Thoughts for the Recent, Unemployed Graduate

You worked long and hard, earned a degree, and pursued employment during your last year in college, but were unsuccessful and are unemployed. You may have moved back home. Now what?

Please consider the following thoughts. Some may help you obtain the entry-level professional position you dreamed about while doing your studies. Others will enable you to support yourself and continue to develop your knowledge and skills. Now is the time to proactively travel the road toward career security.

  • Devote at least 40 hours per week in systematically and proactively seeking a position. Make seeking a job a job. During at least those 40 hours, speak, dress, and behave professionally. Are you a morning person or a night person, a lark or an owl? If you are a morning person, get up early and start working bright and early at least five days a week. An evening person? Create and follow a compatible schedule.
  • Stay in touch with selected faculty at your alma mater. Some professors are connected with private and public employers and will be among the first to know about employment opportunities. You know who those “profs” are.
  • Use your network—friends, relatives, neighbors, former teachers and professors, former employers, and individuals where you interned or co-oped. This is not the time to be embarrassed about your unemployment. Assuming you made a credible effort to find a position while in college, you are a victim of circumstance.
  • Get a part-time job, even though it is not likely to be in an area and at a level commensurate with your recently acquired college degree. That job will help you cover your subsistence costs, whether you’re temporarily living with parents, immediate family, or others. The part-time work will also demonstrate your initiative, persistence, and sense of responsibility to potential employers. Do this in addition to your search for a “real” job.
  • Assume you cannot obtain part-time employment, or don’t want or need to, then consider becoming a volunteer. For example, do some tutoring or teaching. If carefully selected, volunteer work can enable you to use some of the knowledge and skill acquired during your college education while being of service to others.
  • Perhaps now is the time to polish some of those nontechnical or “soft-side” knowledge and skills that were only introduced as part of your college education. For example, confront your speaking fear, study team essentials, learn about risk analysis, review project management principles and practices, and refine your understanding of quality control and quality assurance.
  • Regardless of the geographic breadth of your search for that first position, seek out local contacts. For example, you are likely to find a local engineering firm or a government entity with an engineering office. Ask to visit with them and not necessarily because they have openings. You and they share the same profession, they have connections, and they may be willing to connect you and/or offer advice. You might even pick up part-time employment. Good things can happen but you have to mix the pot, be the catalyst.
  • You may be tempted, during very difficult times, to compromise your character, as in, for example, embellishing your resume or your academic record. Instead, vigorously protect your reputation. Don’t assume that an indiscretion will be hidden or overlooked later. Experience suggests that while good news about you will travel fast and wide, bad news travels faster and wider.

Be proactive, persistent, work smart, and have faith. As noted by President Lincoln, “Our attitude is the only difference between success and failure.” The cream does rise to the top.


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