will taking a year off after college affect your job prospects?

A reader writes:

We are the exact opposite of the typical helicopter parents, encouraging our kids to make their own choices. We have allowed our kids to make their own decisions for many years of their young adult years, but feel we might contact someone for advice at this time.

Our son just graduated from college a week ago. He has told us he wants to take a year off before getting into his career. He wants to work at a coffee shop instead, making just a little over minimum wage. He is moving out and sharing a place with friends, which we encourage. We are concerned about this delay in entering his chosen field (mechanical engineering and computer aided design). Our question is: How will a delay in entering the workforce in one’s chosen field after college affect a person’s job chances and career?

Will it ruin his life? No.

Will it make starting his career harder? Almost certainly.

Right now, employers understand why he doesn’t have much/any work experience: He’s been in college. It’s normal, and they get it.

A year from now when he’s applying for jobs, that’s going to be different. They’re going to wonder why it took him a year to “launch.” They’re going to have a whole new crop of candidates who just graduated, whose resumes don’t raise questions about the last year.

Whether or not that’s reasonable is up for debate, but it’s true.

Now, all that said, there are plenty of recent grads who spend a year or more working minimum wage jobs not because they want to but because they have to, because they’re actively looking for work in their field and can’t get hired. They’re basically in the same boat he’ll be in, just not by choice — but I bet if he talks to them, he’ll hear that it’s not a great boat to be in.

In fact, related to that, your son might end up on the coffee shop plan whether he wants to or not — because it’s not like jobs are just being handed out to whoever wants one. He could do an active job search and still end up serving coffee for a year. (That’s more field-dependent though, and I don’t know enough about his field or how strong a candidate he is to say if it will likely be the case for him or not.)

But maybe that’s something to point out to him — job searches these days take a long time. More than a year for some people. What if he starts his search in a year and it takes another year? Now he’s two years out of school without putting himself on a professional track. The longer that goes on, the harder it will get to put himself on whatever long-term track he ultimately wants.

So maybe there’s a middle ground here. You could suggest that he launch an active job search for his field now, but with the assumption that it’s going to be a minimum of a few months before he finds something anyway, and possibly longer — but getting it started is a smart thing to do.

(Of course, at this point, suggesting is all you can do anyway. You can advise and inform, but ultimately this one is up to him — assuming you’re not paying his bills.)

{ 336 comments… read them below }

  1. Blue Anne*

    Yeah, looking at my group of friends (I graduated 3 years ago), this answer is pretty accurate. Which is more than a little bit depressing, to be entirely honest.

    I wanted to do the “work at Starbucks for a year” thing, but couldn’t get a job at a cafe for the life of me. Too much competition and all my experience at that point was in childcare and teaching. Now I’m really glad that I fell into an office job.

    1. steve g*

      Wow I’m surprised that people want to do this. I mean, the work isn’t bad but the money is, at that age I was more willing to do whatever for the most money didn’t care if I liked the job or not!

      1. BRR*

        I find myself constantly muttering as an adult “oh the things you’ll do for money.”

      2. Broke Philosopher*

        Starbucks, and some other shops, offer benefits. Good luck finding that at a lot of entry level jobs! I did the “any job I can find” thing for a while, and really, working reasonably steady hours at a coffee shop with benefits would have been a BIG improvement over many of the jobs that I applied for. I moved away from the nonprofit field because even with multiple full-time summer internships + jobs during the school year at college, I really couldn’t find anything that paid above minimum wage or offered anything in terms of benefits.

        1. ellory wayans*

          I can always tell in these threads who’s actually worked at Starbucks and who’s idealizing it. Hours are not steady. The work is difficult, both physically and emotionally. Yes, the benefits are excellent and not to be overlooked, but it’s still a low-paying gig that demands constant perkiness.

      3. Blue Anne*

        The prospect of set hours, no worries when you’re off the clock, decent benefits and occasional free muffins can be pretty alluring when you’ve just finished 4 years of round-the-clock stress!

        At that point I’d also been working a zero-hours outbound call centre gig for a few months to pay the bills at the end of senior year, and boy did a coffee shop sound like a step up.

        I think that kind of thing is pretty common. But not a great idea.

      4. KrisL*

        I worked at McDonald’s for about a year and a half and then at a coffee house (not a chain) for a while. I am trying to figure out why anyone would want to do this instead of getting a professional job.

    2. GrumpyBoss*

      I live in a college town. All the Starbucks baristas have PhDs. In their case, however, it’s because they seem to have chosen completely unemployable fields of studies, like the “Ethics of War on Early Man” – I’m actually not making that up. That is the area of specialty for my morning barista! Good thing he’s a great barista!

      I can see why wanting to do a cafe job is appealing. If I could get the same money that I earn at this point in my career doing a service job, I’d be all over it.

      1. Blue Anne*

        Yeah, the call centre I worked in at the end of uni was incredibly over-educated for the work we were doing.

        I should ask my favorite barista what he studied.

  2. BRR*

    A job search at this time for recent graduates isn’t really something to put off (I’m not aware of any field that is funneling graduates into jobs although I could be wrong on that). Your son might not even be able to get a job at a coffee house, minimum wage jobs are also hyper competitive. It sounds like your sons might not be fully aware of the current job search market.

    Directly answering your question, it will probably harm his chances if he delays his job search because he will be not applying to positions he’s qualified for and in a year there will be fresh graduates with no questions of why have they been a barista for a year.

    1. Interviewer*

      I wonder if he has mentioned this gap year plan to anyone at his Career Services Office (I know, ugh), or a former employer in the industry that he interned with, or possibly his academic adviser. What about his network? Are there contacts in that field who can give him an informational interview, maybe a little wakeup call? I am sure all of them would strongly encourage him to look for work in his chosen field now, rather than a year from now. And if you have beat the drum on this topic for too long, keep in mind he might not listening to you. When I was 22, I thought my parents were absolutely clueless about the world, and I didn’t hear much of what they said. After being out on my own for a year, they got a lot, lot smarter, and 20 years later, I think they’re friggin’ geniuses. But in the meantime, maybe your son will hear the things he needs to hear from outside experts he’d listen to, rather than you. Just a suggestion.

      I get it – school can grind you down, especially in a field like engineering. (After I finished college I needed a gap year but I got a gap month.) I’d find out why he wants to work in a coffee shop, what benefits he thinks he will get from waiting to find engineering work, or especially from working way outside of his chosen field. Does he have student loans to pay back? How long will he be able to support himself if he can’t find a coffee shop job right away? What about benefits? If you are providing any financial support, how long does he expect that to last? These are all important questions that he needs to answer now, before he signs a lease, or gets a minimum wage job that only schedules him for 15 hours a week.

      1. Alter_ego*

        I went to a school that gave us no vacations, because we spent six months working (not internships, at least for me), and six months in class, alternating back and forth with no breaks. This meant I was able to get a job straight out of school, in my field, electrical engineering. I graduated on Friday and started on Monday. And that’s great! Believe me, I’m greatful. But I haven’t stopped since I got into college. I’ve had one vacation longer than a long weekend in the past 7 years. School was hell for me, and my job is WORK. I totally get the impulse to do something else for a year, even if I never would, knowing it would screw things up for me in the long run.

    2. Blue Anne*

      Here in the UK we’re all desperate to get our hand on compsci grads, especially in web development. Everyone else I know is still having employment trouble (unless they’re over-achieving business types), but the developers are happily accepting contracts as soon as they finish uni and job hopping every year or two to greener pastures and bigger paychecks.

  3. Artemesia*

    A gap year that has focus e.g. headed for the far east and taught English for a year or went around the world or engaged in a project with a non -profit etc is one thing. Bumming around for a year with no plan except to not work very hard and party — which is what ‘work a minimum wage job and hang with the friends’ sounds like is another. Nothing says ‘I am not a hard worker’ like ‘I need a year’s vacation to recover from the very very hard work of going to school.’

    Employers might respect a project or a travel year, they are not going to respect goofing off and in fact will probably just assume he was unemployable not that he chose a gap year.

    And of course nothing gets stale faster than technical training like engineering or computer science. A fresh new grad is just more attractive. It is too bad he didn’t figure this out earlier and take a gap year after his junior year of college.

    1. steve g*

      Actually I taught english abroad for 3 years and it didn’t hurt but didn’t help my job search when I came back – employers almost didn’t see how the 12 hour days and presenting in front of groups and making long terms teaching plans was relevant to business….so I started entry level at almost 27….would have been worse if I did a menial job though!

      1. Artemesia*

        Oh I am not suggesting that sort of thing helps. Why would an employer view you as anything besides entry level unless the jobs you were looking for were teaching. BUT doing that does not label you a slacker. It is an adventure that makes sense at that time in a young person’s life. Just goofing off for a year is quite different.

        So I would suggest that the sort of thing you did will not necessarily help in the job search but will at least not mark you as a slacker and may be intriguing to the occasional employer who might see you as a more creative or interesting person — often pluses when faced with a dozen qualified people for a job.

        1. fposte*

          Right, there’s a difference between taking a gap year to take a chance to seize an enriching opportunity and taking a gap year to work at Target.

          I’m not opposed to the guy working in a coffee shop–plenty of people do, and good for them–but I think this isn’t the right presentation.

        2. steve g*

          I thought at the time it would make me more valuable because it does have transferable skills…little did I know! I still believe it helps me in an operations role – I’m comfortable talking to anyone about anything and coming to work and making stuff happen with no direction – but employers weren’t convinced that that could come from teaching.

        3. EngineerGirl*

          I agree with Artemesia. Working low-end jobs because you need to make end meet says hard worker. Working low-end jobs because you want to avoid something better says slacker.

    2. CEMgr*

      Agree totally. As a hiring manager, I understand and respect the desire to see the world, tutor in English overseas, Teach for America, build a cabin by hand, or even sail single handed to Hawaii or write a novel. OTOH, I would be baffled and not in a good way about he choice to deliberately take a food/beverage service job rather than something in line with the individual’s training. I would really question the person’s motivation.

      I understand that an undergraduate degree in engineering is hard work and you need a break (I graduated from MIT and Stanford in engineering). But that’s what the summer and the job hunt are for.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The OP’s son isn’t talking about a full-time job search. He’s talking about a break from his field: “He has told us he wants to take a year off before getting into his career. “

    3. mess*

      I was gonna say the same thing. If you want a gap year, why not go work abroad or something?

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Yup. I haven’t read all the comments on this thread, but as someone who has hired plenty of entry-level MEs, this (the coffee shop) would look weird. I can’t say I’ve ever seen it.

      The other important thing is that the engineering job market can turn quickly. This year is a good hiring year, for my field & location anyway, and you really don’t know about next year. Nuclear engineering was starting to take off before Fukushima, but now it’s not. Turns on a dime.

    5. KrisL*

      School can be very hard work. When I was in college, it felt like I was never really “done”. I could always study more, right? Having an 8-5 professional job after I graduated – there was a big learning curve, and it was real work, but I could go home in the evening and that time was all mine. No studying!

  4. ManderPants*

    Yup, I agree. I worked my retail job for another year after graduation because that’s how long it took to find something “real.” He can work his coffee shop job, but he really ought to job hunt in the meantime. Especially because it takes trial and error to get the resume/cover letter right and get a feel for how job search sites and applications work.

    1. Piper*

      Yes, this. He should be job hunting the entire time. I worked in retail, too, as a manager for 2 years after I graduated. It wasn’t by choice. It took me that long to find a job in my field (I graduated during the recession after 9/11) and even though I was working in a management capacity, I still got the side-eye from a ton of interviewers.

    2. LBK*

      Yep, I also ended up working retail for 2 years after I graduated without intending to – at least not at first. I did eventually stick with retail on purpose but that was 6 months down the line after being promoted twice in retail and not getting any prospects in my desired field.

    3. Beebs*

      “Especially because it takes trial and error to get the resume/cover letter right and get a feel for how job search sites and applications work.”

      Really great point, looking at the quality I was sending out fresh out of school vs. now, wow! It takes a lot of practice (and resources like AAM).

      Just to add, I worked on projects contractually for 3 years after finishing grad school but I am looking for something more stable or at least more in line with my interests. I have been actively job hunting in two different fields for 15 months now to no avail, and I have plenty of peers in the same boat. It takes time and perseverance.

    4. littlemoose*

      Same here. I graduated and passed the bar in 2008, right when the bottom dropped out of the economy. I had previously worked retail for years at the same company in high school and college, and I took a retail job at another of their stores to try to make ends meet while I looked for a “real” job. It sucked, frankly. It took me 18 months to find my job, for which I moved across the state. I realize that the economy is better now, and that the OP’s son is in a different field. But nonetheless, it’s still a rather tight market for job-seekers, especially entry-level graduates. He should start searching now in anticipation of the unfortunate probability that it will take him a while to find something.

  5. Jessica the Researcher*

    I think especially in the computer aided design field, any gap in using that tech would not be ideal. But that’s just my perception.

    1. AB Normal*

      As someone who has worked in CAD, I think your perception is 100% right.

      This type of skill is much more “perishable” than, say, International Relations or Economy. If you start working right away, you continue to develop skills and learn new tools throughout your first year, so after a year you are still up-to-date. If you switch to serving coffee for a year, it’s very likely that your skills will not be as attractive one year form now, even for a manager who thought highly of a spending a gap year serving coffee…

      1. Sean*

        Sounds to me like you raised a sensible, sane young man. Perhaps he knows he’s only young once, and doesn’t want to completely miss it. He’ll probably spend the rest of his life working, even if it takes him a little longer to get started up-front. I say that’s a pretty small price to pay for a year or so of being young and goofing off. I’m nearly 40. I wish I’d taken time off back then, because it’s next to impossible now. Part of me, I’m ashamed to admit, wants to advise you to make him get to work: it’s painful to think of someone else having freedom that I wasted because I didn’t know any better at the time. Consider that others here, though meaning well, might have the same conflict. Perhaps you do, too. He’s your kid. But I’d encourage him to consider both the cons AND PROS of taking time off….then let him make his choice and let him be. I only stand by this advice, though, if he’s white or Asian. If he’s not, then I guess you know all too well that he’s already fighting the racist perception that he’s lazy, and taking time off now might have much more serious long-term consequences.

  6. Juni*

    In case it’s floating out there… if you think it’s a possibility, you might encourage your son to get screened for depression. I wanted to take a low-stakes year off, too, but it was because I was so shaken by ending my formal education – the only thing I’d ever known and was good at – and sunk into a deep, deep depression. Even though I was functioning. It was much easier to hide it from my mom when I wasn’t living with her.

    1. Anon*

      Depression could be a very real possibility. By the time I finished my degree, I had no interest in pursuing the field I’d studied. Once I found myself without a clear and direct path toward achieving that goal, I had no idea what to do with myself. Some people do need time to figure themselves out after having been only a student for 16+ years. Not everyone can jump directly into a full-time career and be happy, and not everyone wants to.

      1. thenoiseinspace*

        Agreed – OP, is it possible he’s not sure he wants a career in his major? If so, then the answer may be auditing a class or two from a local school in some other fields to try other options. Then at least he’d have something to account for the time.

        1. Bea W*

          This was what I came here to mention. I wonder if he’s unsure about what he wants to do as a career or is having second thoughts about it and wants to do something else while he figures out what he wants to do. I can’t imagine someone wanting to stay working at min wage in an unrelated job when they are certain about their career path after graduating unless they had doubts about what their next step is.

          1. littlemoose*

            +1. I could definitely see his plan as an effort to delay the responsibility that comes with graduating and getting a “real” job. It could be due to depression, or even just burnout from the demands of school. If it’s the former, he needs help in the form of treatment, and if it’s the latter, he may need to recognize that, well, that’s kind of how being an adult goes.

            1. Sean*

              So….not wanting to work is pathological? If he has other symptoms of depression, that’s one thing. Otherwise, taking time off is not a medical condition. I know it was only brought up with good intention, but look at the implication: if he’s not gung-ho to start working, he’s sick?
              As for being an adult…what’s the rush? I envy him.

    2. Cath in Canada*

      This makes a lot of sense (at least without access to any additional context). When I was in my final year of grad school, all the students would joke/fantasize about “let’s all open a coffee shop together! You can bake the cakes, you can run the bookstore, you handle the advertising…” It was very much seen as a way of escaping the stressful situation we were all in of trying to finish up our research, write up, and find jobs. If the OP’s son had a stressful final year of exams, he may be feeling the same need for escape.

    3. Anonsie*

      I really really wish I had done this for the opposite reason, actually– I hated school and worked my butt off during all the breaks. By the time I was done I was so burned out and exhausted, then when I entered the long job hunt and the terrible in-the-meantime job and then finally got the job I wanted it was like… Ok, can I take a break now? Can I rest? I started my career feeling like I’d been beaten up.

      Since I had a long crappy job hunt *anyway* I wish I’d just planned to fart around for a little bit– not a whole year, but even just a few months, like a normal summer break –and sent out applications while road tripping or intensely studying violin or something.

  7. BB*

    Tell him to start searching NOW. It took me almost 3 years of searching to find a ‘real job’ and only after I came on here part-time. I can’t say anything for sure but I have a very strong feeling that if in a year he starts his search, he’s going to be kicking himself about not starting sooner.

    If he is looking for a job that has more flexible hours and options because he wants to travel or do something else, maybe tell him to look into contract work.

    1. Anon*

      It took me 6 years of searching on-and-off, getting additional education, internship experience, working part-time, and finally being in the right place at the right time to get my first full-time job. If I had the ability to go back in time, I would do everything in my power to shorten that time, not prolong it!

  8. Mighty Mouse*

    To me, this sounds like a bad idea.

    But he is an adult and is free to make his own choices.

  9. CanadianWriter*

    Why can’t he do both at once? Work at the coffee shop and also look for a job in his field? (Assuming he can even get hired at a coffee shop…)

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      Yes, exactly. It’s very smart to have a plan for some short-term retail or coffee shop-type work to bridge the gap between school and a career-track job!

      I don’t know if I’d say the same if the whole plan was to put off job searching for an entire year.

    2. Sunflower*

      He might think getting a job takes a lot less time than it does. Right after I graduated, I thought it would take a month to get a job- I know, crazy. I assumed it was like the summer and waitress jobs I’d gotten in the past where I walked in and was hired in a couple weeks. So I didn’t start applying until like a week before I moved home from college when I should have started months earlier.

  10. Ann O'Nemity*

    I could see taking a post-college gap year if it’s for travel, volunteering, learning a new language, or even interning at the right gig. But I can’t think of any long-term advantages to working a dead-end minimum wage job to live with friends… unless this man has no other options and is pretending this is a deliberate choice.

    1. Laufey*

      And I kind of feel that an employer would be understanding of or intrigued by “I took a gap year to volunteer for [insert charitable cause here] or work at a [insert unusual position overseas] or intern at [non profit or for-profit of some relevance to field]” but is less likely to believe and/or rate favorably “I took a gap year to [do a minimum wage job that most people only want to work while otherwise unemployed].”

      I mean definitely, better to be employed than not, but I’m not certain it’s a scenario it’s wise to go into willingly.

    2. Susan*

      I got my first job out of college just days after graduating, so I was lucky. However, this was only a one-year temp position. After I finished, I moved in with my parents in another state and quickly realized this was a bad decision for me (just because some fields exist more in certain geographical locations).

      After 6 months of no work, I started applying for internships in a slightly different field. Most HR managers are tactful, but one said something like “You haven’t worked since June?” and made a really judgmental facial expression.

      I realize, in retrospect, that I used to be the same way. When I heard the girl who I replaced at my old job took 3 months to get a job, I judged her back then. Another girl told me it took her a year to get her job at that company, and I judged her too. Now, I would never judge because I know how hard it is.

      I say all of this because people who are not currently in the job market don’t necessarily know what it’s like, they don’t necessarily know that you’re not lazy–that some weeks you’ve had 4 interviews in one week and nothing panned out. That writing that many cover letters takes a lot of work. They just see you haven’t worked and there is this tendency to wonder what the heck you were doing. Perceptions aren’t fair, but are real, so I’d encourage him to start looking now.

    3. fposte*

      That’s what’s puzzling me, too. This isn’t a year off, it’s a year at a non-trajectory job. I also think he may be overoptimistic about coffee shop work–that’s not “off,” it’s a lot of drudgery hours to make ends meet.

      1. Bea W*

        Super early hours in all kinds of nutty weather, all day on your feet, the crushing mass of cranky de-caffienated customers, mess, manual labor. Definitely not my idea of “a year off”. Working in a coffee shop is not an easy job! I wonder if he’s got some fantasy that it would be more like getting to hang out at a coffee shop while being paid vs. working his butt off.

        1. Red Librarian*

          I worked in a coffee shop for about nine months and loved it. After changes at CurrentJob have left me miserable for the past year, I honestly kind of miss it.

          1. Kate*

            Never did coffee specifically, but I spent eight glorious months (both fast food and catering) and would still say that catering is the most fun job I’ve ever had. I’m weird.

    4. Kai*

      I think a lot of people at that age/point in their lives can have a rather romantic view of working at a coffeeshop. It seems artsy and fun. Then you realize that it’s not anything like hanging out at Central Perk on Friends…

      1. aebhel*

        This. Has he ever worked in customer service? Because my experience of it is working weird hours, putting up with obnoxious and sometimes downright abusive customers, and being pleasant about it for very little money and no benefits.

      2. Dani*

        This is so on point. In the year after college, I was teaching with AmeriCorps and working a service gig (bartender) to make ends meet. My roommate was a Starbux barista and he always had early morning shifts (getting up at 3:30am to get there at 4:30am – the buses didn’t run that early), and would come home to our hot, humid, DC apartment covered in sticky syrups and EXHAUSTED – more bone tired than I was from doing 2 jobs. It’s tough work, especially if you’re putting in the hours to make a living wage.

      3. Sean*

        Hard to say. I hated customer service, myself, but I’m an introvert, and not very attractive. Good-looking extroverts seemed to do just fine; sure, there were jerks once in awhile but they did a lot of flirting, too. LOL–if you were a girl, though, you’re off the hook, imo. People were so much more rude to them, it seemed, and being pretty and extroverted just meant a different, creepier kind of rude.

    5. Turanga Leela*

      I think you can even explain a totally non-professional gap year if you’re doing something important to you. If the OP’s kid took a year off to hike the Appalachian Trail, employers might decide that he looks unserious, but they might also think he is adventurous and interesting. A lot of people understand wanting to have an adventure before you settle into your career. But deliberately working in a coffee shop for a year isn’t in most people’s vocabulary, if that makes sense.

      Is the coffee shop job a way of supporting something else? If he really wants to use the time to raise free-range chickens in the backyard, or work on his side business as a DJ, or write his novel, it would change my response to this. Immediately post-college is not a bad time to do those things, particularly if you’re able to work to support yourself. I know a lot of people with college degrees who are working as baristas/waiters/ski instructors to support their dreams of being actors/writers/urban farmers/gourmet brownie chefs/EDM composers.

      1. Mints*

        (I really like that your last hypothetical job is EDM composer)

        I agree that if there’s not something else that he’s working on, even if it’s a weird lofty goal, they’ll assume he was slacking and partying, or couldn’t get a job despite trying hard to get one

        1. Turanga Leela*

          These are all based on people I know! The composer is trained as an accountant.

      2. Wonderlander*

        +1 Haha, I have a friend from college who hiked the Appalachian Trail after graduating.

      3. Brandy*

        A good friend of mine moved to the west coast after college to pursue her acting bug, but then went to Stanford Law as a back-up plan. She “did her time” in BigLaw to pay off her loans ant is now a poorly paid but very happy nonprofit lawyer / local thespian/ still wants to get to Broadway. :)

    6. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      Actually, that’s a really good idea. He could do a Starbucks and unpaid-internship year… still building a resume, but still getting a bit of a gap before jumping into the 9-5 grind for the rest of his life.

      1. Stephanie*

        I don’t think unpaid internships in engineering are very common, since most companies engineer things for profit (and the internships would be illegal).

        He could maybe try engineering non-profits like USGBC, MITRE, or Engineers Without Borders and see if there’s anything there. But even those places know they’ll have trouble getting engineers to work for free.

        1. Gwen Soul*

          Is there something about engineering that makes for profits illegal? We are a for profit company and have all sorts of interns.

          1. Stephanie*

            I was referring to the internship being illegal. For profit companies aren’t supposed to have unpaid interns. Do y’all have unpaid interns? I’ve never heard of that in engineering, unless it’s like an EWB service project or similar.

            1. Ann O'Nemity*

              For-profit companies can have unpaid interns as long as certain criteria are met. Essentially the internship should be for the benefit of the intern, not the company.

  11. TotesMaGoats*

    AAM is right that you can only give advice but if there is any time to play the parent card, this is probably it. In the engineering/CAD field, he’s going to be doing such a disservice to his job prospects. I don’t know what you could say to change his mind and to some degree this is a learn from your mistakes opportunity but it could severely hamper future opportunities.

  12. E.R*

    Just curious whether he worked at a coffee shop or other minimum wage job while he was in school? I just remember from my own experience that after 5 years in school, working a minimum wage job in a retail / manual labour environment, I was just desperate to have a more professional job, with a salary, and be treated with more respect. (Not saying minimum wage workers shouldn’t be treated with respect, oh my lord they should, but often they are not).

    Or is the coffee shop job one he is already working?

    If he didn’t work these types of jobs while in school, he may be in for a real disappointment about how “enjoyable” that life is.
    If he did, cool, we are just different people.

    If he has a real work ethic and intelligence / curiosity, he will be okay in the long run, even with a slow start.

    1. Anon Accountant*


      I worked 5 years as a grocery store cashier and was so happy to obtain a full time professional job with benefits.

      1. Mallory*

        I worked retail/cashier jobs when I was younger, and the biggest perk to me from getting a white collar job was being able to go to the bathroom at will (without having to ask someone for a break). The cashier “glamour” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. :-)

        1. Anx*

          Bathroom at will! I loved that about my most recent job. It wasn’t totally at will because I was client-facing in short shifts so 5 minutes could be a big part of my workday, but it was incredibly empowering not to have to have hold it in with every fiber of my being and try to focus on my job at the same time.

          I think waitressing gave me kidney/bladder issues.

        2. Kelly L.*

          This is such a glorious and underrated thing!

          Especially after the call center job where they hoarded the bathroom key like dragon treasure, and the retail job where I got told off because GI upset kept me in the bathroom longer than expected once.

        3. Anon Accountant*

          Yes!! And feeling like a young child when you had to ask the supervisor on duty to get register coverage so you could go to the bathroom.

    2. MaryMary*

      My high school principal said the best thing about students having part time/summer jobs is that they came back to school saying, “nope, not going to do that for the rest of my life.”

      1. Artemesia*

        My son dropped out of college after his freshman year — his couple of years supporting himself did help him focus on what he didn’t want to have to do in life. He went back to school, did great work and had half a dozen full rides to grad school when he graduated.

    3. LBK*

      Ooh, also a great point – most people who get into retail do so because they don’t have any other options, and once they do they spend a lot of time looking to get out. I wonder if his perception of what working at a coffee shop will be like is off. It’s a lot more menial labor, long/early hours and grumpy people than spending 10 minutes to craft a beautiful latte and then having a philosophical discourse about poetry with your worldly and knowledgeable clientele.

    4. AnonAcademic*

      Great point. I worked retail one summer in college and we had to do dumpster runs, where we took our store’s trash to the area where all the stores and restaurants also dumped theirs. It was summer and the smell was just unbelievable. My manager told me “this is your motivation to stay in school.”

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        Mine was doing trash runs and mopping the floor. God, every time I stood there staring at that mop bucket I prayed “please, God, let me get a job where I don’t have to mop the floors, please.”

        I mean, I got the job where I don’t have to mop the floors, and it has its ridiculous issues, but I swear there is not a single day I don’t go past that place at the mall and think gratefully how wonderful it is not to take out dozens of bags of stinking trash and mop the floors.

      2. littlemoose*

        Oh yeah. That dumpster room smell is the worst. My retail job also involved picking up a lot of other people’s trash, including food and half-consumed drinks. My coworker found a dirty diaper resting on our merchandise shelves on one occasion, and another coworker found something worse in a fitting room once. Once you’ve cleaned up a liquid on the floor that may or may not be urine, well, you’re ready to move on, trust me.

        1. Stephanie*

          Oh, we found everything in the fitting rooms. Worst were used tampons and a hot steaming pile (in the junior’s department?!?!).

        2. the gold digger*

          I was a lifeguard for a little more than minimum wage. Part of the job was cleaning the bathroom. One year, the boys thought it would be funny to defecate on the floor. So for $3.50 an hour, I was cleaning sh*t off the floor of a public bathroom.

          College seemed easy after that.

    5. Dan*

      I have a “not” minimum wage job now, but when I encounter minimum wage folks, I try to be nice. Quite frankly, I don’t consider myself to have the job I have because I’m better than them, I’m just luckier than them.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yes, this. Working one of those jobs before made me appreciate having white collar jobs that paid me well above minimum wage and let me goof off on the internet sometimes/show up at 9:15 instead of 9 without reprimand/go to the bathroom when I wanted. Working retail was awfully hard.

    6. KrisL*

      I really like what E.R. said asking if the kid has already had this type of job . E.R. is right. These are not fun jobs, they don’t pay well, and the hours can be awful. I worked part time at jobs like this during college, and I was soooo ready for a more professional job.

  13. thenoiseinspace*

    It’s also worth pointing out that, compared to school, a full-time job can kind of feel like taking a break. It’s so nice to come home and not have to stay up until 2 am every night doing homework, to have weekends free, and to actually have money coming in. For the first few months, I was in a constant state of guilt for actually doing things like watching tv in the evenings, even though I didn’t have anything else I was supposed to be doing – after almost two decades of spending every second on essays or projects or test prep, down time makes you feel guilty. Also, 8 hours of sleep a night? Awesome.

    I’m not knocking the part-time job way of life. It’s one that I will likely have to go back to very soon, and if that’s what he wants, it’s his call. But if his school was particularly rigorous and he’s just exhausted, maybe you can reassure him that working might not be as bad. In this economy, getting a job will likely be harder than actually doing it.

    1. Sascha*

      I had dreams about writing essays and missing assignment deadlines for about a year after I finally finished with school. Every now and then I have that dream where I forget about an assignment deadline, get to class, and realize I haven’t finished it yet.

      1. Shell*

        Heh, I’ve had so many instances of waking up in a cold sweat and adrenaline spiking going “omg I slept through/failed my quantum final!”

        I graduated years ago.

        1. Anoners*

          YES! I have a reoccuring dream that I didn’t finish a high school assignment, and that I wouldnt be able to graduate. Even in my dream I’m like “but I have two degrees already!!”. I graduated like, 11 years ago.

          1. Yet Another Allison*

            Me too! It’s been 15 years and I still dream that I find out that there was a mistake and I need one more class to graduate.

            1. Anonsie*

              I’ve been told that these dreams never stop so long as you live.

              I think being a student is a lot more traumatic than we give it credit for ;P

        1. Red Librarian*

          Ohmygosh, I’ve had the same didn’t drop/final tomorrow dream and I graduated years ago.

          1. I Love Books*

            OH MY GOD! Me too!!! A few months ago I had that dream again where I find out I didn’t graduate HS and my BA and 2 MA degrees were invalid. SCARY! I HATE THAT DREAM!!!!

              1. De Minimis*

                I have that one sometimes, and I also have one where I’m back at an old job…seem to have the old job dream more than the back in school dream.

              2. Bea W*

                I would have graduated 24 years ago. I have a similar dream, except that I really did not graduate from high school IRL.

        2. Windchime*

          I have variations on the “can’t find my locker” dream. Sometimes I can find my locker, but I can’t remember the combination to the lock. Sometimes I can’t find my classroom, or I suddenly realize right before finals that there was a class I was supposed to be attending but somehow forgot about.

      2. MaryMary*

        I’ve started having the “haven’t been attending class and bow will fail the final” dream again. It’s always a math class.

      3. Mints*

        Haha my dreams are usually that I did something wrong with the graduation requirements, and I need to go back another semester after I’ve moved away. And I’m running around campus like “But I already graduated!!”

        1. Eden*

          I still have this dream, and I graduated from college 24 years ago. And that’s as close to lucid dreaming as I get too–hey, wait, why am I doing this again? I already did this once!

          1. Mints*

            Haha funny you mention that! I actually do have lucid dreams occasionally, and in one dream, I had walked the ceremony, but they were telling me I was missing a class, and I was running around telling everyone I had really taken all the classes, and in the dream, I was looking for some paperwork, and my lucid self remembered it was framed on the wall, and my lucid self realized if the degree was on the wall, I must have actually graduated and this must be a dream, and I woke up

            This is so hard to explain

        2. Elsajeni*

          When I was applying to grad school, I had a version of this dream where I ordered my undergraduate transcript and discovered that all of my grades for the last three semesters had been changed to “M” and no one at the registrar’s office could explain to me what that meant or how to get them changed back.

      4. CA Anon*

        I actually did that in real life. I thought an essay was due Monday, but it was actually due Friday and I found out at lunch, 2 periods before class. There was a rule in that class that you could email the essay by midnight and it wouldn’t be late 2x per semester, so I started working on it immediately, figuring I’d get it done that night and email it in. I get to class, outline finished and plan in place, to find out that the teacher had left early due to illness and was giving us an extension until Monday–the only time that entire year she gave us one. I went home and wrote the essay at a normal pace throughout the weekend and turned it in on Monday with our teacher none the wiser.

        Believe it or not, I don’t get those types of dreams about school work or tests. I get them about prom and my wedding. Something about not being prepared for a formal event is infinitely more terrifying to me than homework or tests.

    2. Anonathon*

      I was just going to say this! I studied like crazy in college and had a pretty good time too … thus I barely slept. My first year out, I worked 9-5 and had a part-time evening job, and it still felt like a vacation in comparison. Because at the end of the day, I could leave everything at the office. No homework, no tests, and so much more sleep/time to watch dumb TV. Working has its own stresses obviously, but it is such a different experience than being in school full-time.

    3. Tinker*

      That’s a good point. A lot of times, folks talk as if college is one long fun party and working will be much harder — I recall rhetoric like that directed at me back when I was in undergrad, and I see echoes of it in some of the response here. If he’s ME, though, that’s almost certainly not true — work is hard in different ways than school was, but overall the grinding effect, even for a new engineer, is less.

      If he’s come to believe that whatever comes after getting an engineering degree is worse than what came before, it’s not surprising that he wants to work in a coffee shop for a bit and is somewhat surprising that he doesn’t want to disappear into the mountains, build a tiny shack, and become a hermit.

      He might could use some more reasonable discussion with an experienced engineer who isn’t too crazy, so as to talk him off the ledge.

      1. Sarahnova*

        Yeah, I’m still glad occasionally that I will never have to relive taking my university finals, and that academic hothouse. By comparison, having a fairly 9-5 corporate job during the year I wasn’t studying part-time was relatively easy. I used to POLISH ALL MY SHOES and IRON MY SHIRTS and TIDY THE FLAT on weekends and I STILL had loads of time to spare!

      2. Anx*

        People have wildly different college experiences. Some people work full time during it, some people take only 12 or 15 credits a summer, some people have 5 clubs and a part time job and school.


      3. Steve G*

        This and Anonathon are probably going to be the most helpful comments.

        I remember being afraid of a “real” job after school as well, especially having to wake up early everyyyyyyy day. But overall, it is not harder than school. Well, my job now is, but many of my previous jobs were not, especially my entry level one,

    4. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I went to a rather rigorous engineering school, and the typical 40-50 hour workweek is an absolute vacation compared to only sleeping six nights a week during my final semester.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Same here. The only periods of my life that were comparably stressful were the new baby + full-time job times, and the time my husband worked overseas for a year and left me with two toddlers + a full-time job. Other than that, I have SO much more free time than I ever did in school. Also money.

        1. The Other Katie*

          I’m just getting into that and missing all my free time! We have 8 week old newborn foster twins + 2 full time jobs + all the time consuming things that go along with fostering. I don’t even remember what a full night of sleep feels like!

        2. aebhel*

          I have a 7-week-old, and even new baby + full-time job doesn’t compare to the stress of college. Of course, that was full-time grad school + full-time job, so not much would…

    5. Teacher Recruiter*

      I thought this too when I read the OP’s letter. I wonder if the student thinks somehow the coffee shop job will be a break or better. I’ve never worked at a coffee shop, but I imagine he will have less control over his hours, and will end up working nights and weekends – when his friends won’t be. I’d much prefer a standard job where my evenings and weekend are truly mine. I wonder if he considered this at all?

    6. some1*

      If he gets a job at a coffee place, he probably won’t have weekends free, unless he gets a job at one in a business district that isn’t open weekends. And in that case he’ll be scheduled earlier than classes or most office jobs start.

    7. Lora*

      So true!

      Plus, your first job out of college, even in engineering, is not going to be doing anything like as creative and demanding what you do in school. You’re mostly doing gruntwork, because unless you’ve passed your PE (and he won’t have, not without years of experience) you’re going to be doing really boring stuff that you could have done as a sophomore with ease. My first STEM job involved taking pH readings, pouring things into chemical samples to see what color they turned, and pushing buttons on an auto-titrator. My biggest challenge was arguing with the Purchasing department about the quality of chemicals coming in from Hong Kong, not math or chemistry. It was painfully boring. It was a couple of years before I had a job that was anything resembling interesting, let alone challenging. Everything up until then was following someone else’s protocols and SOPs.

    8. Jennifer*

      This. I had two jobs while I was paying my way through school. It took a few months to get used to not being sleep deprived and living on Dr. Pepper and coffee just trying to survive. My job now feels a little more like that though. It’s stressful, hours are long, and it’s hard to wind down, but for the first few months it wasn’t. It felt like a vacation to be able to get some sleep and not worry about term papers and affording gas for my car.

  14. Sunflower*

    It sounds like your son might be struggling with the after college blues. I’ll admit- it took me YEARS to realize college was over. About 6 months before college graduation, I had that very scary realization that everything was ending and I was going to have to get a real job. So naturally, instead of job searching, I decided to not think about it and party my butt off. I surely did enjoy. I spent the 6 months after college living on my parents couch, job searching and going back to my college town as often as I could. I ended up having to go back to my old job that I didn’t like because I had no other choice and I had no money. Then I quit that job to get in a summer share with my friends. Then i struggled again and it took me 1 year after that to find another job. So now, a year later, I feel like I’m finally becoming an adult. I also feel like I’m years behind my friends in career and financial terms. I often think of how much more money I would be making if I would have worked with the company recruiters that were so willing and eager to hire new grads. I hate to use the term regret but looking back, I wish I had either 1. been more active looking for a real job or 2. spending those years traveling or doing something better than reliving my college years.

    Your son has his head on straight in knowing he’s going to get any job he can to support himself while he lives out of the house- there is NOTHING wrong with that. But I’d tell you to strongly encourage him to continue job searching. I think you’ll get a lot of stories on this thread about how long it takes to find a job that will maybe help him realize he should start searching now.

  15. Sascha*

    I don’t know about his area, but when I tried to get a coffee shop job my last year of college, it was HARD! No one would hire me. I even worked at a coffee shop when I was 17. But then I got some admin assistance experience under my belt, and a few years of college, and suddenly no one wanted to hire me. And believe me, I tried. I also tried bookstores and never got that job, either.

    However I did spend 3 months doing an overseas internship right after college, and that experience was not only personally fulfilling, but gave me great work experience and looks good on my resume. Even if the work was somewhat unrelated to the jobs I am applying for, employer reactions to it have been favorable. So if your son has the opportunity and means to do something like that, I highly recommend it.

  16. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

    Wanting to take a year off, work in a coffee shop, and hang out with friends is so unlike any engineer mindset I knew among my engineer friends and acquaintances, that I really would consider pushing a checkup and a depression screening. And maybe offering to pay for a session or two with a career/general counselor.

    People who go into engineering and stay in engineering (it’s not a field for slackers, and the schools are fine with you failing out) are usually pretty self-directed and intellectually ambitious, and even if the job market is terrible they can find something in their off-hours to keep busy and look impressive.

    1. Celeste*

      Yes, this. I can’t understand where he’s coming from on not wanting to start his career. Did he just squeak through school? Did he push on to get the diploma after realizing this isn’t the work he wants to do?

      Right now he is marketable in a great way with his new credential. To me the question is, why doesn’t he want to see where he can go with it? I think he owes himself that answer.

      Hang in there, OP. As a parent I am sure this feels just horrible.

    2. Clerica D. McClerkykins*

      Is there an objective test for depression? I don’t think someone who doesn’t believe they’re depressed can go in and be diagnosed if they’re basically functioning like normal. It really doesn’t sit right with me to “help” someone by insisting on screening them for mental illness just because you feel they’re making a bad decision. It’s like telling a woman who’s upset about something that she should see a gyno about her PMS.

      1. Rayner*

        No, but addressing it with the son could help expose real feelings that he’s been masking. Someone can ‘look’ fine, but the choices they make or the way they view the future can demonstrate that inside they don’t feel good or that they’re spiraling down.

        It’s not a sure fire way, and it’s quite possible the son feels absolutely awesome but many people with depression are trying to find ways to put the brakes on their lives because they don’t feel in control, and stepping out from academia and staying in a low pressure familiar environment is one way to do it. This could be the son doing exactly that.

      2. Turanga Leela*

        There are a few tests, including the Hamilton scale and the Beck Depression Inventory. A professional can give them; I wouldn’t recommend online self-diagnosis quizzes.

        For the record, I generally agree that you shouldn’t suggest that people are depressed just because you don’t like their choices, but it doesn’t sound like anyone is suggesting that. Losing interest in things you care about is a symptom of depression, and it’s reasonable to wonder if that might be going on here. The OP and the OP’s son will have a better sense of whether this rings true for him.

      3. Bea W*

        There are diagnostic questionnaires like the Beck that might reveal a possible depressed state better than asking someone if they are “depressed”. It doesn’t even have to be that person is in denial, but they may just not realize what depression is and what it feels like or assume that if they’re not ready to jump off a bridge or crying all the time, that they are not really depressed.

        My PCP’s office does screenings like this as part of the routine physical now. They go through a brief series of questions with the patient to screen for signs of depression or anxiety disorders. The screening is by no means conclusive. A person can be down or stressed out due to life circumstances or having a crappy week or month. A full evaluation is needed to determine what’s really going on.

      4. AnotherAlison*

        There are also tests that can check neurotransmitter levels, apparently. I’m in no way qualified to even comment on that, but someone told me this today.

    3. Cautionary tail*

      An engineering degree has a half-life of about 5 years. In my electrical engineering school we learned how to think when presented with unknown situations, but since things change so fast (i.e., the state of the art in mobile phones) you have to continually refresh your skills. Taking a year off means that next year’s graduating class in a year is more employable than you because they have fresh and updated knowledge.

      I have continually reeducated/reinvented myself to stay relevant. Taking a year off in Engineering is career suicide.

      Since others have already mentioned it I won’t dwell but I will ask you to search these forums to see the number of highly qualified professionals that have taken many months and years to find new positions after bring laid off. Being the equivalent of voluntarily laid off is a pending disaster.

      1. the gold digger*

        My husband is a EE. Been working for over 25 years. He wants desperately to change careers but he doesn’t know into what. (Actually, he wants to be a politician, but that is not so easy.)

        Anyhow, he wants to quit without having something else lined up and I am in a dead panic over the idea for the very reason you mention: once he leaves the field, he is not going back.

        He has never had a problem finding a job before – he was in Silicon Valley for years and even when he was laid off, he would be employed again in a week or two, so doesn’t really understand how hard it can be in the real world.

        1. KrisL*

          I’m sure you know this, but to be a politician, he’ll need a very thick skin – people are mean.

    4. Diana*

      I have to agree here. Especially since if he’s also doing computer aided design, technology changes so fast. If he takes a year off doing something else he’ll have to catch up.

      In addition, I’m surprised to not hear you mention any internships he might have had or is about to start. My husband is an engineer and that’s how they get the majority of their entry level people.

  17. Chloe*

    I graduated a year ago and ended up working a retail job (though luckily it was with a store that sells things related to my field) during that time. I want to echo the other comments and Alison’s advice that a continuous job search during this time is extremely important. While working retail, I was consistently searching for jobs more in line with what I wanted to do, and last month I finally got one (thanks largely in part to reading this blog for the past year and taking Alison’s on-point advice about resumes and cover letters!), but it truly was a year-long job search. It seems like a lot of people don’t realize that a job search could actually take that long, but it can and often does.

  18. Del*

    I did what your son did — not because I wanted to relax and party, but because I finished college at the same time that I went through some very difficult life circumstances, and I needed to go home and get myself put back together psychologically before I could even think about starting a serious job hunt. The person I was immediately after graduation was not employable for anything over minimum-wage customer service, and quite honestly I did not have the capacity at that point to look forward to a career path of any sort.

    Absent circumstances like that, I really do not advise doing this intentionally. As Alison pointed out, his job search probably won’t be fast and he may well end up needing to spend some time working at minimum-wage in a customer service or similar position, but that isn’t something he should be seeking out if he intends to pursue the sort of career his education has prepared him for.

    1. Sunflower*

      Towards college graduation, in addition to having no idea what I wanted to do(except I knew I didn’t want what be in the field my degree was in) I also was involved in an all around bad relationship. It was close to impossible for me to concentrate on anything or put any actual effort into school work- even my coffee shop job was strenuous and I’d often forget to do simple things. Graduating and having to leave my college town was the only reason I was able to walk away from it and the whole thing had taken up so much emotional space in my body, I’m not sure how much effort beyond pouring coffee I could have put into any professional job for a couple months after that. Have you talked to your son about the purpose of putting off a full time job search?

  19. Anon*

    I wish kids would stop trying to delay their entry into the working world. I know the job market is scary, and these kids think that a) getting more education or some kind of “alternative” experience will set them apart, and/or b) when they’re done, the job market will be much better. but taking a year off won’t help. Going to grad school, in a lot of cases, doesn’t help either. I would even say that unless it’s relevant to the career you want (or a career you would consider), I can’t see how teaching English overseas really helps that much either. Yes, being “awesome” will help you stand out when competing against other recent grads for entry-level jobs, but it will only help if you’re also one of the qualified applicants.

    1. Sunflower*

      A lot of the alternative experiences have to do with wanting to travel or do something different. I can’t knock people for that because if you want to do extended travel or live overseas for a year, the year right after college is really the best (and one of the only) times to do it.

    2. Mike C.*

      What makes you think that “kids” (who are actually adults!) are, as a group, trying to delay their entry into the working world?

      1. Anon*

        I see a lot of my friends going to grad schools and getting degrees they don’t actually need just to make themselves “more marketable,” or so they can take shelter in academia for another couple of years. I was tempted to do the same thing, luckily I had a massive case of senioritis toward the end of college that made me want to get the hell out of the classroom as soon as possible.

        I know that some fields do require advanced degrees to get anywhere. Medicine, academia, law, and a good chunk of science and engineering fields pretty much demand something other than a bachelor’s degree. I’m not talking about people trying to work in these fields. I’m talking about my peers who got relatively impractical degrees, who are struggling with the job search, and are going into more debt just to “get a leg up on the competition.”

        1. Clerica D. McClerkykins*

          But if they can’t get a job right now, how are they delaying their entry into the working world by going to grad school? It was already being delayed for them.

        2. LBK*

          I don’t think people consciously say “the second I step out of undergrad I’m going to find a way to avoid working,” it’s more like “I job hunted for a year after undergrad and never got anywhere so I’m going to go to grad school to feel like I’m doing something productive.”

          AAM has written repeatedly about why this is a bad idea, but I still think they avoid it because they CAN’T get into the working world – not because they don’t want to.

          1. Mints*

            When job prospects are bleak, going back to school isn’t a way to avoid work, it’s a way to job hunt (even if it’s not actually helpful)

          2. Anx*

            There’s no winning. Graduate degrees make you even more unemployable, but so do huge unemployment gaps. Working for years in service industries gets you pigeonholed.

            I really don’t think these people are trying to avoid working. Graduate school is a shit ton of work. A shit ton. 70+ hours a week on a small stipend directing your own projects, sometimes having to secure your own funding year after year, writing, writing, and more writing, and of course people expected to support your peers whenever you get a break. These are not work-adverse people, from what I’ve observed.

        3. Tinker*

          I think — and this is partly speaking from my perspective as a Former Gifted Kid — that there’s a rough transition around this point between seeing yourself and your peers as being either “good kids” who are following the (use of singular deliberate) right track to success and “bad kids” who are misbehaving and being immature, and seeing yourself and your peers as adults who follow life paths that are very different and generally not all that linear. Certainly not as linear as one tends to get the impression from school.

          “Adulthood is not a reward for being a good child.”

          1. Kate*

            I agree and I think this factors into young people staying in academia unnecessarily as well. When you’ve always been a straight A student and your parents have masters’ degrees (if not higher), then in your mind of course you should get one, because seems like if you don’t then you’re the backwards and undereducated one. When in reality there’s a significant possibility you don’t need an advanced degree and may actually suffer because you have it.

      2. LQ*

        Some people say it. I know someone who is on his 3rd masters, he said he feels like he can’t do anything but go to school because he’s so afraid of the working world (and now the debt from 4 degrees). But he did the first masters degree because he said (often and loudly) that he didn’t want to join the 9-5 crowd.

        I think there is often a significant lack of support system to tell people “hey the working world isn’t bad, some days you get to do super cool stuff, some days you help people get in homes, some days you learn fantastic things” there is this societal narrative that a 9-5 job is soul crushing so people who buy into that will avoid it. Because who wants their soul crushed. But jobs can be great. And jobs can be over at 5. And jobs can be engaging. And jobs can make a difference in people’s lives. And jobs pay for dinner.

        1. Mel*

          I completely agree with this point. I’m 2 years out of school now and I have a full time job I love. But mentally, I still fight with the voice in my head that says 9-5 jobs are the worst and that nobody can be happy working one and somehow, I’m some soulless sellout.

    3. Rayner*

      The problem is not that ‘kids’ want to delay their entry into the working world because it’s a fun thing to do.

      As you point out the job market is scary, and the housing market is ballooning out of control again, debts are sky high, and the minute they step off the academic treadmill, they’re onto the working world one. Someone who’s been in academia since they’re five, and gone to a four to five year degree can have done academia for twenty years straight – exams, tests, learning – and at the same time, they have a future that’s more unstable, more difficult to navigate, and more uncertain than the previous three generations.

      Is it any wonder that they want to take a year, breathe, and wait to make a go of it when they’re ready?

      It may not be the ‘right’ choice, and it may cost them. But it’s still a reality.

    4. literateliz*

      I don’t think anyone here is saying that teaching English overseas will help in the sense that it will be attractive to future employers, but here’s my perspective: I graduated in 2009, totally green, not sure that I wanted to work in the field I had studied (journalism). After six months of unsuccessful job hunting I went to Japan and taught English for two years. It gave me a steady paycheck and the time to think about what I really wanted to do, and I saved enough money to be able to come back to the U.S., take unpaid internships in book publishing (which was where I had decided I really wanted to be working), and eventually land a fantastic entry-level job. I’ll probably never use my Japanese language skills or my teaching experience in my career, but the confidence and perspective I gained during those years are priceless to me.

      I do see people returning from a stint abroad with unrealistic expectations about how an employer should value that experience, but I don’t think the answer is to tell people not to do it. I just think there should be space in life for experiences that aren’t directly in service of one’s career path.

      (Grad school as a means of avoiding the working world, though, I totally agree. Teaching in Japan made me money instead of costing me money, which is why I can defend it.)

    5. R the Manager*

      In many ways “teaching overseas” is now the new grad school. At my last job, we hired numerous entry level employees who did this due to the economy. After awhile, an overseas teaching stint did not look that special…

  20. Anna*

    I understand the job search is a lot different now, but I absolutely cannot believe that taking a year off when a human being is expected to work for 40+ years until retirement is that big of a deal. It may take him a bit longer to recover, but it’s not detrimental and really, when people look back on their lives, I’m willing to bet very VERY few of them are saying, “Gosh, I wish I had started working just one year earlier than I did.” Sometimes the experience of experiencing something outweighs hitting the ground running to be a corporate cog.

    1. Cat*

      Seriously, it’s really depressing to me that this is considered so harmful. Taking a low-stress job when you’re young and don’t need the money may be, on a personal level, a great decision.

      1. literateliz*

        This! I get why it’s a bad idea, and I would advise a friend not to do it, but it’s a bit of a bummer that we often don’t have the option of experimenting a little in life.

        1. 3 Pens*

          Exactly. As my (63-year-old) students is fond of saying…”This isn’t a dress rehearsal.”

          I know we are discussing in the context of a career blog…but you only get one life, and you’re only 21 once. Experimentation is a natural part of growing up, and people need to walk their own paths. That popular Buzzfeed blog about “5 things people regret most at the end of their life” is a valuable read for those of us at risk of putting career above all else.

          1. LBK*

            “No one wishes they’d worked more on their deathbed” is a platitude, not a statistically researched fact. I think a lot of people probably do regret not working harder to get that raise that would’ve let them afford to go on their dream vacation, or letting themselves get stuck at a dead-end job they hated for 15 years instead of taking the initiative to find a job that made them happy.

            I place a lot of emphasis on my career because I love to travel, and I need a good job with a good salary to do that. If I died tomorrow I’d be proud of the effort and focus I put into my work, because that’s what enabled me to make my best memories outside of work.

            1. Anna*

              Right, but one year of your life would not have changed the outcome that dramatically. And to say that the only way a person will have the adventures they want to have is by working one year extra is absurd. It also implies that all those people who are going back to school or going to school for the first time a bit older are doing it wrong. Everybody’s timing is different and for you getting right out of the gate and starting right away worked. It’s not the case for every single human being and it never will be. Much like college isn’t the right choice for every single human being.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Sure, but it’s not right vs wrong — it’s about understanding the likely impact of particular decisions and deciding if they line up with what you most want for yourself. The OP is concerned that her son isn’t clear on how this may play out for him, or doesn’t fully appreciate what that might mean.

            2. going anon for this*

              I guess I’d be one of those. I’m still in my 20s, but have been out of college for a long time now and my biggest regret in life is not having worked harder, going all the way back in high school. I know the economy is tough, I know competition is brutal but I just.wish.I’d.done.better. Which may or may not be the same thing as having worked harder. There was a time when I wished I’d had a job, any job, just to get out of the mess I was in, I will never forget the way I lost my self respect and degraded myself for a chance, any chance, and being humiliated at every turn. Thankfully things are better now, I’m better now, but that regret, of not having worked hard enough will always be there.

      2. LBK*

        Working in a coffee shop is not by any means a “low-stress” job. You have long, early hours, you have to constantly be “on,” you have very little autonomy, the work is very fast paced…people who come into a service job thinking it will be a breeze are usually people who get fired from that service job. Yes, they aren’t the more cerebral positions, but they’re not easy or stress-free.

        I got way more stressed out as a barista and as a cashier than I do in an office. That’s the reason I quit both of those jobs.

        1. fposte*

          That’s a big reason why I’m scratching my head. If the OP’s son doesn’t currently have this job, I think he’s in for a rough ride both in finding it and working it.

        2. Diet Coke Addict*

          Good gravy, yes. Any job where you get between people and caffeine and money, early in the morning, is not “low-stress.” My office job is about ten million times less stressful tahn retail ever was.

        3. Cat*

          I’m the same way but different people feel differently about this. Some people really love customer service.

          1. LBK*

            I love customer service and there was a time when I loved doing retail. Even at the height of my enjoyment in it, I would never have described it as low-stress or easy.

            I just really don’t believe that “I want a low-stress job so I can take some time in my life to recuperate and regroup, therefore I will work in a coffee shop” is a logical statement. Will it be less stressful than being an engineer? Potentially, but it will still require effort and it will still disrupt your life, and for what? To make it harder to get into what you want to do once you decide you’re ready?

        4. KrisL*

          What LBK said. I worked in fast food for a while. Some customers were nice. Some acted like fast food employees were some kind of lower life form. It was hard work, it was exhausting. The hours could be crazy. I was on my feet a lot. And it didn’t pay well.

        5. Windchime*

          The baristas in my nearby Starbucks work incredibly hard and fast. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any of them taking it easy at all. Working behind the counter at a busy coffee shop is about the last place I’d go if I was looking for a low-stress job.

    2. ArtsNerd*

      As someone who was go-go-go-go-go-go-go academically, and now into my career… I agree.

      I’m on much firmer professional footing than many of my peers! Huzzah!

      But am I happier? Eh. A bunch of my friends have had incredible adventures, WAY more romances than I ever will, and rich lives not entirely defined by their day job. I sometimes wonder if I spent my youth too eager to grow up.

      I know this is a professional blog, and the professionally sound advice is to seek work in his field. But there’s more to consider than that.

      1. OhNo*

        This, this, this, this.

        I was also an academic go-getter in college, and I went straight to grad school after I got my BA. I’m working like crazy to get job experience and make it through my master’s degree, so maybe I’ll have a leg up on the competition when I graduate…

        Meanwhile my friend has done a six-month tour of Europe, visited Brazil, India, China, western Africa… She has had more fantastic life experiences than I will probably ever have the chance to. And now, three years later, she has settled in to apply to grad school.

        OP, if your son wants to take a year off, let him. Heck, encourage him to explore new things and try stuff out for himself! All you can do as a parent is make sure he knows that it will make it more difficult for him to get a job in his field when he gets back to it, and maybe help him plan on how to mitigate or overcome that challenge when he’s ready to look for full-time work.

      2. Sharm*

        I appreciate this. I was so torn between “doing the right thing” and wishing I had a free spirit. In the end, I have failed on both counts. I am not making six figures as a director by the age of 30, and I’ve only visited two countries.

        My advice would be to PICK something, and stick with it. My wishing to please everyone has just failed, and now I just feel too old — too old to travel and be carefree (I shoulda done that at 22), and too old to win at the career game (all the go-getters knew their life path by 16, so they’re right where they want to be while I still hold the same job title I had 6 years ago. I’ve managed to REGRESS in job title, no less).

        I’m not so much bitter as sad I didn’t have faith in my convictions. I still don’t, which is why it’s so hard for me to just choose something and do it already. I have a great fear of failure, and envy those who can just say heck with it and GO.

        1. Nina*

          Wow, Sharm, are you me? I vacillated so much in the last ten years, and all it got me was frustration and wasted time. Back and forth on “should I travel” or “should I finish school” or “should I work”, on and on and on. As important as traveling is to me, I’m afraid to go anywhere just to return to this dismal job market.

          I couldn’t agree more on just choosing something and sticking with it. I think there’s a real danger of having too much choice, and we hear that since we’re kids “You can do whatever you want” but trying to combine all that you enjoy into a lucrative career can be damn difficult.

          Sorry for the threadjack. It’s just a frustrating.

          1. Sharm*

            I hear you, friend. It seems like there’s a lot of us who were raised and entering adulthood/the working world just before the economy tanked. I know for me, I’m quite lucky compared to so many, but the shift in attitude has made me even more risk-averse and panicky than before.

            1. Nina*

              Amen. This economy has definitely been an eye opener for many and sadly, the effects will last long after things improve, I’m afraid.

      3. anonness*

        As someone who’s enjoying being professionally ahead of my peers, it doesn’t mean that we can’t have incredile adventures and lives not enriched. YMMV probably by industry, but working in healthcare means that I’ve met and had interesting experiences.
        Not to also mention the finances is starting to look well for some international traveling … and only after two years of being in the workforce.

    3. Sunflower*

      I do agree so much with this. It’s bad that the job market is so terrible that people really don’t have an option to just relax for a little.

      But I’d encourage anyone doing this to take the time off and doing something worthwhile. It’s fine to take a month or two to lounge on the couch but if you’re going to take a year or two off, at least check off some stuff from your bucket list and take some extended travel to a few places

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are actually a lot of studies showing that people who graduated during the height of the recession and had trouble finding work as a result are unlikely to ever catch up in their lifetime earnings. It has an impact — much more of one than it used to.

      Moreover, if you find that you can’t launch in your chosen field at all (which can happen if it’s several years after graduating and you haven’t worked in your field at all yet), it can put you in a spot where you have to do something different than your first choice.

      Neither of these consequences are the worst thing in the world, and you of course could still end up very happy — maybe even more happy. But it still might not be a path that you’d deliberately choose if you realized that would be the consequence. The idea is to make good decisions with a strong understanding of where it might lead you, and I think that’s what the OP is worrying about — that her son doesn’t see the full landscape here.

      1. fposte*

        It might be worth relating this to the discussions about people who take time off to care for kids, too–no matter why you’re taking time out from your trajectory, it has consequences, and it’s good to be aware of those when you’re making the decision.

      2. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I got a degree in engineering, graduated at a poor time and didn’t get a job immediately after graduation (from a school where in previous years having a job offer by October was considered “normal”). I was able to get jobs in tangential fields eventually by working my way up from the bottom (taking jobs that only required a high school diploma or associates degree) but I never made it back into engineering. And now my skills are so rusty that the only way I would be able to go back is by doing a hard core personal refresher on calculus and other core engineering courses and then going to grad school, if I could get it.
        I’m enjoying my alternate career path now, 10+ years later, but I still wonder what would have happened if I had pushed harder to get job interviews and get a low status but still in engineering field in my first year out of college.

        For the Letter Writer – have you asked your son if he’s talked to his adviser or another professor about this plan? They may be able to give him a dose of how things really work in engineering hiring way more than you ever can.

      3. JM*

        I can’t agree more with what Alison said above. This is exactly what happened in my life. I am an electrical engineer by training, one who decided to take a break for an year before looking for a job. And guess what happened, by the time I was ready for job search, others who graduated with me had a year’s (or close) worth of experience in either an engineering job or something else. So as you can imagine, I couldn’t find an entry level opportunity to start with nor did I have any real world experience to claim. So my one year gap grew into two. I got married in between and moved to another country and this was 2001 when the economy went down post 9/11.

        My story short, I never worked as an electrical engineer and I started my first “proper” job in 2006 as an entry level person in the IT industry. Not that I am unhappy in my current position, but honestly this wouldn’t have been my choice ever, if I had started looking for a job right out of college.

    5. Sarahnova*

      I do tend to agree. I’m a Brit, and gap years *before* uni are a routine thing here, whereas I understand that US health insurance stipulations make them practically unknown in the US, which is a shame. I not only spent a year studying and living in the US before university, my husband and I both quit our jobs (at 29 and 33) nine months ago and spent six months travelling the world.

      We had reasonably established professional careers, and we both had to job-hunt when we came back, which was stressful – I’ve just accepted an offer for a new role and he’s been back at work a few weeks – but I don’t regret it in the slightest. It was a risk, and it cost, and I did not enjoy the many interviews I went on on my return, but I’ve had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences and ended up with a better, more exciting job than before plus a broader network and an improved salary.

      There is room in life for some risk and self-exploration.

      1. Colette*

        I think it’s easier in some ways to take a year off after you have some solid experience because when you come back, you have experience & a network to help you find something new. It’s also easier to explain that you’ve taken time off to travel than it is to say “I just felt like working retail for a year”.

        1. Sarahnova*

          Sure, and I actually agree with the advice to the engineering grad, in this specific case – were I him, I would be applying for jobs in my field NOW and working retail/customer service/administrative temping in the meantime. I had the big advantage of getting a graduate-entry job with a blue chip straight out of uni, and some very marketable experience before I took my grown-up career break.

          But I think it’s worth making the point that people, especially in the US IMO, sometimes talk as though working is the *point* of living, rather than something that enables it. I also suspect something else is going on here. Maybe it’s just the new grad’s desire to goof off and party for a year; if so, I’m guessing it will dissipate once he’s done a few 12-hour shifts and/or cleaned the toilets a few times. Maybe it’s something deeper. I’d ask if I were the parents.

          1. Colette*

            Absolutely! And to be clear, from a non-career perspective, it’s much easier for a lot of people to take time off to travel (for example) right after university – you’re already used to living on less, and you don’t have stuff (including real estate) or people (spouse and/or kids) to make it more difficult.

      2. Anx*

        Health insurance has been a big issue for many students! It’s hard to have enough money at 18 to self-insure..and it was impossible for young adults with pre-existing conditions. College meant group insurance! Sometimes it’s not the best but it was so much better than individual. Taking a semester off in the US has been really difficult because it interrupts your financial aid and your health insurance. A lot of peers of mine didn’t get everything they could out of school because of illness, family death, mental health issues that they felt they had to push through.

  21. MaryMary*

    I’m wondering if your son is second guessing his career choice. We expect 18 year olds to pick an major and decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Your son would hardly be the first person to get through several years of school only to figure out this career is not for him. If your son is an engineer, then he probably had an internship or co-op and has an idea of what his work life would be like. Maybe he has soured on the idea of being an engineer.

    I’d dig a little deeper (if you can, young men are not the most communicative of creatures!) to see what is really driving his barista career choice. Did he have a bad experience with his co-op/internship? Is he hearing horror stories from friends? Is sitting at a desk all day his idea of torture? You can help him find alternatives or point him towards someone else who can. If he hates the idea of sitting at a desk, there’s probably field or factory work he could do. One bad internship does not mean the entire field is not for him. Or if he really does not want to be an engineer, you can help him figure out next steps (other than making lattes).

    1. Natalie*

      I agree. I really struggled with this when I graduated from college – I had no idea what I wanted to do except that I didn’t want to get a PhD. It felt like I needed to pick something and I better be damned happy with that choice because that’s my career now!

      I found a couple of things helpful:
      – getting some counseling help for anxiety
      – talking to older adults (50+) about their varied and winding career paths
      – volunteering in various fields I thought I might like. For example, I learned direct client service is not for me

      A couple of years ago I fell into a field I really enjoy and I feel comfortable now continuing in that vein. I have 30-40 more working years ahead of me to grow in this field. Or really, who k knows what will happen.

  22. The IT Manager*

    I feel like your son missed the boat already. He’s graduated, and it sounds like he hasn’t started job searching yet. That’s an important question, though, has he tried job searching and not found anything? Maybe he’s discouraged and the plan to take a year off is related to that discouragement, but as Alison and others have said a year from now it will only be worse for him.

    He has an engineering/technology degree. Although the tech will change a bit in the next year, your son’s skills will be less fresh especially compared with more recent grads. And a coffee shop job won’t be providing the white collar, office soft skills that will help an engineer/CAD get hired.

    Also my school, an engineering school, provided a lot of support to being hired, something your son will have less access to in a year than now.

    I just can’t help, but thinking there’s more going on with your son. I’m not saying wanting a break is that unusual, but your son says he’s willing to work a low wage job instead of a well-paying one in the field he has been studying. Why does a coffee shop job has such allure? It’s not like backpacking around Europe or something else that sounds like fun instead of work.

  23. Poohbear McGriddles*

    I must admit, when I read the OP my first thought was “Slacker”. I don’t know the guy so it’s probably not fair to judge, but I am sure a lot of engineering managers will make the same judgement unless they assume his year off was not by choice.
    I agree with those who said maybe engineering isn’t what he really wants to do. Maybe he didn’t realize that until he was too far along, and this is his way of distancing himself from it.
    If he does intend to find employment as an engineer eventually, this is a bad way to go about it. If the lure of the bohemian barista life is too strong, he should at least do everything he can to keep his knowledge and skills sharp and build a network during this time.

        1. The Wall Of Creativity*

          When I graduated I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I didn’t want to give up the student life & wear a suit every day.

          So I stayed on an extra year and got a Masters degree. While I was doing that I worked out what to do with my life. I also met enough former classmates with full wallets to know that one year’s postgrad studies would be enough for me. And I co-ran the graduate society bar. And gave maths tutorials to undergrad scientists. And won my oar in the Cambrdge University May bumps. I also passed the exam after hardly doing any work during the year thanks to playing a blinder on the Newtonian and Relativistic Accretion paper.

          So I’d tell him to do a Masters. That will give him the year’s break he needs without screwing up his CV.

          1. The Other Katie*

            That would also increase his debt load significantly (if he is paying for college himself). I don’t know about the engineering field, but a lot of times, a Master’s degree won’t exactly help you anymore. So to spend that much money just to put off entering the workforce with possibly no benefit to you down the road? I’m not sure that’s the best plan. I’m glad it worked for you, but I would suggest looking very closely at what grad school is going to gain you before choosing that path.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, please don’t encourage grad school as a way to put off entering the job market. That’s not at all what it is, and it can really hurt people who use it that way.

              1. De Minimis*

                Staying an extra year for a graduate degree isn’t quite the same though, in terms of cost and time commitment.

                However, I don’t think many people can do that unless they are continuing in their undergraduate field [which does not seem all that common among those who are returning to school just to avoid the job market.] For most people, grad school will probably be more than an extra year.

                I’ve also known people to go back as a way to get back in a recruiting pipeline and to improve the GPA, but again, it has to be part of a well-thought out career goal.

              2. Stephanie*

                Well, some engineering schools have fifth-year M.Eng degrees that are basically just another year of coursework. Those can be helpful sometimes as some jobs want candidates with Masters degrees (especially if the job is more research heavy or technical consulting). The pay bump in engineering with a MS is all over the place, however. So the extra year may not be worth the extra tuition.

            2. Onymouse*

              In many (non-US) countries, which it sounds like the above poster is from, research-based master’s degrees would come with funding. Not a lot, but enough to get by.

            3. The Wall Of Creativity*

              Good point. Mine was just a one year course and it was back in the days when you didn’t have to pay tuition fees in the UK. These days you’d have to weigh up the costs.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            I think it would be a bad idea to double down on a field he apparently isn’t a fit for, i.e. get more engineering qualifications.

            (I say apparently not a fit. Who knows? I went to engineering school and worked in engineering companies for 15 yrs. I have yet to meet an new grad engineer who would rather work in a coffee shop. Now, I’ve known plenty of mid- to senior- level ones who’ve become disillusioned and want to OPEN a coffee shop — and I’ve known a few who actually started coaching businesses, and one guy who started a snowboard park business. But the work is so much different than school that you really have to try it out before you decide it isn’t for you.)

  24. Anonathon*

    As I said above, my first thought is that my entry-level job was, without question, less stressful than college. It’s a whole different experience, plus no all-nighters! Moreover, when you’re in college, you can get into the mindset that your choices are forever. (Say, you choose your major and that’s it — you can never go back and undo your degree.) But life isn’t like that. If he gets a job in his field and realizes that he despises it, he can change jobs. He can move. He can change fields entirely. Not that any of those things are simple, but they are certainly doable, especially at a young age.

    Basically, as a recent grad, he may not have internalized that getting a job in Field A for a year doesn’t lock him into that line of work forever — anymore than working at a coffee shop for a year would lock him into that. He’s just starting out.

  25. bearing*

    Is it possible that he’s *expecting* it to take a year or more to find a job in his field, and he’s framing it as something he’s choosing to do (work minimum wage service job) for a year in order to

    (a) head off nosy inquiries about his job search (an external reason) or
    (b) protect his sense of power over his situation (an internal reason)

    1. BW*

      That is an intriguing suggestion. I really think you might be right.

      Maybe he is expecting the job hunt to take a year and is framing it as a deliberate thing to buy a one-year grace period from all the “any interviews?”s and “have you heard anything?”s. And he might figure, if he finds a full time job in, say, 3 months, he can tell everyone he changed his mind and no one will bat an eye. Certainly nobody’s going to say, “Aw but you have to stick it out in your barista job for another 9 months because you promised!”

  26. Apple22Over7*

    I’m going to go a little against the grain, but here goes.

    Does your son know what he wants to, OP? Does he have a career path in mind, or is he staring at the future blankly, with no clue as to the path he wants to take, where he wants to go and what he wants to do?

    If he doesn’t, then I think pushing him into a full-on jobsearch straight after college is going to do more harm than good. If he doesn’t know what kind of work or what field he wants to go into, he’ll end up applying for everything under the sun, or apply for jobs he thinks he *should* be applying for, and not necessarily jobs he would enjoy. Either way, it’s unlikely he’ll get any of those jobs, and all he’ll have to show for his months of jobsearching is a pile of rejection letters, and still no real clue as to what direction he should be going in.

    Instead, it might be an idea to give him a couple of months to work in a coffee shop job, and allow him time to mentally sort himself out. It gives him a little time to come to terms with finishing education (a bigger psychological milestone than many people think it is), it gives him a little time to research what fields he might want to go into, research what types of jobs are out there and available for him to apply to. Maybe even one or two informational interviews. I suppose you can call it a soft jobsearch, or preliminary jobsearch rather than a full-on filling out applications morning/noon/night jobsearch. After a couple of months of this, he should then have some semblance of a direction and path he wants to follow. His “proper” jobsearch will become more focussed, he’ll likely be more engaged with it (rather than feeling it’s a chore he *has* to do) and his applications will reflect the more positive nature of his search.

    I’m not so naïve as to think this will yield him a job straight away – of course it won’t and he should be prepared for that. However, if it is a lack of direction that’s a problem then I think a couple of months is better spent thinking and researching various options and pathways, than applying willy-nilly to everything because he’s been told of the horrors of the graduate jobsearch and ending up with nothing but rejections for it.

    1. Student*

      Conversely, how will he ever figure out if he wants a career in his chosen field by working in a coffee shop? If he spends a year at a job where he does engineering, by the end of that year he’ll have a much better idea of whether this field is what he wants to do.

      If he spends a year working in a coffee shop, the only new information on career choices he’ll have is whether he wants to continue to work in a coffee shop.

      If there are other fields he wants to explore aside from coffee or engineering, he should be out trying them, not mopping the floors after someone’s spilled their mocha latte with vanilla.

      1. Apple22Over7*

        I’m not saying he should take a full year off to make coffee. Rather, that forcing him into a full-on jobsearch might not be the best solution either. A couple of months to take a step back and re-focus isn’t a bad thing I don’t think – 2 or 3 months isn’t going to harm his prospects anywhere near as much as a year out will, and as long as he’s making an effort to nail down what direction he’d like to go in, it’s still productive. And it’s much easier to do some introspection and tentative research for a few months before starting an intensive jobsearch, than it is to spend a year doing a job you hate and then have another struggle finding another job in a different field – which you may also hate. Having a little of bit of knowledge and understanding of what fields/jobs might interest you is better in my mind than picking almost at random and hoping it’s a path you’d like to take.

        (I’m not saying that a few months of research and hard thinking can land you on the exact path you’ll follow for the rest of your life – but it can help if you truly are clueless as what direction you want to go in.)

      2. KrisL*

        Working at a fast food place taught me that I wanted a better job. Then again, I did that while going to college.

    2. Ellie H.*

      I’m just one data point, but I did pretty much nothing for a year and a half after graduating college and everything turned out great anyway. I had been thinking about applying to grad school straight out but changed my mind, feeling like I was burned out from school and wanted to be totally sure it was what I wanted to do. I moved back home, worked at the place I worked at in high school/college summers (first, briefly, at a coffee shop, which I really didn’t like and quit to get more hours at my previous job), and then moved to a totally unfamiliar city for a year just for the adventure of it and lived off savings (for a couple months I had a part-time job I don’t even put on my resume). Then I moved back to my home city, got a job as a temp office assistant through connections and worked up to having a lot of responsibility, worked there for several years, and now will be starting a great Ph.D. program in the fall. So it can be done. Connections were key, but I heard a really high percentage of jobs (80%?) are obtained through connections so I think that is the modal experience.

      If you don’t have much direction or energy to launch your career after college I don’t think you should force it. I tend to think there’s no point in trying to do something high-powered when you are not actually motivated to do it – you won’t use your best effort and will feel bad about yourself and not work up to capacity, wasting your time and energy in the meanwhile. I’m not saying that you should avoid your life responsibilities and slack off if you feel like it but that it’s ok not to launch into something high-powered immediately if you are not sure about it. I think it’s really ok not to have it all figured out in your 20’s. I didn’t, took some time, and now I do.

      1. Esther*

        I’m so glad to see a comment from someone who actually enjoys being on the other side. I’ve been out of school for something like thirteen months now. I stayed with my parents, since I wouldn’t have enough savings to go anywhere. We took a road trip from Southern California to the East Coast states to visit a family friend. Even there he felt sorry for me but didn’t have any connections for work.

        Of course, initially I panicked. I was too used to getting up and going to class. My family relationships became rather strained since they pressured me to get a job ASAP. I’ve been interviewed at some places but no luck. That’s with connections as well. I didn’t get to take an internship when I was in college, because I abruptly changed majors. Also my fam advised against it since they usually don’t pay. I’ve also had terrible issues with focus, test-taking, etc so a lot is going on.

        Basically I decided all I could do was volunteer. Now I’m trying my best to win a position…

  27. Anon Accountant*

    I graduated in 2005 with an accounting degree and had many interviews but it look me 5 months to land a full-time job. The economy in our area wasn’t that bad then. My friends in other fields have been searching for jobs for 1 year+ so he could work as a barista for a year while searching because his job search could easily take him a year or more.

    1. The Other Katie*

      Agreed. I’m an accountant as well, and it took me a year plus of searching before finding a job. Luckily, I started searching while I was still in school (junior) so my senior year I actually worked full time and went to school full time. But I graduated with a great job, and it felt like a vacation once I was done with school!

  28. Lily in NYC*

    I guess I’m in the minority here because I would not look at this with negative connotations if I were a hiring manager. I actually wish I had taken time off after college because I think I was too immature to enter the working world right away. I got a really good job immediately after graduating and slacked off because I was so used to getting away with murder because I was smart and could charm people. I needed a reality check and humbling (which I got). A year in retail would have been a good thing for me.

    1. LBK*

      But how do you learn those things unless you have a job that trains you to do them? Retail gives you some of the expectations of working in an office, but by and large the culture isn’t going to overlap at all. One of the main things that retail doesn’t teach you is autonomy – you’re accountable for basically every second of your day, so you don’t have to worry about managing priorities and meeting deadlines without a manager looming over you or a customer in front of you. Retail won’t teach you how to do that.

  29. Once Anon a Time*

    What about if you graduated and have been actively searching and interviewing for the past year? I graduated last year and have not worked since three months before graduation. I’ve been actively interviewing and applying since graduation, but have not received any offers because I don’t have any education or experience in the field I chose to pursue (healthcare).

    My 2+ years of office experience and customer service, along with my BS in Sociology, means nothing without knowledge of medical terminology and coding. So now I am going back to school and taking those courses in the hopes of making myself more marketable in the healthcare administration field.

    1. Once Anon a Time*

      Also want to add that hiring managers have asked me what I’ve been doing for the past year since graduation, and I tell the truth — that I’ve been applying and interviewing. But I get the feeling that saying that makes me look less desirable. They are probably wondering why I don’t have a job yet.

      1. Sunflower*

        They probably want to see that you are keeping your skills relevant. You should try to pick up some part-time work or volunteer experience. The courses will probably help to. I know that applying to jobs and interviewing isn’t the same as sitting on your butt and watching TV all day but they want to see that you’re doing something with your time

          1. Once Anon a Time*

            ^This. I’ve applied for part-time jobs, internships and volunteer work, in addition to full-time jobs. I haven’t been offered anything because of my lack of healthcare experience. It seems the only way to help the situation is to take the classes I’ve mentioned. Especially since a few hiring managers were kind enough to give me feedback and tell me this was the reason they didn’t hire me. They said I was a great candidate otherwise, but he positions needed someone with that experience, and I just didn’t have it.

            1. Anx*

              In my experience, volunteering did not help me secure an entry level job in healthcare. It got me a few interviesws, as I built up a lot of relationships and many of my coworkers tried to get me on the team. However, HR would bring me in for interviews and then decide that volunteer experience didn’t count.

                1. Windchime*

                  I suggested this to someone in the Open Thread (might have been you; I don’t remember now). But you might consider looking into the CPC (Certified Professional Coder) exam. Medical billing has gotten more and more complicated over the years, and many of the billing staff where I work (a big outpatient clinic) have this certification.

                2. Anx*

                  I haven’t broke through. I have no experience in healthcare.

                  I have 2 years volunteer experience at this hospital, an internship with a health department, volunteer experience with a health org (emergency response/community health), but do not have any hospital or clinical experience. I have worked retail, food service, and in student services but have neither the experience not right degree (I studied bio/ public health).

                  A big problem I have is that there is an actual skill gap between what I have done and what I’d have to do. Unfortunately, it seems as though there’s no entry level position for me. I was hoping to join the support staff but an HR person told me that I would never be considered for that with my degree. It’s very uncomfortable because there are so many roles and quite a few people seem genuinely interested in finding a spot for me, but I don’t have the right profile for anything. I feel like I’m almost disappointing my coworkers by not finding anything.

                  I worry that it will look odd to get an AS after a BS but I’m thinking a technical program might be my only shot at ‘resetting’ my graduation date and getting an ‘in.’

                3. Once Anon a Time*

                  Anx — I’m sorry you haven’t been able to break into the healthcare field either. I am doing exactly what you said you were afraid of. I have a BS in Sociology and Business, and I am currently pursuing an AAS degree in Medical Office Technology.

                  At first I was concerned that it might look strange to get an AAS after a BS (especially because I have an AA already from years ago) but I spoke to a friend who works as a nurse, and she said she doesn’t see any red flags with it. In fact, she has a BA in Psychology and then went for an Associates degree in Nursing. She didn’t know she wanted to be a nurse until she graduated from her four year program.

                  I think as long as the Associates degree is relevant to the field you want to pursue, then it won’t look bad. Not to sound like a broken record, but I’ve commented in previous articles that I was specifically told by hiring managers that those classes will help with my getting a healthcare job. So I’m not worried.

                  Good luck Anx!

                4. Anx*


                  I appreciate the feedback.

                  I don’t want to go to grad school for it, because most jobs I see don’t ask for a masters. Plus I like the idea of being able to drop out more easily in case I do get a job in the interim.

                  I’m currently taking a course in the sciences, and if I continue next semester (finances dependent) was considering adding some medical office courses to it and perhaps working toward an A.S. there, too.

      2. KellyK*

        It might be useful to do volunteer work or take some continuing ed in your field, so you have something to talk about when they ask that question.

        1. Once Anon a Time*

          Right, I absolutely agree. That’s why I enrolled in an AAS program at my local community college. They took all my transfer credits from my BS degree, so all I have to do is take 10 healthcare courses.

          As for the volunteer work, as previously stated, I can’t even get a job doing that without healthcare experience or education.

          1. Anx*

            In my experience, volunteering did not help me secure an entry level job in healthcare. It got me a few interviesws, as I built up a lot of relationships and many of my coworkers tried to get me on the team. However, HR would bring me in for interviews and then decide that volunteer experience didn’t count.

  30. Now an engineer, formerly a struggling grad*

    I was in a similar situation when I graduated from college with an engineering degree. This was in 2010 and only three of the fifty people in my class had jobs at graduation. I ended up moving back in with my parents and spent about a year bumming around, doing some seasonal retail and construction work.

    After I started getting more regular interviews (mostly thanks to AAM!), I would regularly get questions from the interviewers about why, with a degree in an engineering specialty that was in fairly high demand, had I not been able to find work in my field, with the implied question of “What is wrong with you?” My answer was always the same: that the job market sucked and that it sucked in 2009 when my class was trying to get internships, leaving most of us without valuable work experience.

    Point being that having a time-lapse on your son’s resume when he has an in-demand degree (like engineering/CAD) could hurt him even worse than if he had a less desirable degree. Especially if that time-lapse was by choice in a not-as-awful job market.

  31. MT*

    I’m super torn. When I graduated college (engineering degree) I took a quarter off between graduation and starting my first job. My start date was non-negotiable so I had to take it off. It was the best 3 months of my life. I keep telling myself that I want to take a 6 month break next time i change jobs, but I know it will never happen.

    I know many ME’s who graduated college and got sucked into non-career positions. Hourly engineering jobs that contract with bigger companies. If those are the only jobs he is seeing right now, he may be making a decent decision.

  32. Sara*

    I try not to be disrespectful of people’s choices but why in the world would anyone *want* to work a low wage job? Having to take one on while you’re looking for something, or as a first job, or while you’re in school, I get it–I’ve been there. Again I don’t mean to sound narrow minded or rude but why would anyone want to out of choice?

    1. Rayner*

      Because if you have few responsibilities – no children, no mortgage, no big expenses – it’s a job. Just a job. You come in at seven fifteen, walk out the door after the lunch rush, and that’s it. You don’t have paperwork, you don’t have pressure, it puts money in your pocket and that’s all you need. It might not pay the best, but you’re not trying make millions. Run the car, keep the water on, pay rent, pay for beer. Done.

      It becomes stressful or difficult when the responsibilities outweigh the value of the job, but if you don’t have many (or any) then it’s fine.

      And to be honest, society needs those jobs to be filled. There’s always more of them than there are white collar jobs.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        There may be some good retailers out there. I haven’t heard of any around here.
        The stress is incredible- both physically demanding and mentally challenging (you have to have thick skin). And it’s synthetic stress- unrealistic goals, unrealistic expectations and so on. In a lot of places it’s not just the customers that look down on you, it’s also your management team. You go home every night so exhausted that you can’t function.
        Then, after all this, you cannot even cover your basic bills.

        No matter what job you have there is always some type of stress.
        The trick is to watch out for what types of stress you are having.
        Baseline survival stress is the pits.

        1. Rayner*

          I dunno about America but in the UK, I could survive on a retail wage, particularly if I had a room mate. As a single person, with no children and no responsibilities apart from regular living expenses similar to that, it would be a tight budget but it wouldn’t be that bad. Certainly not baseline. He would need to be savvy with money, and be prepared to not live on credit cards etc, but if he’s content to live like that, is it so bad?

          I would definitely have a different opinion if he did have high debt levels, children, a family to support, etc, but if he’s young, free, and trying to find his way in the world, what’s the harm in starting a job search softly and working to his own tune now?

          And for me, retail wasn’t that bad. Yes, it was me on my feet for hours, but it wasn’t that stressful. I was a lowly cashier, with no aspirations for higher management, and that’s what I wanted. It was tough to adapt to that kind of environment but when I didn’t have anything else to compare it to like an office job, I got used to it. I enjoyed the pay check at the end of it, too.

          If this dude thrives in those kinds of environments, he’ll swim. If he doesn’t, he’ll sink, but he’d do that in any job he tries if he doesn’t get on well with the work.

          Retail and service industries aren’t some big boogie monsters hiding under the bed or jobs which suck everybody’s souls out. They have their problems and they’re not glamorous or fun all the time, but they can be okay.

          He may get a nasty shock when he works there properly, and suddenly get a boot up the backside to start looking for proper work harder, too. Nothing like living on the other side to see the grass is not greener :p

        2. Sarahnova*

          I didn’t find coffee shop work that way, FWIW, and I used to do it weekends and evenings on top of a full-time admin job as a teenager and student. People’s experiences of this do vary; some people, believe it or not, actively prefer this kind of work.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      Exactly. I’m puzzled by this also. And did the OP’s son work a part-time job while in college? Many who did work a part-time retail or low wage job desperately want a better paying job in the field they majored in.

      I don’t get it either. Long hours, low pay, crabby customers at times, a struggle to make ends meet/pay bills on low wages, etc? Been there done that and it sucked.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      I think there’s an underlying issue of privilege here that might also bite the OP’s son in the ass at some point too. I know the word can be overused, but let’s be real – choosing between a “real” career and a temporary stint slumming it in a low-paying job is indicative of someone who has probably never really had dealt with serious economic adversity. I can’t imagine he has ever had to wonder where his next meal is coming from, watching as mom and dad worked 5 jobs between them to pay for his tuition, etc.

      That’s the part that would seem kind of strange to me. And engineering is a field where there are a lot of foreigners who worked REALLY hard to get where they are – can you imagine interviewing with someone born in Hyderabad and explaining that you just wanted to relax for a year in a minimum-wage job?

      I know a lot of us squander opportunities, but it’s kind of boggling my mind because this guy has had an education and opportunities that a lot of the world would give their right arm for.

      1. Mints*

        Good point. It’s a really international field, with lots of potential coworkers who come from developing countries who wouldn’t understand this at all

      2. Chriama*

        I agree with the ‘privilege’ thing. It’s one thing to take time off to ‘discover’ yourself by trying new and unusual experiences (namely, overseas internships or those volunteer programs for recent grads). Maybe that won’t be valued so much by someone hiring engineers as by someone hiring people with some of the arts or social science degrees, but it will grow you as a person and I wouldn’t fault someone for taking that opportunity if they have the privilege of family and financial stability to afford it.

        But taking a year off school to work a minimum wage job? Living like a high school student with 100% disposable income? What kind of life experiences is he looking to get from that? And who’s paying the long-term expenses: health insurance, retirement/mortgage savings, student loan payments. It sounds like he wants the freedom of being an adult (living alone, above the legal drinking age, autonomy over how he spends his time and income) without any of the responsibility. I can’t imagine a future hiring manager looking favourably on that.

        If he really doesn’t want to embark on his chosen career path right away (for many valid reasons, such he isn’t sure he wants the job, or he’s anxious about how to transition from school to work life) then I’d recommend doing something “useful” with his time. Anything that won’t cause hiring managers to wrinkle their noses or think “slacker” when he finally decides he wants a career, or at least some of the amenities that come with having a “corporate drone” job (e.g. a house, money for a wedding, or a pension fund).

    4. Elsajeni*

      It’s just a subjective thing — there’s the reasons Rayner listed, but also, some people just plain enjoy that type of work. I was well-suited to retail because I got a lot of satisfaction from helping customers and organizing things (I loved early-morning stocking shifts); if it paid better, I’d happily have stayed for life.

    5. MaryMary*

      Yeah, I’ve been wondering about this too. As nice as it might seem to have a job where you clock in and out – no overtime, no work to take home, relatively low stress – that salary isn’t going to go far. I was flat broke when I graduated college (taking into account my student loans, I was less than broke). If I hadn’t managed to find a decently paying full time job, my only other option would have been to move back in with my parents. They would have happily taken me in, but they were not in a position to subsidize my rent, phone, car, etc. I stopped applying for certain entry level positions because I couldn’t get by on the salary they offered by myself.

      1. Rayner*

        But it sounds like the OP’s son doesn’t have that kind of pressure, so he doesn’t feel the same urge to get a job or to force himself to go further.

        Different strokes, etc.

        1. Chriama*

          But even if he’s feeling self-sufficient, are the parents prepared to have him popping in to do his laundry or “borrow” groceries? Are they prepared to lend him money for bills or keep him on their insurance? Minimum wage, even with full time hours (and I hear companies don’t like to do that because then they’d have to pay benefits) really doesn’t pay well. There’s a reason those are either “early career” type jobs for kids going to school or people who live well below the poverty line.

          It just seems a little disingenuous to me to talk about becoming independent (e.g. moving out from home) while deliberately pursuing a path that will make you incredibly dependent (on your parents, social safety net systems, or the kindness of a potential employer several months down the road).

          1. Rayner*

            But there’s no indication that he will be living off his parents and the OP hasn’t said that’s their concern. Some kids are happy to still stick to the same routine and way of living they did in college – tight budget, roommates, deferring loans, working hours that aren’t traditional, any spare cash shored up (or beer money either or). It suits them down to the ground, and in a year’s/six months/three weeks time he might decide he’s outgrown that life, or he might decide he’s not happy with the direction his life has gone in, and he’s ready for something different but he needed that time to figure it out. I also don’t think he’s deliberately perusing a path to rack and ruin. He’s getting a job – not a high paid one but one nonetheless – and if the OP can get him to start thinking about job searching after a few weeks of setting up house, it seems like it’s not exactly him setting off on foot, walking across America barefoot and smoking his last dollar. He’ll just be working through some of his own ideas during this time.

            His solution isn’t perfect but if he has the money, the parental support, and the freedom to make that choice, it’s his decision.

            I feel most people are taking the route like he wants to lounge around on the sofa, loaf off his parents for a year and is utterly inconsiderate of his actions. He probably is tired of stress, worn down, ready to start thinking about what HE wants rather than how to get on the road to wage slaving for the next fifty years of his life.

            Also, I feel like people are acting like working in an office or a otherwise typical ‘white collar ‘ jobs are the goal here. People come at work from all directions – he may be an entrepreneur, he might go and work for NASA, he might decide he’s a free spirit, works to live, and bums on on holidays twice a year to fantastic destinations to volunteer in the jungle.

            All I feel is that yes, he’s making a choice that is risky in this climate, and yes, he’s going to have to make his choices sometime. But life isn’t one size fits all, you know?


            1. Stephanie*

              One of my senior design teammates wasn’t ready to jump into a corporate job. While everyone else was running around interviewing spring semester (or waiting to hear back about grad school), he was like “Oh, huh? Maybe I should apply for a job?” He ended up going to Turkey for a few months on a State Department fellowship and moved back home to job hunt (this was in 2009). He eventually landed at a solar startup. Last time I checked, he’s doing his PhD at MIT, so clearly something went right.

              I agree with Rayner that the corporate job at the blue chip company isn’t necessarily everyone’s goal.

              Working at a coffee shop will hurt him if the end goal is Engineer I at MegaCorp, but Rayner may be right that that’s not want he wants.

            2. Katie the Fed*

              I’m not saying white collar is the goal. But since it’s still ostensibly HIS goal (he only wants to take a year off, after all) that’s why I’m framing the advice this way. I met someone the other week who does seasonal work part of the year and then travels the world. That’s cool if you want to do it. But that’s not what THIS kid has said he wants to do (yet).

            3. fposte*

              That’s fine, but it comes at a cost. It’s not necessarily a huge or unpayable cost (though the point about loans downthread is really important here on the literal cost front), but it’s one that he needs to consider. If it means he doesn’t get an offer for spring next year but has to cover loan payments on barista pay until fall or spring ’16, will he be okay with that? My concern also is that I think he’s not actually a barista now and has no clue about his ability to get a barista job, so he may end up with a gap year on his parents or the taxpayers.

          1. Sarahnova*

            I have no doubt he *is* privileged in that regard. But is he obligated to build a career in engineering just because not everyone has the chance to?

            I know lots of people who don’t follow a conventional career path – they take seasonal work, or live hand-to-mouth so they can pursue their art/direction dreams, or whatever. If the OPs’ son is able to more-or-less support himself, whose business is it whether he becomes an engineer or not?

            1. Rayner*

              This is my feeling.

              Just because people don’t have the opportunity to do what he’s doing doesn’t mean he’s required to follow it. There’s so many different ways to get into work, to get into a career that are non linear, or to choose a new career path, that assuming one must step off of academia and onto the road to work just because he has the chance is foolish and unfair to him and to others who choose different routes through life.

              It’s one option, and one he should be aware of, but not the only one.

              1. MaryMary*

                I’m not at all saying this kid is obligated to be an engineer. There are many ways to build a career, there are many ways to contribute to society, there are many routes to take through life. The more routes and options that are open to you, the more privileged you are.

                1. Rayner*

                  Yes, he is privileged.

                  But it means that he should acknowledge it and then he can decide how to use it as best suits him, not what is ‘morally’ right, if that makes sense.

                  Yes, lots of people would give a right arm to have it, but… idk. I’m reminded of the folk parable about the king – everybody envied him but nobody wanted to be him because of all the responsibilities and rules around the role.

    6. Cath in Canada*

      I can’t help but picture Kevin Spacey applying for the fast food job in American Beauty: “I’m looking for the least possible amount of responsibility”

  33. Katie the Fed*

    OP, you’ve gotten great advice here and I just want to echo a few things.

    I really can’t shake the feeling that there’s something deeper going on here. Depression, exhaustion, substance abuse, something. I get that graduating college and thrown out into the real world can be overwhelming – but avoidance isn’t the right answer, especially not in this economy.

    If he really, really, REALLY wants to take a gap year, I’d recommend doing some kind of service project or teaching English abroad or something like that. Something that doesn’t make it look like he just wanted to sit around with his buddies and avoid the real world for a while. Not to mention that spending some time abroad might help him realize the kinds of opportunities he’s at risk of squandering right now.

    I know he’s an adult, but I can’t help think this is a BIG mistake and one he might regret for years.

  34. Abbey*

    ChemE here, doing lots of recruiting for my company. At large companies, new-hire engineering positions generally get filled in the Fall, so he probably already missed the majority of open spots for this year. Additionally, in my industry (oil&gas) we either hire you as a senior in college or we hire you with 5 years experience. There are very, very few spots for someone just a couple years out of school. Also, the vast majority of new-hire positions get filled by interns. I’m picturing his resume – not coming from our intern pool, no industry experience, not a great reason to have a gap year – I don’t see this resume even passing HR screening to land on my desk.

  35. Meg Murry*

    Also, does your son have loans, and did you co-sign any of them? Most loans only have a 6 month deferral after college after which point they go into repayment. For federal loans there is usually an option to take a hardship or low income deferral after that 6 month grace period, but you only get so many months of deferral over the course of the entire loan. Has your son done the math on what his loan payments would be, and worked that into his calculations for a low paying job?
    I agree with you not helicopter parenting, but if your son doesn’t pay his loans and you cosigned on them, it can impact YOUR credit score as well, so you are within your rights to tell him why this isn’t a good idea, IMO.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, *excellent* point on the loans–I didn’t think of that, and if they’re relevant he absolutely needs to factor that in.

  36. Student*

    OP, is your son planning to live at home? Coffee shops don’t always pay a living wage, especially if he doesn’t get enough shifts.

    Instead of trying to steer his career choices, I think you should invest some time in helping him plan a budget. Maybe take him to a financial planner. Talk to him about anything that he’s not actually going to be able to afford, but should be thinking about for the future: retirement funds, health (and other) insurance, maintaining savings for emergencies, regular maintenance, rent/mortgage, vacation budgeting.

    Set some expectations about what he will contribute if he’s going to be living at home. Set chore expectations as well. Time to start weaning him off the parental cell phone, credit cards, car insurance, etc. too. This is more about making sure he understands and starts to take responsibility for his own life and expenses, not about pushing him out the door. If you don’t actually need rent or food money from him, consider asking for it anyway and stashing it into an investment for him – then give it as a gift when he does move out.

    1. MelBinNYC*

      As long as he is fully taking charge of all of his financial responsibilities let him make his own mistakes (not that this is necessarily a mistake). There is opportunity in every experience and he will gain many soft skills working at a coffee shop. My brother is a mechanical engineer and often times they have an introverted personality that could grow a lot working with customers at a coffee shop.

      I took a similar route after college and moved to the West Coast (from NYC area) and worked at food carts after graduating near the top of my class in Arts Administration. I was able to effectively market the soft skills I gained to my current employer. Working a minimum wage job can make you hungrier for a professional job, which is a positive in the long run.

      He does need to continue to study his technical skills, at least on the side.

  37. aebhel*

    As someone who spent a year and a half working as a housekeeper after getting her BA, yeah. He may end up spending a year working at Starbucks even if that’s not his initial plan, but the odds of him just hopping right from that into a professional job–even with a very employable degree–are slim.

  38. The IT Manager*

    I thought of something else. Did he possibly not actually graduate and is hiding the truth since he can’t actually get entry level jobs in his field without diploma?

    This seems wierd, but I know of it happening to a very distant family member. Maybe not faking graduation, but this guy faked going to college and succeeded for apparently several semesters or years, and I think the confession point was when he was not going to walk at graduation that many family members were expecting to attend. I think the fooled family members included his spouse in addition to parents.

    In case of LW’s son someone who fails in his last semester may be able to walk before grades actually post.

    1. LQ*

      This is a good point. I knew someone who had borrowed extensively from his parents for school but hadn’t always spent the money on school and so he ended up with a debt to them (not loans but an actual debt to the college) they wouldn’t release his transcripts or degree without being paid in full so he couldn’t apply for jobs that would require those things.

      (His parents never found out and eventually we paid off the debt and he was able to get transcripts and a job, but it took nearly a year.)

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      That’s a good point. I actually knew two people (TWO!) who faked graduation. Both had failed a course in their last semester. One finished in the summer and used the excuse of completing his apartment lease. The other was royally screwed because the course he needed was only offered in the spring. He had to invent some fairly outrageous lies to justify hanging around for another year. Thinking about it… I wonder if the OP’s son is in that situation?

      1. Stephanie*

        I was suspicious that this happened to my cousin. When commencement time rolled around, he got really quiet about the ceremony. And my cousin looooooooves his Big 10 alma mater (as in, has tons of apparel, license plate frame, the branded credit card, goes back every year for homecoming, you name it), so we thought it was weird he didn’t want us to come to campus to bask in the glory of [Big 10 school]. My best guess was that he had to take an extra class over the summer and chose not to walk (or walked in the much smaller fall ceremony).

        1. Anonsie*

          Hm, don’t a lot of schools let you walk in the spring if you’re within a certain number of credits of graduating? I walked in the spring even though I still needed 6 credits/2 classes, which I was planning to do over that summer in a field school. I think our cutoff was pretty high, you could be missing 3+ classes and still walk.

          1. Ann O'Nemity*

            It depends on the school. My undergrad alma matter allowed what you described. Basically, if it was *possible* to graduate that semester, you could sign up for the ceremony. Your diploma was mailed to you weeks after the ceremony. That’s how the two kids I knew were able to fake graduation – they both walked in front of their families!

            The university I later taught for verified that you met the graduation requirements before the ceremony! (Big 10, BTW.) This kinda of sucked for professors, who needed to turn grades around very quickly. In one case, I had mere hours to grade seniors’ finals, calculate final grades, and submit them.

            1. Anonsie*

              It probably varies a lot. Where I went, they still made you apply to walk and they still verified all your stuff in advance, but if you were technically graduating in the summer *and* had actually enrolled in the summer courses you would need to fill them, you could walk in either the spring or fall. You just didn’t “graduate” in the system or get your diploma until the fall when your end grades were processed.

              If you were actually graduating in the spring, then your professors had the extra deadline crunch to prove you were really done.

          2. Stephanie*

            We never got the full story! My best guess was that he had to finish some courses over the summer (he changed his major a lot).

            The commencement was probably also not as big of a deal there. My commencement was small enough that it was all one ceremony and everyone walked.

            1. Anonsie*

              Aww, I hope that didn’t spoil the end of that spring. Even though I still had a summer semester, the end of that last real spring was a pretty good feeling.

      2. EG*

        In my case, the university let me walk at graduation only to notify me afterward that I was short one class. After full scholarship for 4 years, I had to scrape together money from my part time job to pay for the last 3 hour class for an extra semester. Sure wish they’d caught that about a year before so I could have just had a fuller semester somewhere in the last year.

  39. E*

    What if OP’s son could do some volunteer work at a local homeless shelter or pet shelter or some other worthy charity during the year he works at the coffee shop? Then when he starts interviewing for jobs, he can discuss the people skills he has gained while volunteering. Sounds like the son isn’t sure what he wants to do, and needs some time to think about it. Doing volunteer work (perhaps even offering to use his education/skills for the charity) would be respectable on a resume. And working part time gives you time to volunteer, which would make sense to an interviewer.

    1. Chriama*

      Not all volunteer work is created equally, or looks the same on a resume. If he’s going to volunteer for a local charity (as opposed to overseas or one of the formal volunteer programs e.g. Teach for America) I would urge him to have a very convincing “human interest” story about why he felt compelled to spend his time doing this instead of working to build his career. E.g. if he works for a disease foundation, he better be prepared with a story about how he had a trusted mentor or close family member with this disease and felt strongly compelled to give back. Because an engineering grad who spent a year working part-time at a coffee shop so he could walk dogs at a local shelter is no more an attractive candidate than one who just wanted to extend the college life experience with none of the classes — unless he has a great story about how a homeless dog saved his blind sister from drowning, so now he wants to give all dogs a chance to find homes and become great human companions (ok, that story sounded better before I typed it out, but hopefully you get my gist).

  40. Suzanne*

    I think the OP’s son should be looking for a job, but from the hiring people’s standpoint, what difference does it make if he’s working at a coffee shop to tide him over while he’s looking for a job, or just working at a coffee shop? Will they look at his resume 6 months from now and see “big time loser” as opposed to “hard worker who is willing to do whatever to get out there and work”? How would they be able to tell unless the young man tells them in a cover letter that he decided to work at a coffee shop for fun rather than as a necessity? Many of the comments here are reinforcing what I’ve heard from others that if you are a professional, but have to resort to a low level job to pay the bills, it’s seen as a black mark on your work record.

    1. Abbey*

      An engineer graduating without a job already lined up – that’s a red flag. There are enough opportunities out there that the perception is that a decent candidate should have already received an offer. Specifically, there is a huge demand for MechE’s with CAD experience in any of the booming U.S. shale plays – Marcellus, Barnett, Bakken.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, it creates a challenge — so what I think people are saying here (including me) is don’t purposely give yourself that challenge unless you have truly compelling reasons for it and are willing to take the risk. If you can’t avoid it because you’re trying but can’t find a job, that’s one thing. But why would you purposely sign up for it?

    3. LBK*

      They won’t look any different on a resume, but he’d have to dodge questions in interviews and potentially work around it on his cover letter. I can’t imagine it wouldn’t come up somehow through an interview process that he chose to work at the coffee shop instead of taking it as a backup to make money.

    4. BadPlanning*

      I think it will be intangible. Such as confidence. He can be totally honest when he’s interviewing that he’s working Coffee Shop as a side gig while applying/interviewing. Sure, the company won’t know whether he worked at Coffee Shop for several months before going on his first interview or actively applied during that entire time, but OPs son will know and it may affect his answers (in tone and body language if nothing).

  41. LF*

    If he decides to do this, he really should get involved with a makerspace to keep himself in the game and for networking purposes.

  42. Stephanie*

    This will get buried, but I can directly comment. I have a mechanical engineering degree and “took time off” by working in a different field that required my degree, but wasn’t engineering specifically.

    1. A lot (but not all) entry-level jobs are filled during on-campus recruiting during the spring and fall. He’s probably missed a lot of the big name recruiting, but he could probably still find something. The big thing, though, is that a lot of Big Corporate Jobs require entry-level candidates to be within a certain time of graduation (12-18 months is typical).

    2.I don’t necessarily think his skills will get “stale.” Mechanical engineering isn’t exactly the quickest changing field, especially in regard to an entry-level requisition. Thing is, a more recent grad will remember coursework. Also, an engineering degree isn’t that useful without experience in the engineering field as schools go heavy on the theory and projects/labs rarely resemble workplace conditions.

    3. After I got laid off, I’ve had a hell of a time looking for engineering requisitions. A lot seem to be entry-level or want five years’ experience in engineering. Your son will probably face the same issue if he takes a year off. My best bet has been technical jobs that want the background, but aren’t actual engineering jobs (I interviewed for a powertrain competitive intelligence role at a car company, for example). If I wanted an actual engineering role, I’d probably have to go back to school and get my MS, just to get back into a recruiting cycle and have fresh coursework.

    4. Is he just burnt out? My alma mater did a pretty good job of burning out engineers. A lot of my classmates went into things like consulting, law, or medicine just because they never wanted to see a block diagram or sheer-stress diagram ever again.

    5. Could he do something like Engineers Without Borders or PeaceCorps? That may not make his search any easier, but he can do something that isn’t an office job and try and get some applicable experience.

    6. My cousin works at Starbucks. My other cousin is a store manager of a few Forever 21 stores. Those are HARD jobs with terrible hours (if you’re trying to do it to make ends meet).

      1. Anonsie*

        If someone knows better, please correct me, but when I was last looking at the Peace Corps a few years ago they stressed very strongly to us that you could not select a project and the overwhelming majority of people who signed up would be teaching English, so if we were hoping to do anything else, this was not the path for us.

        I don’t know if being an engineer puts you in some special separate category, though, I didn’t get the sense that there were any technical-skills-needed type assignments. There are a lot of other groups that do need skilled workers for missions, though… I want to remember Mercy Corps was one of them.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          You can qualify for other things, but there’s no guarantees. Someone with a degree in engineering might end up teaching math or science, or work in the infrastructure side of community development.

          1. Turanga Leela*

            I’ll trust both of you. My information is old and second- or third-hand.

            1. Anonsie*

              Yeah they used to have programs that were more technical, where either you could bring in your own training or get some from them and do much more hands on things like construction or community health work. Not so much anymore, which is a shame.

    1. Amanda*

      Way late to this party, but it takes around a year from deciding one wants to do Peace Corps to actually leaving. It’s not something one decides to do on the spur of the moment.

  43. plynn*

    I’ve always thought that rather than a mandatory year of military service, everyone in North America should be forced to serve one year of customer service. Waitressing, fast food, coffee shop, retail. If more people knew what it was like to be on serving end, we might be able to stamp out entitled obnoxiousness within a generation!

    (But then everyone would get their parents to pull strings and get them out of it, Europe would be flooded with service dodgers…)

    1. Poohbear McGriddles*

      I worked fast food in high school, then 4 years military, then retail during college and grad school. Of the three, the military was the easiest (of course, that was Air Force in the mid-90’s).

      1. Stephanie*

        I was at a Meetup hiking event. I was chatting with a woman who is a Navy vet. I was like “Oh whoa, is the physical fitness test really hard for the Navy?” She was like “Oh, HA. No. There are plenty of out-of-shape people in the Navy. We are not Army Rangers or something.”

      2. Anonsie*

        The first time I met someone who’d been in the Air Force I asked him what that was like and he leaned over and said, very gravely, “I got paid to ride on planes and eat Lunchables.”

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I was trying to clean up the fitting room at Nordstrom’s the other day. Anytime I put a bra back on the bra hangers, it never looks very good. The clerk comes in like “Oh, you don’t have to do that!” I was like “Ack, I know! I’ve worked retail before and I feel terrible leaving 15 bras strewn all over the fitting room.”

        1. Cath in Canada*

          heh, I had a clothing store job one Christmas break from uni that was so mind-numbingly boring that I used to LOVE it when people left clothes all over the place, so I had something to do while I put them back!

          1. Stephanie*

            Actually, yes. I was the same way. I really like getting returns that had to go to different departments (“Oooh! I have to walk upstairs to the Boys’ Department!”)

        2. Anonymous*

          15? I scoff at your 15. When I worked in intimate apparel the record for bras strewn on the floor was 27.

        3. KnitWorthy*

          I worked retail for a summer and LOVED organizing the departments. Especially jewelry.

  44. EG*

    I took a couple of years off after college graduation and kept working full time as a nanny for a while before finally looking for an Accounting related job. I was so burnt out on Accounting classes that I just didn’t see me sitting in an office for 8-9 hours a day. Now I’ve been at that first job for almost 5 years, and love it!

  45. BadPlanning*

    For other side gigs to keep relevant during a “year off”, the OPs son could keep an eye out on STEM related summer camps, school or community programs. For example, robot building, computer programming, mentoring programs, science fairs/projects/camps/etc. These types of things are always looking for volunteers (or in my area, they are at least).

  46. Lori*

    I run three coffee shops — and I have a degree in an unrelated field. Almost all of my employees possess or are near to acquiring a degree in an unrelated field. I would encourage your son, as I encourage my younger employees, to keep applying an interviewing for positions through his tenure at the coffee shop, unless coffee is something he plans to pursue longer term. After all, that might only be 1-3 productive interviews over the year he plans to spend working at the shop (“taking off,” which is a teensy bit offensive to me as someone in the coffee field; I assure you it is hard work and can be a productive if not lucrative career to many).

    He could also take an internship during this time to stay relevant to his field OR just think of a way to make this time productive to him in other ways: management or a personal project that he can present to employers.

    All this said, if he’s not ready for a full-time job in his field, he probably shouldn’t accept one and you as parents shouldn’t force it. He won’t perform well if it’s not where he wants to be.

  47. Who are you??*

    I lived in Florida for several years and was woefully unemployed while there. (We moved for my husband’s job.) After months of looking for full time work I ended up working part time at Disney World. During my short time there I worked with a lot of collge students who were there as part of the Disney College program. Basically it’s a program where students can work a semester at Disney, take some classes, get paid, and have a great time. I was astounded by how many of these students would either not return to school at the end of their program or return to work for Disney after they graduated. I love Disney and am almost as proud of that job as I am of my kids (it’s seriously a cool job!) but to be honest I could not understand why anyone would want to work the hours that they require for the pay they give. I made less than $8 an hour sometimes working until 4 or 5 in the morning, but I worked there because I was climbing the walls at home and my husband made enough for us to live on! These young people are living 6 people to a 3 bedroom apartment on part time hours and peanuts pay. And that degree is wasting away.
    I understand that sometimes the degree you pursue might not be the field for you, but that degree should be a key into a different but related field and not into a job pouring coffee (or wearing a mouse costume!)

  48. LadyTL*

    There is also the possibility that the son is just choosing not to tell the OP about their job search and lack of results. Maybe he has been applying to places and hasn’t gotten anything but wanted to pay bills so got a filler job. We have heard plenty of times about overly pushy parents and the wisdom of not telling them about your job searching.

  49. Glorified Plumber*

    Hi! IMHO, your kiddo would be much better served by working for at least two years and THEN attempting to work some sort of prolonged leave of absence to galavant around the world or be lazy. Plus, he’ll have two years of salary to fund it versus your money and two years of experience.

    There are recruiting options and potential opportunities open to future engineers that are prevalent while they are still in college. There, they have access to recruiters and new hiring opportunities that simply do NOT exist post graduation.

    Taking a year off and not going through the in chool recruiting cycle (that quite frankly is likely OVER for the year already) will put him at a disadvantage for life.

    While not a complete deal breaker, taking a year off to slack and “decompress” before the grind will probably annoy most engineering hiring managers who are in a position to hire a “go-getter.” School can suck… but working for the first time is mostly pretty awesome.

    As well, I’ve seen multiple engineer friends of mine get jobs and work for several years and then successfully secure 3-9 month leave of absences. They have money AND a job to return to, instead of neither. It sounds crazy for many folks, but if you’re a solid employee, I bet you’d find many places willing to work with you assuming they are larger in nature.

    Source: I’m an Engineer who didn’t make use of the initial recruiting cycle like he should have and forever regrets it and who has multiple friends spanning multiple companies that successfully took extended time off with little to no consequence.

    1. Stephanie*

      Seconding this. It’s a lot harder to find engineering jobs outside the initial recruiting cycle, especially if OP Kid’s wants to work at some blue chip company. Right around or after graduation is the prime time to get on-boarded. He’ll miss out on years of experience/promotions/what not and be behind classmates who graduated the same year.

  50. Pixel Pusher*

    I’m not an engineer, but I do work in a technology field, which has the same “skills get stale” problem. That being said, I took six months off after graduation before beginning the career job hunt and I don’t regret it at all. I was so burned out from school, which was more high-pressure than any job I’ve had, that I just needed that time to get my head together. I worked a service job and when I did start the job hunt I was way more focused and motivated than I would have been straight out of school. Without that break I think the start of my career would have gone a lot like it did for a lot of my classmates – panicked and flailing.

    1. Glorified Plumber*

      To be fair, I think many of the folks in the engineering world here would argue this is not a “stale skills” issue. His engineering skills will be just fine a year later.

      This is more a “Access to direct new hire recruiters” and companies only “hire completely green or 5-year experienced doing exactly the right job” aka “directly from their competitors” issue.

      An engineering candidate who is no longer in school is enough to prohibit them as a new college graduate hire for MANY blue chip firms, and one who is 8-12 months out of school is unlikely to be considered for new hire position by MOST blue chip firms. Some may say 18 months, but I think that’s just HR speak for “small chance in hell but statistically over zero.”

      In the technology world of IT or computer science, it is very different than what is experienced by most engineers from the core four (mechanical, chemical, civil, and electrical). I think those companies are more willing (right or wrong) to be flexible with regards to new hires. Many are in growth mode versus sustain mode and this throws everything out the window.

      The one potentially saving grace here is as a mechanical engineer (the other allowable might be a civil, but I know less about their hiring practices), he has more options towards a “smaller company” than an electrical engineer or even worse a chemical engineer (wah wah) would have. A smaller company is less likely to care about 8-12 months off initially since they usually don’t recruit directly at universities anyways.

      OP, your kid NEEDS to find work in his field versus take time off.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yes, this exactly. This is one of my big pet peeves about the STEM label–it conflates disparate fields. What applies in CS/IT doesn’t apply to pure engineering.

        Computer science/IT/maybe EE in some areas stale skills might be an issue. Mechanical engineering, not so much, especially with an entry-level job where OP kid would be doing pretty basic stuff. Solid mechanics (as it applies to an entry-level job) just isn’t going to change that much in a year’s time. It’d be a different story if he were in a higher-level or research focused job, but he wouldn’t be doing those with a BS and no experience anyway.

        Like Glorified Plumber said, he’ll lose out on job leads being over a a year out. Some ATS will automatically kick you out if it calculates your graduation date is older than a year. It seems like an absolutely arbitrary requirement to me, but them’s the breaks.

        Civil, IMO, probably has the most non-corporate behemoth options. Granted, my neck of the woods (Phoenix), is big on construction but there are smaller boutique firms that specialize in roadway design or construction or residential development that would probably have less rigid recruiting practices.

        Also, OP, tell your son to take the FE NOW and get his EIT. It is way easier to sit for that when the coursework is fresh (and it’s definitely a plus for some ME jobs).

        1. Onymouse*

          I see it as a micro vs macro issue. As someone in what you call the “CS/IT” field, I’d never conflate the two because, to me, they represent entirely different skills sets. At a broader level, journalists and whatnot would group “STEM” together because they “seem similar” even though the career paths are entirely different.

      2. Pixel Pusher*

        Thanks for clarifying. That’s such an interesting thing to hear about, and I don’t think anyone who hadn’t been in that position would guess that’s how it works. From an outside perspective it seems massively weird. If my industry hired like that I don’t think anyone I work with would have a job.

  51. Ruthan*

    I’m more optimistic about the employability of someone with CAD knowledge than most others here, which is to say I’m pretty optimistic.

    On the other hand, having recently applied to coffee shops, I’m kind of pessimistic about the possibility of getting hired there, so I’d discourage OP’s kid from putting all their eggs in that basket.

    1. Stephanie*

      CAD’s useful, but it’d be hard to keep that current without being a student or using it at work. Those software licenses are crazy expensive!

  52. soitgoes*

    I almost think that the kid is saying, “I’d like to take a break between college and my REAL career” as a way of easing himself into telling his parents that he doesn’t want to be an engineer anymore. Where I live, people with engineering degrees find jobs very easily. A few of my friends are in engineering, and while the money is very good, they really don’t like the work. The hours are lousy (very early mornings are a given, as are full overnight shifts) and the overall environment can be an obnoxious testosterone fest. Even if you have job security, there’s a lot of stress over where the next project will be or if your hustle isn’t enough to prevent your title from floating to someone else. A lot of people my age were pushed toward nebulous “engineering degrees” without ever being told what the actual jobs were going to be. It’s possible that the OP’s son has talked to some people in the field and now isn’t sure that he wants to do that work.

  53. Ellie H.*

    I don’t really get the need to psychoanalyze this kid and play out the worst case scenarios of his situation (maybe he didn’t graduate! maybe he’s depressed! maybe he is secretly questioning his desire to become an engineer and afraid to tell his parents! what if he can’t pay his student loans?). Not everyone wants to launch a career immediately (or ever for that matter). What is the worst thing that can happen? He seems to be in the very fortunate position that he will be able to take some time working at a minimum wage job while living independently and it seems like nothing terrible will befall him if he doesn’t get a high paying job for a while. I really don’t understand why it is so important. So many people my age (late 20’s) did a couple different things before finding the right career path job. The world won’t end if he doesn’t start looking for one immediately.

    1. Ellie H.*

      Wanted to add – I realize that the question is “Will taking a year off after college affect your job prospects” and that the question is being answered – “Yes” – which I don’t disagree with – but I feel like people are answering with “Yes, and this is the worst thing that can possibly happen” whereas the answer is more like “Probably, but the world won’t end and it’ll probably turn out OK eventually anyway.”

    2. soitgoes*

      People are rightfully wondering why a recent college grad who actually has job prospects is walking away from a salary that would allow him to move out of his parents’ house and pay off his student debt.

      1. Ellie H.*

        But he IS moving out of his parents’ house and there’s no evidence that he is currently or will be in the future unable to pay off his student debt.
        And totally beside the point, not everybody cares about having their kids move out of the house the second they turn 18.

  54. Gerri*

    I did not read all the comments, but it is a LONG life of working, why not enjoy a year off if you can do it? I put my year off on my resume, and employers are impressed. I also learned a second language. I never felt it held me back at all, and there are many many many decades of work life ahead of you, you’ll be fine!

  55. Recruiter*

    Oh man, this way at the bottom, but I feel compelled to comment.

    As his parents, there’s obviously not much the OP can do. Like many have said, he’s an adult.

    That being said, I just think this is such a bad idea. I’m not in the mechanical engineering field, but my sense is there’s high demand for all engineers. Taking a “year off” (even with a job) tends to look like entitlement to hiring managers.

    I hire for a different engineering field, and unless the year off was explained exceptionally well in the cover letter/resume (or they had had a concrete reason for taking the time off besides “I’m not ready for a job”), this candidate would have a hard time getting an interview. And if he got an interview, he’d have to explain it exceptionally well to convince the hiring manager that he doesn’t have entitlement issues.

    I agree with Alison – it won’t ruin his life, but it’ll cripple his job search.

  56. Cautionary tail*

    Ashley, If you can publish an update from the OP on this I think it would be very interesting. Thanking you in advance.

  57. JCC*

    It seem like so many comments are basically saying, “A minimum wage service job? That is not a pastime befitting of a gentleman! At my company we only hire gentlemen.”

    I could understand if the person who took a year off to go sailing or to help cure AIDS in Africa was viewed just as poorly, since in both cases their skills are getting stale, and in both cases they show that the person was unwilling or unable to work right out of the gate, but it sounds like whether a gap year is OK or not entirely depends on the classiness of what you do with it… :-/ Is that really an issue in modern hiring?

    1. Cautionary tail*

      I didn’t posit the reason for taking a year off. My point, 100s of comments up was that a year off is a year behind coupled with a year of stale knowledge, especially in a field that is constantly changing.

  58. Chris*

    We are concerned about this delay in entering his chosen field (mechanical engineering and computer aided design).

    a) He really should make a profile on GrabCAD:


    It’s a good place to show off his stuff, and get more design inspiration (some people are just insane here).

    b) Expiration dates:

    I don’t know what package he uses (Solidworks, CATIA, etc.), but there’s a good chance that it was a student version, which means it could expire shortly.

    c) Other CAD stuff (drafts on STL files):

    If he can make engineering drawings from his files (i.e. Solidworks has this option) and make STL files for 3D print jobs, that would be very useful overall (some of my ex-classmates use prints in their engineering meetings).

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