.

    First I would like to thank all the posters (and AAM) for their words of encouragement! Volunteering is a wonderful way to spend my time and living in the DC Metro area, there are about a billion possibilities that I could pursue.

    @Natalie- Please still hold on to hope and that was a great thing you did in helping a family member.

    @Aubrey- I have made sure to spend time with family/friends and have even taken up the gym! Im sure my thighs/stomach are a lot happier!

    @Mary- I worked as a buyer for a re-sale clothing chain. I thought would like to be a buyer for stores (like urban outfitters) or work in industrial design. However, since I created my fashion blog, I have taken a great liking to writing/fashion journalism.

    @Kerry- thank you! hopefully this experience has not only humbled me but taught me to be industrious, creative and thick-skinned. shall this ever happen, i will be equipped and know that better days are ahead.

    @Caitlin- I am living in the DC Metro area and will check out your networking site. I would also love to speak with your further if you have no objections!

    @Keek/Abby- I have tried temp agencies but not much success. Aced all the tests and sent out on a few interviews. No real response.

    @Pele- you are 100% correct. It is extremely hard to work for free when you want to: repay student loans, save up money and not completely mooch off of your parents. In the past I was solely responsible for transportation costs (quite pricey, either monthly transpass at $80 per month or $8 per day) and the commute was horrible both ways.

    @Chris- I will try Brazencareerist, thank you!

    @Melancholic- I will definitely remember how i was treated in this whole experience. So when Im in the position, I will make sure i take care of those fresh out of school. Not only mentoring, but providing quality internships (not just using free labor) to younger candidates.

  24. Anonymous*

    Great advice, the only thing I would add is to go into networking events with an attitude that you're there to make contacts that may or may not lead to jobs and keep yourself open.

    Of course you're probably already doing this, but I know a lot of recent grads go to networking events looking for job openings right that moment. What might be more effective is to, you know, build you network (ha) and keep in touch with people so that when they hear about something they'll think of you.

    Otherwise, hang in there! Stay positive, you're doing great.


  25. Mary*

    Neat! I'd love to read your blog! You should post a link!!

    Urban brands are hard to get into, they really like to promote from within (which is great if you're IN the company!), and will conduct interviews even though they will likely hire from inside.

    I interviewed as a display artist for Anthro this past summer. Talk about a highly coveted position, sheesh. Didn't get the job, but I still give myself ups for at least getting the interview!

    Have you tried to make an online portfolio through StylePortfolios is another. I use both of those services, not that anything has come my way, but at least it gives you a chance to show your work. Its like LinkedIn for the fashion community.

    I wish you and the countless other highly desirable employees out there who are looking for work lots of luck. Keep pushing!

    Its totally weird but when I start feeling sorry for myself, I watch Hoarders and it puts things into perspective. It could always be worse.

  26. Rebecca*

    This is the exact story for so many people I know, of all ages (and the only reason it isn't my story too is that I'm a full-time student right now). I know unemployed nurses (my mother included), teachers, plumbers, and engineers. I know one girl with an Ivy League degree who is supporting herself stripping. I know more than one person who's joined the military just to get a paycheck. Restaurants in my area are actually starting to put out "Not Hiring" signs.

    And the next person who says young people can't get jobs because they're too lazy, stupid, spoiled, and entitled…

  27. Marsha Keeffer*

    Keep going – you're going to get there. Yes, it's taking way too long, but ignore that and keep doing the footwork. You're doing a great job!

  28. Lazarus*

    I'm a recent engineering graduate with two years co-op experience and I'm still out of luck. Actually it's even worse than that I had one Job offer but the position was canceled shortly after I accepted and I haven't heard a peep from anyone since.

  29. KJ*

    The best luck I had was getting an awesome (paying, luckily) internship at an association this summer. I interviewed there 4 years ago, and didnt get the job, but I figured what the hell. I gathered my courage and straight up asked the boss if I could have a job, even if for the summer. It worked! I was terrified to ask, but my boss later told me that he's happy to help people if they ask for it. It was only the summer, but I made amazing contacts, and got a mentor. That might be a way to go!

    I also just remembered (and they have a lot of postings involving dc because I live there as well)

    And I dont know what temp agencies you've tried, but if youre just looking to make a little money to stay afloat Office Team is a great one–they call you almost instantly.

    Good luck!

  30. Caitlin @ OP*

    Actually OP, the site I linked isn't a networking site, it's my company's website – we have an opening for an Admin assistant that requires very little experience. We've been having trouble because everyone we get is over-qualified, so if you're missing one or two of the quals you should still submit an application. I'll tell you that this company is a really excellent place for recent grads – I started here two years ago and they've really helped me move into working in the areas I'm most interested in. Good luck!

  31. Anonymous*

    Also consider the TYPE of job – a good school, a high GPA and several years of experience won't matter if there aren't many openings, especially in this economy. Examples that come to mind include fashion, journalism, philosophy, and real estate.

    I started off in I.T. when it was booming but transitioned to finance when the tech bubble burst. It took a lot of effort and sacrifice at first, but my I.T. skills give me a competitive advantage over people who only have accounting skills, and regardless of the economy, every company with more than ten employees needs internal finance support, so not locking myself into a specific industry has been an immeasurable benefit.

    I don't mean everyone should go into finance, I'm just saying to think about what the outlook is for the job you want (or have now!) – if the future doesn't look promising, expand your search to include industries, companies, and job types that are growing and figure out how to leverage your strengths for those opportunities.

    I'm sure there were some great buggy-whip makers in the 1900's who had no idea just how soon they were going to have to do something different…

  32. ~a*

    As one of those people with tons of experience who has never had trouble finding work and NOW see the market as a giant wasteland complete with tumbleweeds, I say NETWORK.

    The author's advice to volunteer is spot on. Wriggle yourself into a role where you'll be in touch with people doing what you want to do. When a hiring manager goes looking for the right person, the first thought is always going to be, "Who do I know?" Make sure they know you!

    Join professional organizations (if you can afford it) or just go to their one night events. Be around. Have neutral, professional calling cards made up. Your name, what you do, your phone number/address/email. Keep yourself polished and available.

    Good luck to you. You won't wait too long. Anyone with as much potential as you have won't sit on the shelf forever. :)

  33. fornow*

    If you're looking for Journalism/fashion jobs, check out It's a web site for recent grads wanting to get into the magazine industry. They have job postings and lots of useful information!

  34. Anonymous*

    You can also volunteer in ways that pay the bills domestically like Americorps or other volunteer/service programs.

  35. CantHelpBeingCandid*

    I can relate. Right down to moving back home which has been horrible for my self-esteem. I'm getting interviews – at least 6 in five months but I'm not getting offers.

    Also, I see the advice to volunteer but what if you rely on temp gigs (often last minute)? Doesn't that make you unreliable as a volunteer? I'm doing some freelance work in line with what I want to do professionally but no one seems impressed with that.

    I can't even get retail and basic receptionist jobs.

  36. Rosezilla*

    I'm married to an industrial designer and its an awesome job, but very hard to break into casually. It seems to be very much about the school, and mostly because the handful of ID programs out there require massive amounts of internships and building a big portfolio, so you have contacts and something to show when you get out of school. I recommend UCincinnati, although its 6 more years of school :/
    As for fashion writing, do you trawl various Craigslists? A lot of the writing gigs don't require you to be local, so its worth hitting NY craigslist, for instance. And are you reading the Renegade Writer's Blog? It seems to have good advice and they also give pretty good and not terribly expensive e-classes:

    Good luck, and still consider going overseas. There are dozens of websites in Macau/HK/China that would love a writer….

  37. Rugenicksr*

    Hi all! I’m from London but am living in Berlin at the moment.
    Gotta love this forum!

    [url=]Barrater is my life[/url]

  38. Jonathan*

    Uh just a big AMEN to this whole thing. I’m glad to know it’s not just me. I hate that it’s been 2 years since it was written and things are still so rough, but I agree that eventually it’s going to get better. Just have to keep on trying. I’ve had a lot of really low moments since graduating in Spring of 2009 and being on a career search, but the greatest success stories start out with the greatest opposition.

    I think while we’re stuck in these situations where there’s really nothing we can do to change it (as many of us have tried every single thing we know to do or that anyone has told us) we need to find ways to use it to our benefit. For me, I’m a songwriter and comedian and I’ve found some of my best work has come as a result of the biggest frustrations I’ve faced in life. We must remember to find the humor and fun in our struggles.

    “If we couldn’t laugh, we’d all go insane.” – Jimmy Buffett

  39. Vanessa*

    I sooooo needed to “hear” this. I have been explaining this to my family (and my fiance’s family) over and over and over …and over again. So much that I thought, maybe I’m just making it up or lying to myself to cover up my own faults, so much so that I fell into a depression (as well as my fiance). Even now, we are engaged, have part time jobs and side jobs, and they just put us down for not having “real jobs” as if they still existed and openings weren’t over run by people with actual experience! “Oh yes, pick me, pick me hiring manager, not the person who lost the job they were working at for 30 years and has that much experience under their belt more than I do”. The last time I went to a job fair, 95% of the jobs I would qualify for were internships only. At some points it felt silly sitting at my computer hours on end applying to places that almost never responded, I should be doing something productive like learning new skills but where would you get the money for that when no one wants to hire.

  40. Anonymous*

    I’ll be graduating with a PhD soon. I’ve got 15 years experience prior to grad school. Publications. International conference presentations. And not so much as a call back from 80 applications.

    I can’t volunteer or work internships because I need to make money. I have bills to pay and can’t do so if I work for free. Sallie Mae didn’t give me the 6 month grace period they promised. They want their money now. Health insurance = a pipe dream. If I get sick my family is screwed. “Gaining experience” by working for free is not an option.

    Move overseas? That’s hysterical because I can’t afford to visit overseas, let alone move my entire household there.


    And why does it take 2 hours to fill out those lousy webforms if no one’s going to read them anyways?

  41. Anonymous*

    3 Years later and the economy is still pretty bad. Graduated in May 2012, and although some may say that it takes time, I’m slowly losing hope and my mind out of boredom. Currently living with my parents in a not-so-good neighborhood. Friends are all busy with work or school. Everyday I apply to at least 3 jobs within my skill set, and now I’ve even started applying to retail jobs.

    I know that other people are suffering through this, and I feel for them because I am going through this drought….but, I get the sense that it just HAD to happen to me. Graduating when the economy is really bad, when all your friends aren’t around, stuck in a bad neighborhood and have nothing to do but just keep applying.

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