should I offer to work for less so that someone will hire me?

A reader writes:

I’ve been job-seeking unsuccessfully since December 2020, most likely due to my lack of real work experience. I went to graduate school straight after my undergrad and had several internships but no full-time work experience. While I’ve made it to final round interviews several times, I’ve never been able to close the deal.

I’ve been unemployed for over a year and a half now and I’m getting really desperate to start my career, considering that the longer I’m unemployed, the more difficult it is to secure a job. So my question for you is this: Should I make it a point to tell hiring managers that I’m willing to work significantly under their budgeted salary in order to make myself more competitive? My financial situation is okay right now so I’m willing to work for less.

No, don’t do it. Employers generally want to hire the best candidate within the range they’ve already budgeted to pay, so it’s not likely to make you more appealing, and will make you come across as desperate. (Because you are desperate, which is understandable! But that doesn’t help you as a candidate.)

If you do find an employer who’s willing to take you up on your offer to work for less, that’s an employer who’s signaled that they’re willing to exploit you. You’re likely to see that play out in other ways too, like the hours they want you to work or their (un)willingness to pay you fairly down the road.

You might be thinking you’re okay with that in the short-term, because right now you just need work experience to put on your resume. And I get that. But you’re going to turn off most employers by offering it.

As for what to do instead … I’m assuming you’ve been leaning like hell on your network (including everyone you met at those internships, as well as classmates, professors, campus career centers from both undergrad and grad school, alumni networks from both, and even any interviewers you especially connected with from those jobs where you made it to the final rounds) — but if you haven’t, do that. Can you volunteer (for legitimate nonprofits that have real volunteer programs, not for-profit businesses)? Smaller organizations will let volunteers do more interesting stuff than large ones, in most cases. What about temping? Anything you can do to get recent experience on your resume is going to help — but offering to work for less is not the way, I’m sorry to say.

{ 240 comments… read them below }

  1. KHB*

    If you’ve been having this much trouble for this long (and in this job market), it’s at least possible that things are going wrong for you behind the scenes in ways you don’t realize. For the jobs where you made the final interviews, can you ask the hiring managers for feedback on whether you’re inadvertently shooting yourself in the foot in some way? (The AAM archive has some good scripts on ways to do that.) Can you have a professional-sounding friend call your references posing as a hiring manager to see what they’re saying about you?

    1. Spearmint*

      I was going to say, in this job market it’s odd that LW is struggling so much. Unless of course they work in a very competitive field.

      LW, if you are trying to break into a very competitive field, at this point you may want to consider trying to get a job that uses similar skills even if it’s in a different field, and then trying to pivot to your desired field later. There no shame in that; many people’s careers are not straight lines.

      1. Myrin*

        I have to say I’m really starting to bristle at all this “in this job market” talk I keep seeing. I’ve been unable to find something for even longer than OP because my field (culture-adjacent) has been absolutely decimated by COVID and I’m sure there are other fields as well as geographical areas which haven’t fared any better. Comments in the direction of “It’s an employee’s job market right now, everyone should be able to find something, employers haven’t been this desperate in decades!” haven’t been true here at all and are really starting to grate.

        1. Spearmint*

          I agree it’s important to be clear that not all fields are employee’s markets right now, and some people will be struggling even if they do everything right. But, it is true that it is an employee’s market in general and in most fields right now, and I think it’s fair to bring it up unless we have evidence an LW is in a field with a poorer job market.

          1. pancakes*

            I suppose, but it’s a pretty big generalization. To make one myself, I think many people here are too quick to rely on headlines as evidence for this, and too reluctant to look into more nuanced analysis.

            1. Lydia*

              Or, more likely, a deep dive on “what is the job market REALLY like” is not that interesting to them and they can be reasonably informed by the media they are reading. And that is all right. Very few people have the time or energy to deeply research every news story, and, more importantly, people are also experiencing the shift in a variety of ways in their daily lives. We also all know pretty well that generalizations are just that and these shifts in employment are not going to be seen in every industry and every sector.

              1. pancakes*

                Right, but when people aren’t actually all that interested in a topic and know that they haven’t made any particular effort to learn about it beyond scratching the surface, of what value are the generalizations they make? And how do they know they’re “reasonably informed” if they don’t have context for what distinguishes an amateur from an expert on the topic? People who haven’t looked into something aren’t going to have an accurate sense of how little they know about it.

        2. kiki*

          Yes, even though it’s more of an employee’s market than before overall, that does not apply equally to every field and region. Even in fields that *are* booming, there are exceptions and qualifiers. I’m in software development and it is a wild market right now– for senior developers. Everybody needs a senior developer. The market for new grads, interns, and folks with < 1 year of experience is really tough.

          1. Lyngend (Canada)*

            Agreed. I’m job searching right now. And all the “junior” jobs are wanting years of experience. And I just don’t have it. (I’m applying anyway as a stretch candidate.)

            1. quill*

              I’m trapped in the pocket of “everything is entry level except for management positions” in my field at the moment. And sending out resumes. From my perspective the only thing that’s changed since the last time I went job hunting is that I’m even less able to afford to settle for a wage that won’t pay the rent.

              1. Squirrel Nutkin*

                This is what I’m seeing as a university admin (only looking internally rn). I can move laterally for days, at basically the same pay rate, but short of acquiring entire new areas of expertise or becoming my own grandboss (which I’m not qualified to do), there’s no up for me at the moment.

                1. A Somewhat Bitter Squirrel Nutkin*

                  Wait, wait, there’s another academic Squirrel Nutkin in this posting community? Hi there! : ) I usually post on weekends — are you more of a weekday poster?

                  P.S. The “Bitter” in my username is relating to my comment below about having difficulty finding work, not about you. I’m kind of tickled that there are two of us! : )

              2. Hlao-roo*

                In my field (engineering), there are usually a lot of ads for entry-level (0-3 yrs experience) and senior-level (non-management, 15+ yrs experience) positions. Woe to the job-searching engineer with 8 years of experience. Too senior for entry-level jobs, too junior for senior-level jobs. So sympathies to everyone else whose field has similar pockets of “jobs, but not for you.”

          2. Ellis Bell*

            I imagine that’s common for a lot of fields. Just because employers are more willing to offer work from home, or better pay doesn’t mean they’re more willing to train the inexperienced. That’s a significant investment and responsibility that employers have been backing away from for a good while.

            1. kiki*

              Right, it is an investment on the company’s part and I understand that in the short term it makes sense to them to avoid that expense if they can, but since so many companies have taken that approach, it’s going to have lasting repercussions on the labor pool. Tech companies want engineers with 5-10 years of experience today but fail to remember that 5 years ago they stopped hiring junior engineers.

              1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

                And even if they are willing to hire entry level, it needs to be in the right proportion – you need at least X more senior people who are able and willing to mentor/teach/review for every Y juniors who need carefully selected tasks and support from them, or you have juniors who can’t advance. So if they have “enough” juniors, they may not be able to accomodate more.

          3. lime*

            Have you thought about higher ed? My team has been looking for developers at all levels, and have been open to new grads and folks from non-traditional backgrounds (i.e., bootcamps) for junior-level roles because of hard it is to find folks right now. Mostly because higher ed is staunchly hybrid or even 100% f2f, and everyone wants remote jobs right now.

          4. Anon 4 now*

            Yup. My brother has been looking for YEARS now in cyber-security. He’s adamant about not working from home, but can’t get past initial interviews because he has a masters but no real world experience… and no security clearance in a military-heavy town that a LOT of servicemembers want to stay in or return to.

        3. Former Retail Lifer*

          100%. I’m a property manager. My property is selling and I will be out of a job soon. I have been applying to every position in my field for months as well as fields that are adjacent or where my experience could translate (but still had professional-level pay), and it’s just crickets. Very few reputable companies are hiring managers in this field right now and competition is just as fierce as it was pre-pandemic. It’s completely the opposite for the maintenance side of property management. You could walk off the job today and start at a new job tomorrow. At least in the city I’m in, the ONLY fields where it’s a job seeker’s market are high-paying jobs in tech, the medical field and skilled trades or the opposite end of the pay spectrum, retail and food service. We still have very few jobs here that will pay you enough to cover your rent or mortgage, and this whole “job-seeker’s market” narrative is just false in so many fields.

          1. pancakes*

            There’s probably going to be more competition for those tech jobs very soon, considering Facebook said layoffs are coming in yesterday’s earnings call.

        4. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

          What I am seeing is employers who are desperate to hire, but unwilling to do anything about it. Salaries are not increasing so since they can not compete they simply do not hire at all. It is dreadful from both sides in several industries

          1. kiki*

            Yes! A lot of “we can’t find anyone to work 6 days a week for $35k in NYC!!! People just don’t want to work anymore!!”

        5. MuseumGal*

          I agree 100%. My last contract in my culture adjacent field ended around the same time OP started job hunting and I just found another this month (and I have a fair bit of experience, good references etc). Theatres/galleries/ museums were absolutely crushed by the pandemic and are just starting to take on new staff again in a lot of places. New grads are going to be competing against people with tons of experience who were laid off during covid and are now trying to get back into the industry. The picture of a job seekers’ market the media is painting definitely doesn’t apply across the board.

          1. Books and Cooks*

            And many industries that weren’t effected as badly by Covid are being hit hard by the rampant inflation and sharp rise in energy costs; now that we’re in a recession, it’s going to get even worse, sadly.

        6. Lydia*

          Spearmint specifically said unless it’s a competitive field, which is exactly what you’re describing. Your field is competitive, so it being easy-peasy to find employment is not the same experience for you. I work in local government and my experience is incredibly different than yours, so KHB’s comment rang true for me.

        7. A Somewhat Bitter Squirrel Nutkin*

          I agree, and I feel for OP. As someone with a lot of grad/professional school (and experience working in related jobs at those schools) who struggled for years to find work outside of academic institutions (and within them, for that matter), I do absolutely understand how OP could be in this situation.

          Great point about geography too. When I moved to a state that had such a small yet condensed population that everyone knows everyone there and isn’t too excited about strangers, I wasn’t anyone’s ideal candidate either. The non-academic jobs I eventually was offered would both have required me to compromise my morals, and I didn’t take them.

          In my case, it took a random lucky break as well as all the prep to get hired. After *years* of searching, I encountered someone on an academic hiring committee who had experience in the same pedagogy workshop I had taken many years earlier and who was willing to take a chance on me. I did not intentionally “offer to work for less money,” but I was hired for a low-paying non-tenure-track academic job, which by dint of persistence and again luck, led me to the tenure track and finally tenure.

          That said, my low starting salary has dogged me all my career at this institution, as raises are based on a percentage of salary. I’m contemplating giving up my car because I just can’t afford it. So I guess I’d say to OP — if you have to take less money to get something on your resume, go ahead, but plan to job hop to a more lucrative position in a year or two if these folks don’t promote you and give you a substantial raise.

        8. Erin*

          +1 to this!

          Also, for this LW: I would not look to restaurant/retail. However, I would look into temping. I’ve done this a few times throughout my career, and have ended up getting offers from those temp jobs for full time roles. The last time I temped was 2019, and I’ve been in a full time role in my field, with the company I temped with, ever since my temp contract ended.

          Wishing you lots of luck!

        9. bluephone*

          Word to all of this <3 It might be a job seeker's market for fast food, restaurant, retail jobs, and other customer service gigs (every tire place around me is begging for workers) but I was quietly searching for a new job (while still employed) since before COVID started. I had a few different "almost there" but only 1 actual job offer last month. Talk about dispiriting.

        10. nelliebelle1197*

          But the fact is that that statement IS true for the majority of professions and geographic regions across the globe. I just got back from visiting family in New Zealand and employers from bakeries up to major international corporations are struggling to fill jobs. We cannot discount the fact that this IS an employee’s market for most people because your sector is still an employer market. If OP is not in your situation, OP needs to evaluate interview techniques and resume so they can ensure that they are presenting themselves in the possible light.

      2. Daisy-dog*

        The job market isn’t as hot as the headlines make it seem. It is for the “essential” worker roles and a few other fields that are in high demand. But not every job seeker is working with that arena.

      3. Beth*

        I don’t think ‘this job market’ is as strong as people make it out to be. Yes, there are some fields that are hiring significantly. And sure, if your comparison point is, say, 2009 when I graduated from high school (or even 2013 when I graduated from college), this is a relatively strong market for job hunters. But there are tons of industries that aren’t hiring at particularly higher rates than usual–and plenty of others where, sure, they want to be hiring, but where wages have stagnated so much or working conditions are so poor that they’re really not sustainable careers for most people anymore.

        If OP is a software engineer with multiple degrees and internships under their belt, who’s either living in a major city or looking for a remote position, then this is a lot more struggle than I’d expect for them to get a job. If they’re a writer with an MFA and a couple internships in publishing, and they live in Kansas, then I’m not at all shocked they’re having trouble. It’s simply not true to talk like employers are desperate to hire across the board.

        1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

          Which is why I wish the OP had given some clue as to what kind of job or industry they’re trying to find work in. They would receive better advice than the general “I’ve been job seeking since December 2020.”

          There are plenty of jobs right now. Though you may not really want some of those jobs. LOL!
          I get they have a masters and obviously want a job in their field. Makes me wonder what field it is they’re trying to get into.

        2. nelliebelle1197*

          As a hiring manager in major city with a prestigious company where we used to get 400-500 applications per job, I have to disagree. And our jobs range from lawyer to HR to support staff to social worker to writer and content manager. We are getting 4-5 applications per position now and we are competitive with salary, seven weeks PTO with roll over and free health insurance and student loan payments up to $800 per month.

          1. Beth*

            I wish AAM was un-anonymous enough for me to know what company you work for; I’d love to see if it’s in the major city I live in and if any of the roles might be a fit for me! I’m looking for writing/communications/content-ish type work, and it’s a slower process than I’d ideally like.

            But you’re exactly who I WOULD expect to be hiring rapidly–a prestigious, successful company in a major area–and companies that are hiring rapidly are the ones I’d expect to be feeling more like this job market is very employee-friendly. I suspect if you were at a midsize, stable-but-not-super-successful company in a minor city or more rural area, you’d be feeling a lot less of that. That’s really what I’m getting at here. Some employers are scrambling for staff, but plenty aren’t, and often the difference between an easy job hunt and a long, rough one is more about location and field than anything to do with the employee in question. Generalizations about ‘this job market’ often fail to capture that.

    2. ferrina*

      Not necessarily. They began job searching Dec 2020- right before the pandemic. So you need to exclude March 2020-January 2021 (where most industries stopped hiring altogether), and by that time they were competing with the Great Resignation group (I was with them) and newer grads. So both the more experienced and the cheaper options.

      I graduated into a recession, and it sucks. A lot of my peers had serious career setbacks because of it, and it took years to recover. It’s always good to check that it’s not something you’re doing, but you can do everything right and still struggle.

      1. Sss*

        Dec 2020 was not right before the pandemic. Dec 2020 was 10 months into the pandemic. I think you’re thinking of Dec 2019.

          1. Blarg*

            A colleague refers to this year as 2020, too. Which is all too accurate. We lost a couple years there.

      2. Fran Fine*

        All of this. I, too, remember what it was like graduating right at the beginning of the Great Recession and how bleak it was on the job search front – temp opportunities were also few and far between. I was doing everything right, but unfortunately, I was competing against not just new grads like myself, but also very experienced workers who had been laid off and were trying to find new jobs. It took me 11 months to find a temporary, minimum wage, part-time job in an unrelated field (that I was able to turn full-time because the campus director felt sorry for me and gave me extra hours), but then after I was hired on full-time in another role, I ended up losing that job a few months later.

        I went back to temping for another year and a half, again in an unrelated field, and then was hired on full-time at that firm. I’ve been working consistently since, but it took 12 years for me to get back into my actual field and a lot of scraping and clawing to get to the salary I should have had a long time ago. I’m still playing catch up when it comes to things like 401k savings and paying down/off school loans. I can only imagine that it’s a similar thing happening to new grads now, so I have a lot of empathy for OP. It’s rough out here.

        1. pancakes*

          Same. I didn’t graduate into it but I was out of work long enough to use up my savings from before then, so I might as well have.

      3. works with realtors*

        I don’t think I’ll ever recover from graduating into the recession; job insecurity and student loan debt are just here to stay, I feel.

    3. ursula*

      Uh, please don’t call your own preferences pretending to be a hiring manager! I think there’s a high likelihood that your references would find out and consider it a pretty serious breach of trust/judgment. It’s something I would withdraw a reference over!
      You could also connect with the Career Development Office at the program you just graduated from. Many of them offer coaching and interview practice services to alumni.

      1. Mary*

        I wouldn’t recommend calling one’s own references, but there are companies that will do a reference check and report back to you on what your references are saying. I left a company and the owner really resented me for it – he viewed it as a personal betrayal. He did say I could use him as a reference though, and since he offered, I believed him. When I was looking for another job I made it through several rounds of interviews and then things stalled when they checked my references so I hired one a reference checker and it was quite eye opening.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          I’m curious—what do the reference checkers say when asked about where the job is? Do they claim it’s confidential? Make something up?

          Some jobs are in surprisingly small communities, especially outside the big cities (but even there, too). In my field everyone doesn’t quite know everyone else, but it’s close. We definitely know who most of the employers would be. So if someone called to check what my references are saying about me, they’re going to have a tough time explaining who they are and what job I’ve applied for without sounding very suspicious or lying (or both).

    4. Effective Immediately*

      I agree with this, and want to offer another potential point to consider for OP: are you applying for roles that are too big/senior?

      I’ve seen this quite a bit in the past few years, when I was hiring for Director-level and above roles, especially. I had a lot of people with advanced degrees but little-to-no work experience, and while they were great in many ways, they were just too green and didn’t have the authority/gravitas necessary for the job.

      The piece about taking a lower salary pinged my radar around this, because while it wouldn’t be reasonable to ask for a lower salary for a position, it would be reasonable to look at roles within the salary range OP wants/needs (which are likely less senior) as a starting off point.

      1. Bronsons_Mom*

        This. I’m hiring for a senior VP role on my team. I am getting applicants with 1 year of work experience that have just finished a graduate degree. I’d consider them for a lower level role but just having a graduate degree doesn’t make you qualified to do a senior level role in an organization.

      2. Ginger*


        OP mentions a graduate degree – which is great – but can’t / shouldn’t limit themselves only to roles that are more senior because they have the degree. Work experience is usually more valued.

        I know there are exceptions, requirements in some fields. Don’t @ me, I have a graduate degree too :)

      3. CowWhisperer*

        I don’t know your job history, educational history, or the field you want to get into – so yeah, the advice may not suit you at all.

        The LW, though, has two post-secondary degrees, no full-time paid internships in the field, and has spent 18 months getting nowhere on getting into that field.

        I can’t promise retail et al will lead to a break in that field – but it may lead to a break into some field while beefing up references and showing a work history.

        1. pancakes*

          I think the big question about retail is why they’d be better off trying to focus their energy on that rather than temping. That’s going to depend on their field too, but for many recent grads temping probably makes more sense in terms of leading to a break.

          1. nelliebelle1197*

            Friend of mine temped his way into an excellent career in IT with a national company! It can work!

      4. Cyndi L*

        This was my first thought as well. I’ve also seen this in action. I get that they’ve invested money and time into an advanced education, but that rarely translates directly into management. It will be an edge later, but the work experience (and often some type of customer service skills) is not a step it’s easy to skip.

        1. Effective Immediately*

          Schools make a lot of money off of convincing students they need to go directly to grad school, and that the grad degree will give them access to very senior jobs, so it’s not surprising that they think that.

          I used to do a lot of panels for students interested in non-profit leadership at nearby colleges, and the (frankly delusional) things they’d been told by their higher ed institutions was really alarming.

    5. Smithy*

      I would also add to this, that depending on where the OP lives – it might be worth looking at different vocational service nonprofits that might have programs or individual coaching that could be helpful. I did a similar move of getting an undergrad degree and immediate masters and certainly had a bit of an attitude/perspective that those types of nonprofits weren’t meant for “people like me”.

      While I may not have been the most common kind of job seeker they worked with, compared to university job centers, my experience was that their advice and guidance around resumes and interviewing was incredibly helpful.

      I think that the advice around temping and volunteering is great, but also that there may be other avenues to get more individual help and support in the job hunt.

  2. Princess D*

    Came here to say, I second the idea of volunteering.
    I was unemployed after a period of illness; it was my volunteering experience that got me into a job.

    1. ferrina*

      Even if you don’t get a role right away, you never know when volunteering can bolster a candidacy! My mom’s high school volunteer experience helped her get a job in a related field 20 years later!. At that point her kids were in high school!

    2. another Hero*

      Plus, if it’s related to your field, it can give you something current on your resume, an answer to what you’re up to right now, and experiences that can answer job interview questions. And something to think about besides job searching, if that’s helpful.

    3. many bells down*

      I spent 15 years out of the workforce as a SAHM. And then we moved to a different state. Volunteering helped me get some current and local references and experience.

    4. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      Volunteering is how I made the transition back into the workforce after a lengthy stay at home mom period. I volunteered for a tiny all volunteer organization when I was still not quite ready to go back to work and over time I had done everything for them including run the whole thing.

    5. HA2*

      Volunteering and internships is basically the professional version of “Willing to work for less”!

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah, they can be super problematic and I definitely got exploited on an unpaid internship that went on needlessly forever… But they aren’t necessarily exploitative. Often they can be a good free trial period to show what you can do, get you some relevant references and can be a genuine practical education.

    6. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Volunteering gave me some good stories I could tell in interviews about my managerial experience when I didn’t have any in jobs. It’s often pretty easy to get put in charge of a crew of first-time volunteers if you’re a regular volunteer at an organization that gets a lot of one-timers at events.

    7. Jacquie*

      I’m not sure if you’re in the US but if you are there are lots of diverse opportunities with AmeriCorps programs to get your foot in the door at an organization. I would recommend AmeriCorps over a casual volunteer position or internships because 1) you receive a stipend for your service 2) most programs come with an Education Award you can use to pay off student loans 3) there’s a large alumni network and positive feeling about AmeriCorps especially in certain fields and 4) AmeriCorps programs have really clear guidelines for what kind of service you’ll be performing plus government oversight of placements (for example, nonprofits aren’t allowed to hire AmeriCorps volunteers/interns in the place of staff). While by no means perfect, if you’re going to volunteer it can provide support and structure that might be lacking in other opportunities.

  3. CowWhisperer*

    Don’t forget retail and food service. Being a competent worker at a more mundane job can bring you a lot of contacts through coworkers and customers.

    1. Spearmint*

      Eh that seems like a stretch to me, a little too gumption-y. I’ve never heard of people networking their way into professional jobs via a food service or retail job. By all means, if/when LW needs the income they should take any job, but I don’t think they should fool themselves about what else they can provide besides income.

      1. VermiciousKnid*

        I never networked my way into a full-time job, but I got some prime freelance gigs while waiting tables. Clips are clips are clips when you work in content creation.

      2. Katie*

        While working my way through college, I worked retail. When I graduated, I was offered a corporate accounting gig for the company (I ultimately turned it down).

      3. Warrior Princess Xena*

        For someone with no job experience at all on a resume, it’s possible that having something – anything – on there will help. Sometimes employers just want proof that you are hirable.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          And this would expand OP’s network. If nothing else is working–the existing network, the existing volunteer gigs–then you need to change things up. Anything that gets you interacting with a new range of people might help. I’d start with those old internships and new volunteer gigs–but there’s no shame in taking a retail job to pay the bills.

          Where I live a lot of high school kids, college kids on break, and new grads waiting to find something in their field work in the grocery stores.

        2. Peonies*

          When I was involved in hiring I strongly preferred candidates who had some paid work experience. Retail, fast food, whatever. I found that people who had worked for pay, and especially who had a manager or former manager as a reference, understood some basic things about work, like showing up on time on a regular basis.

          In this instance, I wonder if a combination of some kind of paid work and some volunteer work related to their field, might make the OPer a stronger candidate.

          1. Daisy-dog*

            Agreed. Nothing against internships (which is still important learning), but I feel like there is a lot of pandering to interns. It’s less of a true-to-life experience of a job and more of an opportunity to do some cool projects that may not really help the company much. A combination of internships and front-line service jobs is a better background.

            Pretty sure one of my former employers didn’t even require the interns to show up at a certain time. Sidebar: To interns who have had stricter jobs, describe the standards that you were meeting in your resume!

            1. Warrior Princess Xena*

              It’s a very industry-dependent thing too. I’m specifically in accounting and we have summer and winter internships. If you come to me and say that you’ve done a summer internship, 99/100 times that means you came to the office in the quiet season, maybe got to do some client work, and did a decent amount of networking. Normal intern things. Tell me you did a winter season internship, and in most firms that means you were essentially a junior staff, did lots of client work, and got a lot of experience (I will note that it’s industry standard to have paid internships, not unpaid ones).

          2. TheAG*

            Yes. I’ve been a hiring manager in a stem field for over 10 years and always look for restaurant experience. I know they can multi-task and think on their feet, as well as getting along with others.

            Also I was offered a job in pharmaceutical sales just prior to graduation by a regular customer when I was bartending.

            1. Anne Shirley*

              Yep. A customer offered me an opportunity to work at a dental office when I was doing customer service at a grocery store. Funnily enough this happened not even a week after I did get a job at a doctor’s office or else I would have taken it for sure.

      4. Watry*

        Agreed. People told me this and I believed them, but the only thing customer service qualified me for was more customer service. I hate customer service. I’m only now, 8 years later, working my way out of it.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Same. Plus, now I’m so overqualified for food jobs that they won’t even look at me (I tried).

        2. Smithy*

          I have to agree with this – and depending on the sector the OP wants to transition into, there’s a good this chance it won’t be seen as starting the clock on their work experience the same way that doing data entry as a a temp would.

          And depending on the HR department, may even tap into some snobbiness. I used to work somewhere where our HR person made a clear eye rolling mention of someone applying for a junior admin role coming from doing retail at Victoria’s Secret. If I recall, the bulk of her resume truly was just retail and given the number of other more qualified candidates, not calling her for an interview made sense – but goodness was there an attitude about the Victoria’s Secret part of the retail compared where ever else she had worked.

      5. Antilles*

        Agreed. If you need the money, then absolutely do what you need to do (been there, done that). And if you’ve been unemployed for that long, there’s probably value in getting *something* on your resume.
        But I would not go into it expecting to make much contacts or networking because that doesn’t seem likely – customers typically aren’t looking for long/detailed conversations, while your co-workers are going to be primarily either college/new grads like yourself or retail/service lifers.

      6. CowWhisperer*

        Have you worked in retail? I ask because I have – and do – and have been on educational hiring committees where a former retail colleague was being interviewed. And have had people on hiring committees recognize me from a retail experience where they were customers.

        You may dismiss it as “gumption-y” but the reality is most jobs are non-academic and that plenty of people working in retail have connections to their primary employers or family members’ employers or that nice contractor you helped solve a issue for last week.

        Treating the job the LW can get as a networking opportunity isn’t stupid; it’s how those of us from working class backgrounds break into white collar jobs all the time.

        1. pancakes*

          This sounds pretty location dependent. I live in a city of 8+ million people. Running into a former retail client in an interview for a white collar job and getting a leg up as a result is probably more likely in a smaller city than it is here.

          1. tessa*


            Customer service skills, no matter the setting or context, but especially in retail, where patience and efficiency really are virtues, are endlessly transferrable and valuable.

            Having worked in retail and restaurants for many years before being professionally employed, were I hiring or on a hiring committee, I know I would be interested to hear more about a candidate with a similar background, even if unrelated to the job itself. A smart person rises above the job tasks to see the bigger picture, and that kind of thinking could be a real asset.

            How sad that the sheer value of those skills often fall on deaf ears.

            1. pancakes*

              I don’t at all disagree that those skills are endlessly transferable and valuable, but do you suppose every hiring manager for white collar jobs is on the same page about that? I don’t see any particular reason to believe that to be the case. If it were I’d expect to see people who want to transition out of retail having a far easier time of it than they seem to.

      7. Gipsy Danger*

        I networked my way from a retail job into a full-time admin assistant job. I had previous experience, but had trouble finding work and was working fulltime at a large discount store. Got friendly with some of the regulars (it was the type of place where people shopped multiple times per week), one asked me why I was working there since clearly I had more experience/education, I said I was working there while job searching, she asked what kind of job I was looking for, and the rest is history. I ended up getting laid off of the job she hooked me up with, but that experience led me directly to the job I have now. You never know, I think it pays to just get out there. Also in my case I needed the money.

      8. Beth*

        Agreed. If you need the money, sure, do what you need to do to pay the bills. And if you have absolutely zero work history, showing that you’re basically employable–you can show up, get along with people, and do good enough work to not get fired–is useful.

        But I have a really hard time imagining that working at H&M or waiting tables is going to lead to OP building a network in their field. And I’d also be wary of assuming just anyone can do these well–retail and food service both do require actual skills, even though our society is bad at acknowledging them, and not everyone will be good at them. (Also, if they have a solid labor pool in the area, they might not jump to hire someone who clearly wants to be on another career path and is just biding their time until the right offer comes along.)

      9. Daisy-dog*

        That’s lumping together a lot of really varied jobs into one category. Some of these jobs do have relationship-building with customers because there are regulars or people who like to chat. And the co-workers may have connections too.

        OP shouldn’t go into this with the goal of getting a job in 6 weeks or less. They should still work hard and be reliable and make the best of the situation. Because even if there isn’t a connection made, it’s a job that demonstrates being able to work with people, follow instructions, etc.

      10. Cate*

        Multiple people working security or behind the coffee bar at my last company (an investment manager) were able to leverage the connections they made to getting full time office positions, one of them client facing. It’s not so common, but some organisations do allow for it.

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      I don’t know. This would really depend. Back when I was a teenager, I worked food service and was so unsuited to the job that I was too stressed and tired to think too much about doing ANYTHING other than what I absolutely needed to do.

    3. Cheezmouser*

      Eh, I think that’s a bit of a stretch to say that you can network among your customers if you’re in retail and food service. How would this even work? This assumes you’re able to strike up a reasonably in-depth conversation to find out what they do (while other customers are waiting in line, mind you) and whether you’re able to make enough of an impression to get their name and contact info to follow up afterward. Seems unlikely.

      I think the main benefit–besides a paycheck–to retail and food service jobs is if you’re able to pick up transferable skills that are relevant to the profession you’re trying to break into. For example, my last hire for an entry-level position previously came from food service. I hired her because she was the lead server (demonstrates leadership) responsible for training new hires, had created documentation for the training, and obviously had experience dealing with lots of different types of personalities. I was preparing for the rollout of a new platform across the company, so I needed an assistant who knew how to train others, could create documentation, and could interact with many different types of people from different parts of the company.

      tl;dr if you choose a retail/food service job, make sure it’s one where you can develop transferrable skills or expertise.

      1. CowWhisperer*

        What kind of retail did you say you worked in? Or are you making assumptions based on a job class you’ve never held?

        I’ve worked at a regional big box grocery chain and a multinational home improvement store as a bagger, cashier and department clerk. Once you get comfortable on a register, chatting with customers is a fun way to make time pass without dropping your scanning rate. It’s also a great way to catch problems and learn about local businesses.Working on the floor is even better. If you learn your products and are a good problem-solver, you’ll have repeat customers asking for you to solve issues they are running into in a job.

        It’s not an overnight process – but plenty of network connections happen in non-traditional settings.

        1. Chris too*

          I think things might be different in the US, where healthcare insurance is attached to employment. A person working retail probably wants as many hours as possible in order to qualify for healthcare.

          Here in Canada, and I imagine many other countries too, retail is popular with people who are more or less retired, but enjoy getting out and working a couple of shifts a week, for fun as much as money. I would say more than half of the people I’ve worked with in retail jobs are semi-retired successful professionals – doctors, business and tech people, teachers, including university level, and oh so very many engineers. A lot of them still maintained their old networks. If I had been a newly minted engineer looking to build a network, I’m sure my co-workers would have been very helpful!

          I always found it funny when customers would have an attitude about the education and skill sets of retail workers. I’ve only worked specialty retail, not groceries or clothing, but on average there were probably more years of education and professional experience behind the cash register than in front of it.

        2. Cheezmouser*

          *hat tip* You’ve got a good point. My main retail/food service experience was back in high school, when I worked at a smoothie stand at the mall. My now-husband/then-boyfriend worked at a music store. (Remember those?) Making smoothies and helping people find CDs didn’t really contribute to any transferrable skills, but to your point, it sounds like it depends on where you work and what industry you’re interested in. If your goals are to work for companies in construction, interior design, house flipping, etc. then it definitely makes sense to work retail at a home improvement store. But if your dream is to become, say, a veterinarian, then maybe home improvement stores aren’t your best bet?

      2. BubbleTea*

        I got a job as a nanny from a conversation I stuck up with a customer at my volunteer retail job (I’m in the UK, our employment laws are different and it was perfectly legal for me to volunteer). I asked about her logo’d jacket, which related to her children, and told her that if she knew of anyone who needed a babysitter, I was experienced and available. Turned out she did, and it turned into a regular job. That in turn led to a professional job relating to families, which led to my current career. So you just never know.

        All that said, the whole process took most of a decade and it isn’t a strategy I’d recommend.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      I never managed to get much networking done in call centres/retail, but a lot of managers responded well to the customer service experience I could point to. My industry needed people who clicked with people quickly and could smooth ruffled feathers and there really is no better preparation than retail for that. It’s a bit of a double edged sword though; snooty hiring managers saw the roles I listed as talentless, while healthy companies liked what they saw (I do think this saved me from a few toxic environments though). I will put in the caveat that internships through the week were needed as well as my weekend and evening customer service jobs; retail professional norms just aren’t the same as office norms and that does matter.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Sorry I’m late, but I have to say… If OP wants jobs where they would be working with clients or people in any way, they can’t go wrong with customer service experience. What a big difference it made in my job search looking for something where I work more with people! Before I worked at the grocery store deli, crickets. After I’d been there about five months I started getting interviews for jobs where I had no experience in the field! In January and February of this year I was getting about three interviews per week. Some were with agencies but that still counts, they can lead to good jobs.
        As others have mentioned, retail and restaurant work and build some good, lifelong transferable skills. People skills, thinking on your feet, being responsive, dealing with upset customers, all can be used in most careers.
        Temping is good too. It’s office work and it will help develop office skills and maybe lead to connections to a permanent job.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      I don’t know about networking through customers, but I do prioritize candidates with retail/food service experience for my entry-level jobs because they have experience with customer service and the general public and tend to come prepared with skill that are also important in the professional services world.

    6. Mewtwo*

      I’ve never gotten contacts through retail/service directly, but making money this way sometimes enabled me to take on the part time gigs in my desired industry, which did eventually get me where I wanted to go.

  4. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

    Also, if you are financially stable and could afford not to work at the full rate for your goal job, is there a different level/type job in the same market/company that you could apply for and eventually work your way up to your goal job or would get you real world experience in that field, even if it’s not exactly what you’re trained for?

  5. Lilo*

    Unfortunately a legitimate employer will see that offer as a red flag. It doesn’t save any money to hire someone who doesn’t work.

    I agree, work your network, volunteer, read Alison’s tips on resumes, cover letters, and interviews. Talk professors and people at your internships and have them view your materials if they are willing.

    1. Moonlight*

      You’re right. The crappy thing is that I can relate to the OP; I had long periods of unemployment where I would literally take any office job to get by and volunteered to improve my resume. It sucks when you are told that you need to work, that it must be relevant work, that volunteering doesn’t really hold equal weight, that being out of work looks really bad, and that short term contracts and/or temping make you look like a job hopper… but then no one will hire you and it’s not clear why (or it’s for reasons beyond your control; my original career path was extremely competitive so unless you had a solid 3-5 years of solid, full time, and progressively challenging work experience, you were f**ked. It made for a pretty miserable and increasingly desperate situation for people like myself who just needed to get from “part time internships” to “3+ years of full time experience”.

      While we may know that this will (a) turn off a legitimate employer and/or (b) will only attract bad employers, if your desperate like OP, when you feel like you can’t win because you can’t get started but also everything available to you (see all my conditions) doesn’t necessarily help, it makes sense that you’d start wondering “well, maybe this would be a solution” and ask for it to be verified or not.

      1. Narvo Flieboppen*

        I spent quite some time unemployed & job searching. I interviewed for some positions which were definitely slightly below the level of my work experience but I needed income. A few even noted, during the interviews, that they expected to be hiring for positions more suited to my skills later in the year. Yet all of them declined to hire me because I was ‘overqualified’.

        I wound up taking a job at a grocery store and a factory floor position, which then led to future interviews where they asked why I took those jobs instead of something more in line with my training and experience. I know I shot down a couple of the positions by saying “Because I didn’t want to starve to death waiting for someone to hire me.”

        On the other hand, the guy who eventually did hire me, laughed at that and agreed it was a good reason to take a job.

        The job hunt, in situations like this, often feel like no-win scenarios.

      2. Mewtwo*

        I was in this exact situation too and it was frustrating. Tbh – some of this is on the employer for not being able to see past their privileged noses. A very common trend post-2008 is that a bunch of companies reduced their full time positions to part time positions to avoid having to pay for benefits. To punish job candidates for that was a horrible thing to do. I also had to deal with a lot of employers assuming anyone could work for free.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I also literally cannot pay people less for the same job. HR would never allow it, and it’d fail our annual discrimination testing, especially if the person who volunteered to be paid less was part of a protected class. Our entry level range is pretty tight, with only a few thousand flux for relevant internship experience or a relevant graduate degree. We tell entry-level candidates in an initial phone screen what their pay would be, and it’s not really negotiable.

    3. FormerHiringManager*

      Also consider that when interviewing that you aren’t willing to just “do anything” because it can make it sound like you are desperate. This can easily come across as someone not being very excited or passionate about a particular position.

  6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    What about going back to your school and look at internships?
    Are they available to people who are recently (<5 years) out of school. I wish I'd done another immediately after I'd gotten my degree, instead of thinking "ok, school phase done. Time to look for a job."
    Also, if you get interviews for internships, you are more likely to find interviewers who are willing to give feedback about your resume, history, presenting yourself.

    1. ferrina*

      I thought you meant going back to the places where you interned, which is another great idea! My company regularly hires people from our internship program. Even if you’re a few years out, you’re a known entity which can give you a leg up in your candidacy. If they have an open position, apply, and reach out to your intern supervisor (or whoever can best speak to your work as an intern) and let them know that you applied.

    2. Mid*

      Maybe this isn’t universal, but all the internship and recent grad programs I’ve seen stop at 1, sometimes 2 years post graduation. So while OP might be in the timeframe for some internships meant for new-grads, it’s not super likely.

      1. Cate*

        They could have entry level roles that OP could be appropriate for though, for which the same considerations may apply. I think it’s worth asking that too!

    3. Leia Oregano*

      OP, seconding this! Definitely recommend seeing if your graduate school or even undergrad institution help graduates find jobs! The school I graduated from/work for offers career assistance through our career center for a certain amount of time after students graduate — I believe two years. If you graduated Dec. 2020, you might still be within their time frame! Even if you’re not, it can’t hurt to reach out to either the career center or your program’s department/your former advisor to see if they know of resources or opportunities — universities typically *want* students to find full-time positions after graduation because it helps their rankings. My undergrad advisor kept a running list of job and internship opportunities that past students let her know about so that she could pass them along to current students who were searching, so it can’t hurt to reach out to anyone in your previous department(s) that you have contact info for.

  7. Notfunny.*

    I agree that it’s time to consider how to broaden your job search strategy- are there other adjacent kinds of roles to apply to? Can you consider other kinds of employers or think about commuting a little further away? Would you take an internship or a temporary/part time opportunity? If you have the financial means to be able to consider less pay, part time or time limited opportunities might be a good option while you build up experience (and/or keep looking for full time work).

  8. VermiciousKnid*

    I know it’s not what you went to school for, but consider picking up a job in food service in the meantime. The jobs are plentiful, working a restaurant leads to transferable skills that look good on a resume (managing multiple tasks at once, staying cool in high-pressure situations, anticipating customer/client needs, etc.), and, most important, it will help you hone your people skills. Ten years waiting tables gave me almost supernatural people-reading powers, and I use them every. single. day. in my office job. Those skills also VERY useful in an interview situation.

    1. ferrina*

      This may work against you in some industries- plenty of white-collar hiring managers don’t see food service as equivalent skills. Me, I’ll take a skilled food service worker any day- that’s someone who can think on their feet, prioritize, and utilize resources really well. I hired one new grad specifically because he had experience working at a fast-food place and could clearly work well under pressure and prioritize well. He was one of my best hires!

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        A lot of hiring managers will also, rightly or wrongly, be dubious about someone new to the workforce who has a big gap on their resume and cannot give any answer to why it’s there beyond job hunting. Getting any work experience, even for a few months, would be a good way to say “look, I’m hirable, I’m willing to work – I’ve just had a lot of bad luck”. Having no experience could raise the question of “does this applicant have really bad luck or bad judgement or is there something else that’s making people wary of them?”

        I got my full-time job right out of college in a professional industry you traditionally have to do several internships in coming out of a food service job. They’re worthwhile! (And they put cash in your bank and food on the table, which is always good).

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        When I worked in legal, many of my staff managers pulled food service/retail resumes to the top of the stack because they felt like, if you could work successfully with the general public, attorneys were not going to faze you.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Temping would be a better option than food service, IMO, because at least the placements might be at potential employers. It can be a great way to sample the company culture and become a known entity.

      1. Academic Fibro Warrior*

        I second the temp agency route. Most of my temp positions were…not great. But one turned into a FT job that had a career ladder where my degree finally became useful. Ultimately I changed industries but having had that experience has made me more hireable as well as helped me relate better with my students. One of my coworkers had only found FT work through temp agencies and had built a decent career out of it without a college degree. Another friend only hired production employees out of temp agencies. Granted most of my knowledge is heavy industry but it is a possibility.

        But another friend ended up with a scammy temp agency where she had to fork over quite a bit of money to qualify for placement. It took a long time and she lived on couches on Ramen noodles until she was able to pay off her temp agency fees and get an actual permanent position. So just be aware that not all temp agencies are created equal.

        1. Fran Fine*

          I don’t know where you are, but just a heads up for job seekers in the U.S. – you should not be paying a temp agency anything to place you. I know that when I was hired on as a full-time employee from a temp-to-perm assignment, I had to take a drug test through the temp agency first and pass before my employer would take me on and the agency charged me for it (it was something like $16), but they took the cost out of my last paycheck with them. I didn’t pay anything upfront.

          1. academic fibro warrior*

            I agree! I tried to intervene when she told me about it but she rebuffed my offers to help her get in with my much more prestigious national temp agency that was a lot better about placing people for decent rates. This was a not small southern US town and the big 3 temp agencies all had sizeable offices there but she insisted this was the only one that could help her. I suspect something else was actually going on but she never shared the details. She did eventually end up with a FT job and I’m not sure if it was the agency that placed her or what the deal was in truth. I shared this as a warning not to be taken in. My FT placement also required a drug test but the company paid for it if they made a job offer. The only thing the temp agency cost me was time to take their office skills test. That was part of the application so unpaid, but to make sure I could type, file alphabetically, etc. so they knew what kinds of jobs to place me in.

            1. DJ Abbott*

              Yes, skills test are standard at temp agencies. I took a few in this last round too.

      2. Mid*

        Yes. And temping shows you have the office skills that people need. I thought it was a given that people knew how to use Word and email, but we have a high school grad here for the summer to help with filing papers, and she does not have any office skills at all. Doesn’t know how to use a scanner (not just our specific office scanner, but any scanner), didn’t realize you need to remove staples from packets before scanning them, didn’t know how to answer our desk phones (pick up the receiver), didn’t know how to attach things to emails, etc. Obviously, she’s young and I’m happy to teach those things to her. But a lot of offices aren’t able or willing to teach the “basics” especially to someone with an advanced degree. Working as a temp shows that you have the basics down and can hit the ground running, at least a little bit.

        There are some very crappy temp agencies out there, but also some very good ones, and depending on OP’s field, there might be agencies that specialize in their field, which would be an added plus to the resume.

      3. Smithy*

        100% agree with this.

        Depending on where you live, there are often temp agencies that are more likely to place in certain types of industries or with certain large employers. I always knew I wanted to be in the “large ngo” space, so when I was in this time of my life and living in a medium sized midwestern city – signing up with the temp agency that placed people at the area hospitals meant my placements sounded far more inline with what I wanted to do longer term. Being a receptionist for two weeks in a clinic dedicated to child abuse victims, definitely read differently on a resume than being a receptionist for two weeks at an autobody shop. Even if a large quantity of the tasks would have been similar.

      4. NewJobNewGal*

        Temp Temp Temp! Temping got me through the 2008 recession. And there is an understanding that you may need to step out of your temp gig to interview for perm jobs so you don’t have the pressure of sneaking around.
        Also, some temp jobs are really fantastic. There are snazzy companies that don’t want to bother with hiring, so they partner with temp companies to find candidates.
        Just be really careful with the temp companies you contact. Some are scams, some are just awful, but many are excellent and put equal care in matching you with a job as matching an employer with the right temp. The best temp/placement companies I worked with put the most effort in getting to know me. The scammers just want you to fill in a form and make big promises.

        1. NewJobNewGal*

          Oh! I’ve even reached out to companies I interviewed with and asked if they use temp/placement companies and could recommend good ones. I explained that I was looking for short term work to hold me over until I found the right job, and two responded back with recommendations.

      5. farrisonhord*

        Was coming to comment on temping too! If OP lives near a local university or their alma mater still those are usually easy ins for temp services (and not a scam). And even if temping doesn’t lead to a job it does give you experience for your resume which will really help.

      6. OfOtherWorlds*

        Here’s an issue I’ve had with temp agencies – most of the temp agencies in my area are looking to place people in assembly line or warehouse work. I did that before I finished my associates degree program in a tech-adjacent field; I already had a bachelors degree in a liberal arts field. I am not financially desperate enough to go back to doing blue collar work when I’ve worked so hard to get the skills I need for an office job. H0w would I find the sort of temp agency that places people into office jobs rather than warehouses or factory floors.

        1. Dawn*

          Just look for the ones that place people in office jobs specifically; you can give them a call directly and state your needs or you can often find them on job search websites looking to place roles they haven’t been able to fill through their existing candidate pool.

      7. NotAnotherManager!*

        I had a very good experience temping right out of college. I got to try different jobs, and there are employers who use temping to test-run full-time hires. I have also hired temps full-time – we had a project that was supposed to last six months, and a month in, we realized we wanted to keep the temp full-time because she was great. (That project ended up lasting three years, too.)

    3. talos*

      Where I grew up (suburb of a small city), there were a grand total of zero office temp placements within like 40 miles…not everywhere has office temp placements. There were, like, heavy gardening temp placements, but that’s a fundamentally different kind of job.

      (If your location does, great! Just wanting to say that if you can’t find temp placements, I see you)

  9. ferrina*

    Seconding Alison’s suggestion of temping. If you are trying to break into a professional field, just showing that you have office experience and can function in that environment will open some doors. That’s how I got into my career- started as a temp, then temp-to-hire, then moved to staff positions in that industry. It definitely wasn’t the industry I thought I would be in, but I’ve enjoyed it.

    Also recommend being open to a wide array of career paths. Temping can send you in a lot of directions, and you don’t get to really choose. Pros: can experience many things. Con: Can’t decide what you experience.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Also, depending on your field, there may be specialist temp firms that only work in your industry. Do some research and ask your network. Professional societies, if your field has them, may also be another avenue to look at. They almost always have employment opportunities and resource centers, even early career mentoring

    2. The Original K.*

      Yeah, I temped during the 2008-2010 recession and it was a good way to keep my office skills up and keep myself fed and housed and build some more references. I’ve also done medium- and long-term contracts in my field through specialized staffing agencies; if those exist for your field, you might try looking into them.

      1. The Original K.*

        Also, sometimes companies do bring on temps full-time. Someone just left my org after three years and she started as a temp (I think she temped for about six months before they gave her a full-time job). She was great!

      2. All The Words*

        Just about everyone below the high level executives at my workplace starts as a temp (including VPs). My employer is one of the top 10 banks in the U.S.. So pretty much, if you want a job here, you come here as a temp. It can be a totally valid route to a long term job, depending on the employer.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Just be aware that if you have a resume gap, some agencies won’t help you because UNemploYed PEOPle ARE UnEmpLOyabLe.

      1. ferrina*

        Most temp agencies in my area are desperate for good workers and won’t mind the gap. They’ll happily put you on their books, though they may not find placements for you right away. If you have a lot of availability, that makes their life easier and they’ll put you on the top of their call list. (They really just want people are convenient, and generally prioritize those people, rightly or wrongly).

    4. quill*

      Also, in STEM fields, it’s entirely possible the reason that you can’t get hired is because all junior positions go to contractors. So OP may have to temp or contract for a while.

      (I did it for 6 years but your industry and area may vary.)

    5. Santiago*

      Temping saved mine and so many of my friends lives while figuring out how to land on our feet. Some companies and public bodies (ie universities) have in house temp agencies as well.

  10. calonkat*

    I cannot second enough, Alison’s advice that any employer who would take you up on this offer is an employer you don’t want to work for!

    You can volunteer, you can apply for jobs that pay less, both of which might get you a job for someone who can’t afford someone with all your qualifications. But do not just say “well, you’re offering 50k for this job, but I’ll take it for 30k” That’s just not a thing!

    1. Sybil Rights*

      Thirding this! A hiring manager is going to be judged on whether the people they hire turn out to be a good fit, do good work, show potential to grow within and to help grow the organization. They are not likely to earn brownie points because they hired a bad fit at a discounted rate, or even if the hire is a good fit, no one’s likely to think, “AND we got them at a discount!”

      You didn’t mention what your Masters is in, but please resist constraining your search to a specific field or “masters’ level” jobs.

  11. Student*

    If you’re repeatedly coming up short due to a lack of job experience, it’s time to consider that you may be aiming at roles that are too high seniority for your actual skill set.

    You might need to do some more research into how careers in your field usually progress, and try applying to roles that are a bit more junior. After you get your foot in the door, any door, it becomes much easier to search for a better job down the road. Depending on your field, you can start looking for a job that’s a step up, closer to what you want, in a year or two. You need an entry-level job.

    Entry-level jobs are also when people traditionally might try broadening their search geographically. If you’re having no luck in your area, you might need to look for opportunities in nearby communities instead, or even think about moving. It depends a lot on the field. My field is very technical and has lots of jobs, but they are concentrated in only a few spots geographically – so if the major employer in one city isn’t hiring now, people in my field often need to look at another major employer in a different state. That’s not true for all, or even most, fields, but maybe it’s a factor here.

    1. Orchid*

      +1 on this. When I got a graduate degree, I kept thinking “I have credentials, why would I take an entry level position?” Well, because usually orgs like to promote from within. And depending on your grad program and the jobs you’re applying for, it sometimes can be difficult to translate work done in your grad program to work experience.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I felt the same. Then I took one of those entry level jobs and it was exactly where I belonged since I was fresh out of school. Now I laugh at the highs for which fresh grad me reached and shudder to think of the disaster that would have happened had I been hired into one of those jobs.

      2. ferrina*

        It’s also about professional experience. Grad degrees are not equivalent to experience (same way experience isn’t exactly equivalent to a degree). Certain soft skills are developed through experience that isn’t part of schooling. I’ve had to oversee several people who had advanced degrees and were clearly smart, but really struggled to do their jobs and needed a higher amount of management from me.

        1. Dawn*

          Or people who can do the work just fine but struggle with things like workplace norms and interacting as expected with their coworkers.

          Not every time but probably more often than not the people who walk straight into a position with an advanced degree out of school are complete asses to everyone who is “beneath” them and they fail in the role because nobody is willing/able to work with them.

          Just because you’re Mister High Muckity Muck Engineer doesn’t mean you can do your job effectively after ticking off all of the admins, bud.

      3. Meep*

        I am going through this in reverse with our new CTO. He claims to have 8 years of experience, but two of those are working at a failed start-up he started. The other 6 years translate more into 3 years of experience (part-time and in a lab setting). I have more real-world experience than him (both in the application and running a company), but because he has a Ph.D. after his name, he thinks he knows how the world works. -insert eyeroll- Our boss is a professor, though, so Ph.D.s are apparently holy grails even though this guy is #4 Ph.D. to attempt this job in three years.

      4. Eater of Hotdish (fka jitm)*

        Hard same. My first post-academic job search was DIRE. I kept shooting for the moon because look, fancy degree! Why yes, you *can* call me Doctor!

        Ended up working retail and doing a couple years of AmeriCorps before I really found my feet again, professionally, but I had to get it through my thick head that I wasn’t too proud to fold pants at the mall.

    2. CheesePlease*

      I do think some grad school programs say “our graduates take senior-level roles right out of school!” and that may be accurate, but they may be a senior-level role at a company where the student interned for 3 summer and worked for part-time their last year.

      I would apply to entry-level roles with minimal experience requirements, and look for volunteer roles in the meantime.

      1. Fran Fine*

        Or those grads were already working at that company part or full time during their grad program and that’s why they got the senior-level role – the company was likely paying for it as a prerequisite for getting the job in the first place.

      2. kiki*

        A lot of schools neglect to mention that their graduates who took senior-level roles outside of school often worked in their industry before or while getting their degree. Or their graduate takes a senior-level role… at a start-up their friend founded.

        1. Smithy*


          And while I certainly can’t speak to loads of sectors – just looking at mine (nonprofit fundraising) – there are some high prestige jobs that without a masters degree you literally cannot apply (i.e. won’t make it past HR screening). While my personal take is that degree means a big fat ol’ nothing in terms of actually doing the job or having a qualified resume to be hired/interviewed, it is what it is. Basically having an MA a whisper above University of Phoenix, done entirely online, C- average, – you’re in contention for jobs where someone with the same exact resume won’t be talked to.

          So you’ll have people who’ve maxed out their BA-only resume doing super high level work, sleep walk through their MA, and then instantly get a job that matches their CV and the lack of the MA on paper was preventing.

      3. Interpreter*

        I was wondering if LW is in my field. Colleges and universities keep pushing degree-creep without the market there to support it. Most jobs in my field want experience, not a masters degree. But the training programs are starting to shift to MAs, despite the fact that you can’t learn to do the job without actually doing it. It’s leading to situations like this LW where they have an advanced degree but aren’t as qualified as someone with a BA and even just 6 months doing the actual work.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          “Colleges and universities keep pushing degree-creep without the market there to support it. Most jobs in my field want experience, not a masters degree.”

          That doesn’t narrow down your field much! The fields where a straight-out-of-undergrad master’s degree is better than experience are probably the exception, not the majority. And where it is better—like engineering, certain medical fields, teaching, etc.—it’s because the master’s is basically a requirement.

          If I were ruler of the world…well, reforming graduate education would be way down on my list of things to do. But once I finished fixing everything else, I’d probably say that no one could start a professional master’s program without having at least a year or two of work experience. I might allow an exception for combined undergrad+masters programs where students can do an extra semester or two and cram in enough extra grad credits to get the combo. In many fields, experience + master’s really can be useful. But master’s with no experience is usually going to be less valuable than if the student spent the same number of years getting work experience.

          1. Smithy*


            Having fallen prey to this myself, it also puts a lot of instructors in these programs in very award positions. They’re usually there to teach research about their field (or how to research that area of study) when lots of students in the program are really just looking at how to get hired in that industry. Certainly some people come out of those programs in research/research adjacent jobs – but that is never how those degrees are sold.

            And to specifically shout out the UN – if you want a UN staff job at the P2 or above level, you need a Masters. Just….flat…. So there are some major sector leaders who encourage this creep, without also acknowledging how very disingenuous it can often be.

            1. L.H. Puttgrass*

              I’ve been lucky enough that in the schools I’ve attended, the career-advancement master’s classes tend to be fairly career-focused. There’s some some research angle, because there kind of has to be, but in the same department master’s students and Ph.D. students would often have different classes on the same subjects. The Ph.D. students would have to deal with heavy theory and math and such, while the master’s students would be more focused on how to do the things they’ll need to do (to use econ as an example, it’s the difference between being able to do the math to show why a certain estimator is unbiased, versus just learning what you need to know to run regressions without embarrassing yourself). But that was a fairly large department with multiple master’s programs and a separate Ph.D. program. I’d imagine that there are also lots of schools where the grad courses are the same for both, and that would get frustrating for the career-oriented master’s students (and for the professors who somehow have to teach to both).

          2. kiki*

            It doesn’t help that master’s programs are so lucrative for universities, so there’s a significant incentive to push master’s degrees, even when universities know experience is more crucial.

    3. Lady_Lessa*

      Chemistry is one area where you think that you know something, get into a lab without pre-designed experiments, and then you are indeed humbled.

    4. Cold and Tired*

      100% agree with this. I’ve trained in several new hires for my company for the same job role, some with grad degrees and some only with bachelor degrees, but all fresh out of school. While the graduate degree did usually lead to higher success and faster promotion long term, they all came in with zero real experience for the job in question and all required similar levels of training and mentorship to do the same entry level job. A graduate degree does signal a lot of things, but isn’t the equivalent of actually doing the job in a lot of fields I’m afraid. Really depends on the degree and field though.

    5. ecnaseener*

      But LW is regularly making it to final-round interviews – if they were underqualified for the jobs they’re applying to, they’d get weeded out sooner.

      1. Generic Name*

        While they may not be underqualified, but they’re clearly not the *best* qualified since they’re struggling. As I mentioned below, they need to change something in their approach, and applying to lower roles is one fairly easy change to make.

    6. Generic Name*

      I agree. At my company, we hire for entry level roles fairly often. Most of the people we end up hiring have a graduate degree and often a couple of years of experience they gained while going to school (like internships and summer jobs). You are already looking at offering to work for lower pay, so you might consider applying to entry level roles (that inherently have lower pay) and see if you get traction that way. Whatever approach you are using isn’t working, so it’s time to evaluate what you can be doing differently.

    7. Meep*

      Depending on the field, some people are weird about academics. If you don’t have a minimum of a Ph.D. you are up a creek without a paddle. I once saw a company going to a university career fair looking for 8+ years of experience and a Ph.D. They basically wasted money to be there, but they were serious about it. My employer once said he would be turned off anyone who didn’t work while they got a Master’s. Add to the fact OP has been without a job for 18 months, hiring managers are probably not even given them the time of day unfortunately.

  12. Hello Sunshine*

    That is what my sister did. She was a bartender when she couldn’t find a job in the field she wanted, and was able to make contacts with the distributors who came in and now has been working with a company for years, it is professional and with great pay. It wasn’t what she thought she would be doing but she is happy there and doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon.

  13. to varying degrees*

    I would second both temping and looking into getting with a company in a job outside your interest or field so you can explore lateral moves later on. The last place I worked (about 12 years) both of these were super popular and expected. We had a contract with a local agency for temp workers and quite often they were able to transition to direct employment either in the same department or another one. IF they were really stellar they were offered direct employment in whatever they were doing. Even when I was growing up my mom got a lot of her permanent positions because she was initially temping with the company.

  14. WantonSeedStitch*

    You could also look into temping. When I left a toxic work environment without a new job lined up, and that job was my only full time work experience after grad school, I temped for a while to make ends meet. That got me an entry level position in a workplace that was really good about promoting from within, so I was able to move up there and embark on a really great career.

    1. Goldenrod*

      I second this! I worked in retail for a very long time (I had graduated from college into a recession). I desperately wanted to move out of retail and into office work, but I had zero experience working in an office.

      I signed up with a temp agency at a local university and, through those temp jobs, I got a crash course in office work. I ended up being hired into a permanent position through one of the temp jobs. Once I got my foot in the door, it was easy to apply for better and better jobs.

      Temping is a great way to build skills and experience, as well as find out what type of work you enjoy. Also, people are desperate for temps right now, so will likely give you a chance. Good luck!!

    2. None the Wiser*

      I came here to say the exact same thing, except as a hiring manager. My company used to employ temporary technicians. We’ve moved away from that model for a number of reasons, but I still think it’s a good way to network, and to accumulate experience and bullet points on a resume.

  15. A Rusted Fence*

    I have no idea why you aren’t getting hired, and I doubt you could tell me enough over the internet for me to give you any constructive criticism.

    Friends and family are not often the best advisors because they care for you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. They might be hesitant to tell you your green mohawk or putting “male underwear model” on your resume are hurting your chances. And, for some reason, people seem to take advice from friends and relatives less seriously than they do advice from strangers.

    Try find some local job hunting support groups to attend and get some face to face support. Most, but not all, of the ones in my area are run out of churches. Usually on a weeknight.

    I spent several months meeting with a small group at a fast food restaurant at 6:00 AM weekly during one time in my career. We critiqued each other’s job search during the previous week. People dropped in and out, but it was run by an older gentleman who had been doing this for several years as his good deed to help others.

  16. Ama*

    OP, one thing you might think about is whether you are fully describing your internship experience in a way that gets across what kind of work you have done. I work in nonprofit, so for entry level positions we’re almost always interviewing at least a few internship-experience-only candidates, and I have more than once encountered a candidate who seems to resist talking about the actual tasks they themselves did and only describes the projects they worked on in high level terms.

    For example, if one of the projects was helping with a fundraiser, the candidate says that they “helped organize a gala that broke fundraising records” instead of “I helped put together the attendance lists and run the registration table, answered questions for our sponsor attendees, and helped prepare the event’s program for the printer” — the latter answer tells me a ton about what skills they might have and how that matches up with the role I have open, the former answer really tells me nothing about what they did.

    Maybe you are giving the second type of answer, but I’ve had enough fresh-out-of-college candidates take the first tactic that I just thought I’d mention it.

    1. kismet*

      I’m a hiring manager for positions that tend to recruit folks straight out of degree programs, and I want to second this. If your resume and cover letter are good enough to be getting you call-backs, and especially if you’re making it through the first screening call and onto a full interview but not getting an offer, it’s very possible that your approach to questions is leaving the interviewers feeling like they don’t have a solid grasp of what YOU did on any work or academic experience (e.g., capstone project) that otherwise seems relevant. Sometimes this is weakness on the part of the people doing the interview – not everyone knows how to effectively probe for details of someone’s individual contribution when they describe the project broadly – and sometimes it seems to be a resistance on the part of the applicant to be specific if they feel like their role is less impressive than the talking about the project.

      Might be worth thinking about! Even if you don’t feel like you have “real” experience coming out of a degree program, there are absolutely ways to answer questions that leave an interviewer feeling like they have a good sense of your particular aptitudes and interests – and ways to answer questions that leave people feeling like they learned about what classes you took and the requirements of your degree program, but still don’t have a sense of you and what your likely strengths in a workplace might be.

    2. NewJobNewGal*

      SO much this! I’ve interviewed people that could talk all day about projects and the end result of the project but couldn’t answer questions about what they exactly did or what the thought process was during the project. It’s obvious to me that they are trying to take unearned credit for the project, and that is a huge mark against them. All I really want to hear is the truth. If their part was fact checking, then that’s great! Data Entry? Fantastic! Phone Surveys? Super!
      There isn’t any reason to stretch the truth. If a candidate tells me how much effort they put into data entry and how they observed the rest of the project, and now they want to start taking on bigger pieces of the projects-> That is the person I want to hire!

    3. Don't Call Me Shirley*

      Second this. I do technical evaluations, and people who can’t be specific about their role and who instead want to talk about the project they worked on make it hard. The question “what was your role” should result in an “I” answer.

  17. Jay*

    I’ll jump in on this and say the only time I would ever feel ok about accepting less money for a role is if it was a position I absolutely loved and the benefits and the corporate culture made up for the money.

    I used to undervalue myself and take roles I never cared about because I had bills to pay After I was laid off this year (on Valentine’s day!!) I was completely depressed and my husband helped me see that I was wasting a lot of time being sad about a job that didn’t bring me joy or fulfillment. So when I started my job search, I decided that wasn’t enough for me anymore and focused on roles that I was actually interested in as a career. I found an amazing role with a company willing to take a chance on me and teach me and was fully prepared to take the same or less than I had been making because everything else (fully remote, culture, benefits, people) would have been worth it. I got lucky and actually increased my salary but I would have been just as happy at the same salary.

    Life is too short to settle for a role and undervalue what you do just to get in. Take Allison’s advice here and change your approach. Volunteering is a great idea and a great way to make quality contacts. And if you can find a good temp agency that doesn’t just send you out and then ghost, go for it. Find what makes you happy and the right place will pay you what you’re worth. it may take longer but it is always worth it in the end.

  18. irene adler*

    Have you connected with the professional organization in the industry you wish to work in? Ideally, a chapter local to you.
    That is another avenue for networking and for getting some feedback on your job search. And for job leads. And for mentoring.

  19. kiki*

    LW, would it be worthwhile exploring jobs that are in the same realm, but maybe not such a competitive position? That way you build up some professional experience and utilize some of the skills you got your masters for and can use that as leverage to get your next job?

  20. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    I feel like the more pointed advice here is to re-evaluate your experience and skillset against the salary bands being offered. You absolutely shouldn’t accept less than your worth, but it is just as important to verify that you’ve not overinflated your worth.

  21. 2Legit*

    OP, go to a website called…… It will give you the true state of the job market. It will show you if the companies you want to work for are experiencing layoffs, mergers, acquisitions… another thing to keep in mind is that if you are competing against 100 people, your chance of getting hired is low, so it becomes a numbers game. Harsh crap you probably didn’t expect, and I can tell you that the jobs that have kept me well fed & secure? Those jobs I never got through networking.

    You haven’t stated what industry you are seeking work in.. but the point is, it’s important to know if your desired industry is thriving or in major trouble… I worked all through covid but recently lost my job, through a reduction in force. There are lots of layoffs happening.

    Our country is in a recession right now, regardless of what some people want to admit.
    If I was in your shoes – and I was – find a job. Start working for PAY. Not just experience. Even if it doesn’t directly align w your goals and dreams. Prioritize making an income over volunteering for pay. The economy is getting bad, and recession could last 18 months.

    Part of making a successful transition from college to the working world is adapting when things are hard.
    Don’t be afraid to dumb down your resume (try for jobs you are “overqualified for” & leave off your advanced experience) in order to get a job that will put food on the table. That’s what I did when I couldn’t find work, and that’s what helped me get a job w health insurance when I couldn’t find a job in my field.

  22. Bob-White of the Glen*

    I hate to say this, but you may have to take a harsh look at your degree. Certain fields (law – especially graduates from low-tiered schools and library science come to mind) have way too many graduates for the number of entry level jobs available, even with internship experience. Or sometimes you have to move to a less desirable area of the country to get that first job.

    So take a hard look at your degree. If there are too many graduates, you may have to pivot and take the skills you have and apply them to a different profession. Are you still in touch with fellow graduates? Can you ask them what kinds of jobs they got, share resumes, and ask them for some interview practice? I’m guessing you are probably exhausted by searching, and frustrated beyond belief – but there are jobs out there you are qualified for. (You made it through graduate school, regardless of study area you have skills.) You just have to learn the language of different industries to find the right position.

    Good luck, and please post an update when you have one. And don’t forget the weekend threads where this group can help you with individual questions as they come up.

    1. Mid*

      I’d also say take a hard look at their resume and interviewing skills. They could be perfectly fine, but having an outsider checking things out might help. Not friends or family, but someone who works in your field, if at all possible. Maybe they aren’t describing their internship and graduate program in a way that highlights the skills they do have. Because everyone has some skills to offer to a workplace.

    2. Joielle*

      Yeah, I went to law school in a mid-size city that had four law schools (!) and so there were always a lot of law grads competing for the same entry-level lawyer jobs. People who weren’t at the top of their class had a really hard time. Some ended up moving to smaller cities for a while where the market wasn’t so saturated. Some did legal temp work (some for a lot longer than they wanted, but at least it was a paycheck). Some hung out their own shingle and started taking clients who were ok with paying low rates for an inexperienced lawyer. Some took jobs in different industries. Personally, it took me a few months to find my first job out of school and I spent that time doing pro bono legal work for a newly-formed nonprofit while job searching. It kept me busy and gave me something to put on my resume to fill the gap.

      I know law is kind of unique in that you can practice on your own as soon as you’re admitted to the bar, so not all of this advice may apply. But OP, can you look into industry-specific temp agencies or recruiters, or possibly move to a less desirable location for a while that might have less competition? Do you have any marketable skills that you could sell as a freelancer or consultant?

    3. Jen*

      When I read this, my first thought was this is a library person, because I’ve heard this story many, many times in both good and bad times. The lack of work experience is a big red flag that can take you off the table – libraries want to see something, even if it was retail or wait staff, to show you can work with others. And not making it to the final interview makes me wonder about the working with others/interpersonal part, which I’ve seen so many times.

      1. Cendol*

        Me too. I had to move and work the less desirable night/weekend shift for a few years to get my foot in the door. Will be forever grateful for the boss who took a chance on me even though I had very little real-world experience!

  23. Mrs. Cookie Monster*

    It’s a really tricky position to be in having a Master’s degree with no work experience – you are simultaneously under- and over- qualified for many jobs. The other commenters are right in advising that you need to be looking for entry-level jobs right now. Unless you are in an extremely specialized field (like engineering) a Master’s degree just doesn’t replace the skills that come with real-life work experience. That said, as a hiring manager, I might feel nervous hiring someone with an advanced degree for an entry-level role because I’m scared they will be insulted or bored by the low complexity of the work and leave quickly.

    It may help in your cover letters/interviews to convey an air of confident humility – noting how excited you are to learn about the work in real-life, see the company from the ground-up, just getting to do good work that helps people, etc. Make it clear that you don’t think you are too good for entry-level work, that sort of thing.

  24. Fluffyfish*

    If you haven’t already, consider applying for jobs tangential to your field. This may be something like an:
    -administrative role in stead of a sme role
    -a vendor that supplies a company in your field
    -a seemingly unrelated job but that has similar transferable skills such as project management

    Also look at Alison’s advice on resumes and cover letters. Make sure you are truly tailoring them to the role. If it’s an unrelated field but transferrable skills – make sure you’re highlighting those skills, not the ones specific to your field. If it’s a job that you may appear “overqualified” for, there’s no rule that says you have to put EVERYTHING on your resume. It’s a screenshot of your education and experience, not an autobiography.

    Finally, if you haven’t, see it there’s other areas of the state, region, country that might have more opportunities than where you are now.

    I’m so sorry you’ve had such a rough time. I know it’s a blow and can really make you question yourself. Please remember it’s not you – it’s not personal.

    I’m rooting for you as I’m sure is the entire askamanager commentariat.

    1. DivineMissL*

      I agree with Fluffyfish. An entry-level job or a job that is associated with what you want to do is a good start. You can develop job skills and experience that can later be transferred to other positions. It may not be the fastest route, but it is a step in the right direction. That entry level job may not pay as well, but it’s employment experience, and it may be close to the discounted rate you’re willing to settle for anyway. You could SHINE at that entry level job and get noticed by the right people.

      As a hiring manager, I want to hire the person who is best qualified for the job; if they aren’t, it’s a waste of their time as well as my company’s. If they aren’t the right person, they won’t be successful and we just have to start looking for the right person all over again. And then that person has to explain the short-term job, or employment gap, on their resume.

  25. A Rusted Fence*

    Here’s a piece of advice I give everyone: reduce your job hunt parameters.

    Who gets hired the quickest?

    1. Mechanic who can work on any kind of engine (car, boat, motorcycle, you name it, they can fix it)
    2. Mechanic who works on any kind of automotive engine
    3. Mechanic who only works on automotive diesel engines
    4. Mechanic who only works on big-rig diesel engines
    5. Mechanic who only works on Cummins big-rig diesel engines

    The answer is 5. The person who can do anything; the Jack of all trades, is the last to be hired.

    Employers have a problem. They aren’t looking for someone that can fix every problem in the business, they are looking for someone to fix that specific problem. You have to present yourself as the solution to THAT problem.

    Your resume, LinkedIn profile, and anything else should shout that you are the perfect candidate for [some-job-title]. If something is in your resume that distracts from that point, get rid of it. You don’t have to put your life’s history in your resume.

    Pick your career, pick your job-title, and focus in on that like a laser. Every bit of documentation you produce, every question you answer, every everything should make it look like you are a great candidate for that job-title.

    1. irene adler*

      This is probably the wisest piece of job hunting advice I’ve ever read.
      Probably the ready I can’t get hired. I’m a #1.

    2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Unless you work in Communications and Marketing where you kind of are expected to be a jack of all trades.

    3. A. Reader*

      This only works if there’s a significant market for people who work on Cummins big-rig diesel engines. Otherwise you might specialize yourself out of a job!

      If you’re going to pick a specialty, pick a timeless specialty, like healthcare or IT security. Don’t pick aerospace engineering (which was only hot when the US was fighting Russia) or NFTs (which are super hot now for some reason).

    4. linger*

      Though note, the smaller the company (and the smaller the population served), the greater the probability that they really do want a generalist — but the advice still holds, in that you should include details supporting your competence level in multiple facets of the position (and also in multi-tasking).

  26. Former Retail Lifer*

    OP, I’ve been reading Ask A Manager for over a decade and I’d like to think I can create a better cover letter and resume and prepare for interviews better than the average person. Despite that, I may be losing my job soon and I’ve been applying to anything and everything that I’m even remotely qualified for that has a salary I can live on, and…nothing. For three months. I’ve applied to over a hundred jobs, spoken with six recruiters, made it to one second interview, and had no offers. The narrative that it is a job seeker’s market is only true in some fields. In others, like mine and anything else I may be qualified for, there just aren’t a ton of jobs and the competition is just as tough as it was before the pandemic. I don’t have any good advice, but luckily Alison and lots of other commenters do. I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone and this is even happening to those of us that have lots of job experience.

  27. RuralGirl*

    My first instinct is to say that perhaps LW should shoot a little lower and get some good job experience. If I got a resume from someone who had two degrees and no work experience and who hasn’t been doing anything for a year and a half I would be at least a little concerned.

  28. first gen friend*

    Not that this will help OP, but this is why I always advise undergrads to work for at least a year before going to grad school, especially if you don’t work during undergrad. Your masters education will only be more valuable when you have some work experience behind it!

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Honestly, as a grad student, in this economy I’d only advise going to grad school at all if the college is willing to pay you to go there. :p

    2. Mewtwo*

      While this is ideal, it’s not always an option. I worked minimum wage service jobs in college and they did not set me up for success in the job market during the recession. I got a fellowship to go to grad school so I did. It was the best option for me at the time even if not the ideal one.

      Remember that different people have different sets of options to choose from.

  29. Bronin*

    Volunteer, temp work, professional certifications. I was underemployed for a year after grad school like op, but I got by by signing up for every single temp agency in the area and checking in every couple days.

    If OP is going into entry level IT, professional certifications also catch the eyes of HR and recruiter in my experience. CompTIA, Microsoft O365, etc.


    I will say this:
    Insurance companies are always hiring. Not just call center, but claims examiners, policy reviewers, new business case set ups, account managers, financial analysts. Insurance in any aspect-Property and Casualty (think home and auto), health/welfare (medical, dental, vision), and ancillary (disability, leaves of absence, critical illness) carriers are always hiring. It may not be what you want to do but it is a great way to get solid work experience on your resume and break into an industry.

    I went to school for something completely separate and I’m at the top of my industry as an Account Executive because I was able to move into positions due to turnover and promotions. It gives job experience without having to do retail or food positions.

    1. Fran Fine*

      I second the insurance recommendation as a former in-house claims adjuster who took the role because it used many of the skills I went to school for (investigation, interviewing, writing, etc.). Insurance companies also have many trainee program where you get paid to learn on the job (that’s how I got into it), and then once you graduate from the program, you’ll be promoted into a permanent position. I went into commercial P&C insurance and really thought I would stay there for the rest of my career, but sadly, I experienced extreme burnout from handling CAT property claims and changed fields. But I have zero regrets about my time in insurance, and it can be a wonderful, lifelong career if you pick the right path within the industry.

  31. Beth*

    OP, I agree that you shouldn’t offer to take a job for a lower salary than their posted range. But I do wonder whether you should be applying to jobs with lower posted ranges. If you’ve been applying to mid- or higher-level positions and not having them work out, and you have the financial leeway to accept a less well-compensated role, then looking at lower-level roles might be the way to go. Hopefully that will position you on the more skilled and more experienced end of the hiring pool–which could be especially useful if you’ve had several interview processes where you did well but they went with a more experienced/qualified candidate.

    1. Dr. Hyphem*

      I agree, and honestly I would frame this entirely around looking for more junior roles and not even thinking about the salary range.

  32. Simply Stephanie*

    If your field has a professional organization be sure to attend events. I manage a few groups and I love when a newbie calls. I invite them to the next event at no charge and assign them to our chapter president. The Who you know really helps.

  33. Cynara C*

    If you volunteer for a non-profit (hopefully one that has a good volunteer management program, they can vary widely), one idea is to check out who is on the board and in your industry or a complementary one. Be ready to chat with them if the chance arises (but I’d be sure to treat it as an opportunity to actually chat and be interested and interesting…you’re just making a connection initially). That is not really a short-term strategy for getting a job, but could still be helpful in the long run. If you can find volunteer gigs that use or develop your professional skills, those can be solid. For example, you don’t have to be an accountant to volunteer for the VITA program to help low income folks file their taxes. And a lot of big accounting firms will have their staff volunteer (or did a few years ago) for VITA, there were a bunch of them the year I did it. They also offered training; you just had to pass the quiz/test before you were matched with a site. I know in my city there are also opportunities to volunteer in law-adjacent roles that would be decent experience with client intake, assisting with case management, and that sort of thing.

  34. onyxzinnia*

    OP, I feel for you. I was in an identical situation during the Great Recession and it’s not easy. Most of the entry level jobs don’t consider your application because of the advanced degree, but you don’t have the experience for the next step up.

    I echo everyone else’s advice to try temping. Sign up with every relevant temp agency in town and check in with them about your availability weekly so you are top of mind when a new assignment comes in. Temping is a great way to try out different offices/industries/roles and see were you might be a fit. In addition, when you’re on future interviews, you’ll be able to talk about real life examples rather than hypotheticals. If you’re on a longer temp assignment, you can build relationships with folks in the office while gaining professional skills and even learn about upcoming internal opportunities. This is how I got my very first job, I was a temp at an insurance agency cleaning up their computer database and interviewed for a customer success role in a different department that I never would have heard about otherwise.

    I’d also recommend checking out your desired industry’s professional association to network with people in your field. If you can afford it, look into in-demand certifications to help bolster your professional experience.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Temping used to be a great way to gain some experience at a variety of companies. But to be honest, it doesn’t seem to be a prevalent as it once was. At least it feels that way to me. Could be just that my company doesn’t hire temps very much though.

  35. Jamboree*

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, but LW needs to be mindful of the mathematics. Every raise they get at this job will likely be a %age so agreeing to start at lower pay will mean lower increases year over year. And then when they decide to leave this company there’s a good chance that a question they’re going to get in the first interview will be some iteration of “what are you paid now?”

    1. PR hirer*

      Except asking people what they’re paid is illegal in some states and should be illegal everywhere.

      AAM has some good scripts to deflect these questions.

  36. Higher Ed*

    If you are looking for short term employment, some areas are desperate for substitute teachers. Or signing on to be an adjunct at a local college or university? Is this an option OP?

  37. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    I wish I had more advice (though there appears to be plenty in the comments in addition to Alison’s) but I just want to echo Alison’s “Don’t do it”! I accepted a lowball offer years ago because I was desperate to get out of contract work and, frankly, I didn’t know better, and I know for a fact I continue to be underpaid (and this is after a title bump, a pay increase to go along with it, and an out-of-the-blue pay increase that occurred only because my company was attempting to hire another person with my skill set at my salary and couldn’t find anyone. Thankfully, my boss doesn’t suck, so they took that information and requested that I get a raise rather than trying to fully exploit me indefinitely, but I am positive I’m being paid under market for what I do.) All you’re doing is setting yourself up to be underpaid long-term because it’s unlikely they’ll suddenly give you a massive bump to get you up to a fair wage years down the road just for fun.

  38. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    I’ll 100th the advice to temp. I didn’t think it was good advice during my last job search, but when I finally bit the bullet, I had a new job STARTED two weeks later. Such a relief! Do note that you’ll want to call them on an actual phone. They don’t respond to applications very well, at least when I was searching 3 years ago. Yep, it’s stupid, but give them a ring.

    If temping doesn’t work out, I’d recommend production jobs over food service or retail. It’s got regular, full time hours, insurance and PTO, decent wages, and you don’t have to work with the public. Plus the market is desperate for staff, at least around here. You’ve got to be ok with working with blue collar folks and coming home dirty though.

  39. Anonymous Educator*

    There’s a huge difference between telling yourself “I’m willing to take a job that pays less than I want” and telling a potential employer “I know you have X budgeted for the position, but I’ll work for less than X if you hire me.”

    It’s okay to take a pay cut or work for less than you’d originally wanted, but you shouldn’t ask them to pay you less than they’ve budgeted.

  40. Dr. Hyphem*

    Allison and the commentariat have offered some great advice, but this reminds me of a place I was in a few years ago, and there is something I will add, that I don’t see anyone mentioning:

    If you are, in any way, attaching a salary to yourself as your value, stop it this instance. If your desire to ask for under budget comes from a place of “I haven’t been hired, so clearly they don’t think I’m worth $XX,XXX, maybe if I pre-empt by making clear that I know I’m a $YY,YYY person, they’ll consider it.” I’ve been there. At my mosts desperate to find a job, I thought- I didn’t get this $38,000 job, I must just be a $35,000 person. That is not how any of it works. If you apply for a job and don’t get an offer, I promise you they are not thinking “This person does not deserve to make the salary we have budgeted for this role” they’re thinking about finding the candidate who is the best fit for the role. (That’s not to say they don’t look at the candidate’s skills and experience and place them somewhere within the range they have budgeted, but they aren’t out there thinking about it in the terms I described above).

    (And if you’re a finalist, it’s probably not a problem with you as it is that there is another person who has skills more aligned with what they are looking for, which, I know, is cold comfort when you are getting increasingly burnt out on job hunting).

  41. Dr. Hyphem*

    Also, some really really tactical advice: Other commenters have hinted at maybe you’re setting your sights somewhat high in terms of seniority level of the role, or it’s possible that you don’t know where you stack up compared to roles relative to your experience and education level. You probably want entry level or just above entry level. Some Pointers:

    * Learn what terms are generally used in your field to denote level of role. There can be a range of titles and they’re not always the same, but some general advice: “Coordinator” is, in many fields, entry level or otherwise fairly junior. If it has a roman numeral after the title Analyst I, Analyst II, etc, the higher the number, the more senior it is. If a company structures their titles Analyst, Senior Analyst, Lead Analyst, those are listed in order of seniority, respectively. “Manager” in the title may denote managing people or it may denote leading teams without responsibility for management. “Director” is typically above “Manager”.

    *Look on LinkedIn at people in your desired field/or possible fields who are senior or even mid-career. Look at the titles they had when they were starting out in the field, particularly their first job in the field. Look for positions with similar titles.

    * Are there specific tools you used regularly in your internships and/or coursework? (Software, research methods, etc). Use those as a search term and look for positions that would have a comparable level of skill (be honest about your skill level though!) You want to target junior roles–other commenters have said entry level, but if you have a skillset that more or less matches based on your experience in your internship and degree program, you might be able to find a junior role above entry level.

  42. Jewel*

    Temping was the first thing that sprang to mind. Not only will you get a steady stream of work you can pick and choose from, you can try out a bunch of industries to see what you do and don’t like. You get time to see how the office operates and know when you want to walk or be open to extending the temp stay if needed or (ideally) are offered a full time position there — all while earning real world experience. It’s a win-win for everyone.

  43. A. Reader*

    I’ve done this in scientific research labs. It’s hard to get funding for undergrads and a lot of professors will be happier to take you on if you offer to work for free. It went very well for me because I graduated college with a lot of publications and went to a top PhD program.

    In general, offering to work for free will probably go over better than offering to work for lower pay. Saying “I’m not in this for the money” is more impressive than “I want money, but you can give me less of it.”

  44. Bookworm*

    I wouldn’t tell them in this way–as Alison says, it could be a way for them to exploit you and even if you don’t have the same level of experience as others have, that doesn’t mean you should be exploited for that.

    Good luck!!

  45. toolittletoolate*

    As someone with an advanced degree, I am here to say that many of them don’t provide the return on investment or opportunities for more senior roles that you think they will. I personally think most people would do far better to get the undergrad degree, work a few years, and then decide about grad school.

  46. Bethie*

    Not sure if it is helpful, but I worked in the courts and as a paralegal. I went back and got my masters, but I was really 3 years out from undergrad with little work experience. And I was applying for jobs and getting interviews …without any offer. Organically I ended up doing grant work for a non profit and then paralegal work for my state. I ended up about 4 years later accepting a position in an office where I previously interviewed for the Assistant Director position. Oh boy, was I not qualified back then. 6 years in this job and I am not qualified to be AD, but on paper I looked good.

    As someone said above I was over and under qualified for most jobs I wanted. I hated being a paralegal, but its a specific skill set with no supervision duties. So, I started at the bottom and learned some new skills. Grant writing and fundraising, legal work for the state (which was more legal that para legal), and made contacts in other departments. Moved around and finally ended up at the job I wanted originally. Making 2 times what I made to start with.

    Also want to add we hire a lot of contractors in my department who we try to turn permanent when position come up.

  47. Currently Bill*

    LW1: There are lots of comments about getting more experience being able to add more stuff to a resume, and that’s great, but I think we need to break this down a little further.

    The fact is, your resume works. The job of a resume is to get you an interview. It’s doing that. You’re applying for jobs and companies with those openings see your resume and based on that, you are getting interviews.

    You also mentioned that you are losing out in final interviews, which means screeners and early process interviewers think your skill set and experience and presentation means you are likely close enough to being a fit that it’s worth their boss’s time to interview you.

    The problem is in that final interview. Are you consistently getting beaten out by someone just a little better? Are you interviewing poorly in the final interview? Is the volume of final interviews you’re getting just not high enough and it’s just a numbers game? I don’t know.

    But as you go through the process, take a look at that final piece.

    Don’t ask for less than they’re offering. They know what they can afford. Further, asking for — and getting — less will depress wages for your colleagues. After all, why should an employer give a raise to other employees when you’ve just proven that the role is already “overpaid.”

    So add more experience if you can, do more networking. All those things are good.

    But focus on where the problem is — those final interviews.

  48. Mewtwo*

    Omg I was in this exact situation out of grad school. I don’t regret doing grad school when I did, but also employers are cheap and didn’t want to pay me a grad school salary with no experience. Here are some things that worked for me, but definitely consider all your options:

    Leaving my graduate degree off of my resume

    Doing short-term and part-time contract work

    Doing volunteer work if you can afford it

    1. Mewtwo*

      I also want to mention that if you’re getting to the final interview stages, you’re probably actually fine as a candidate and you just have bad luck. However, just keep interviewing and you will eventually be the candidate they choose. I’ve been both the perpetual runner-up candidate and now sit in on interview panels and hiring decisions and honestly it comes down to random chance.

    2. WhatAMaroon*

      Just my 2 cents on the “ cheap and didn’t want to pay me a grad school salary with no experience” from the other side. Without some working experience, while grad students may have a lot of knowledge and expertise without the work experience, they don’t really have the experience on how to effectively apply that experience yet. And that’s a decent amount of training and work and is an investment that may or not may workout. So I’m happy to bring someone in lower, teach them that stuff and then champion their promotions quicker and big salary raises because once they learn the work stuff they actually can apply their deeper expertise and deliver that value.

      1. Mewtwo*

        That’s fine but employers don’t want to do that either in my experience! They don’t want to train. They want candidates they can pay entry level but have enough experience that they don’t have to train at all. You have to invest one way or another.

  49. Dawn*

    If there’s something I wish someone would tell ALL grad students long before they graduate, it is this: **you may not be able to get work in your field directly out of school**.

    It’s something I see time and again with recent graduates; they’ll stay unemployed indefinitely because they look down on positions that aren’t in their field/don’t use their degrees but sometimes those positions just aren’t there, and sometimes they are but you’re competing against people who have 20 years in the industry. Right now there’s still a lot of people in the job market who were laid off due to COVID, and I’m sorry to say, you might need to accept employment outside of your field just to put SOME experience on your resume and some money in your bank account.

    Any experience is better than no experience, and a lot of hiring managers are going to be giving side-eye to a candidate with little to no work history who will spend 2+ years unemployed rather than take work outside of their graduate field.

    1. Mewtwo*

      Yeah – I got a position in my grad school field eventually, but only because I side-stepped into an adjacent field for 3 years before pivoting back. This is common in very saturated fields. Not a lot of entry level roles but a few mid level roles for people with the right skillset.

    2. pancakes*

      Do you have the sense the letter writer doesn’t know that? Or other recent grad school grads, more generally? They can’t turn back the clock and not go. Perhaps the university administrators and loan officers, etc., who make their living off these students should also be looking at whether the number of graduates their programs produce is sustainable.

  50. Middle Name Danger*

    Even if someone would hire you for less than posted, please don’t do that. You’re devaluing not only your own work but the work of your peers.

    I see it all the time in my area of freelancing. It’s a really competitive area that people think is very cool to work in. People who are new, trying to break in, and have a financial cushion come in and underbid professionals, and then their clients start expecting that they can get those services for free or cheap, and bristle at very reasonable prices.

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