Lola's Quest to Find the Ideal Job Part One: Job Search Begins

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job searchWhat's a poor girl to do with a college degree in this economy? If you graduated in the last few years, you know it's been harder than ever to land a decent job -- or any job, for that matter. While the national unemployment rate hovers around 9.5 percent, the rate for workers ages 16-24 is 19.6 percent -- the highest it's ever been since they started recording data in 1947. One in five people in that age group is unemployed. I'm one of them.

The dream of living off of a trust fund was thwarted the day I was born, and I'll probably be waiting until the day I die to collect a juicy inheritance from a rich relative. So landing a sustainable job is really my only option. For the right job, I'd go just about anywhere. But, like most of my peers in their early 20s, I have no idea what that right job might be. There are so many jobs out there I've never even heard of, and so many interesting cities I've never even visited.

One thing in the young job seeker's favor is that this is not the worst time to be undecided. Even those who have known what they wanted to do since they were children are having difficulty finding jobs. People (including my parents) are far more understanding of my unemployed status. Gaps on the resume are not as damaging as they used to be -- everyone has them. Besides, it's not like I haven't been working at all.


In the same boat

Immediately after I graduated in finance, I secured a great job with a commercial real estate investment firm in the San Francisco Bay area. I loved my job, but I felt the urge to donate my time to charitable causes. Overconfident about the job market in those days, I did a stint as a volunteer worker, and when I returned, the recession had set in. The field of real estate investment was anything but stable.

At that point, education seemed like a safe bet, so I went back to school to get my teaching degree. But that wasn't what I expected either. As it turns out, the teaching market for the subjects I'm interested in is pretty saturated these days. Certified teachers, both elementary and secondary, are experiencing trouble finding -- and in some instances even maintaining -- employment. After two semesters of school and much thought, I decided that taking out more loans and incurring more debt for a job that I might never get was too risky.

With all the competition from people with years of experience, I couldn't even get a summer job in retail. So when my aunt, Lisa Johnson Mandell, AOL Jobs editor and author of 'Career Comeback--Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want,' offered to take me with her as her assistant on a weeklong business trip to the East Coast (where I'd never been), I jumped at the chance. She said if she can't help her own niece find work, who can she help?

She would be doing career makeovers for AOL at a professional women's conference in Boston sponsored by the Diva Toolbox. I would be able to speak to people in myriad professions. Then she would take me to New York and introduce me to the Big Apple, as well as professionals there. Plus, she promised to throw in a Broadway play and some killer food. Who would say no to that?


Join me on my ride

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to take you along with me. If you're young, recently graduated and can't find a job, maybe my insights will help you. I talked with people with fascinating jobs, and to be honest, not-so-fascinating jobs -- and I bet you'll be surprised by which ones were the most appealing and which ones made me want to just get married and start having kids. (Hint: TV news is not as glamorous as it looks.)

The jobs I investigated include:

  • Retail sales and merchandising
  • Photography
  • Career/Life coaching (I'd never even heard of a "vision board")
  • Journalism (broadcast, print and Internet)
  • Direct sales (that's multi-level marketing)
  • Cosmetology
  • Hard hat construction
  • Film reviewer
  • Professional student (if you can get scholarships and grants, it can be pretty sweet)
  • Public Relations
  • Publishing
  • Taxi driver
  • Food service (I wasn't really interested in that, but our server was really cute and I wanted to talk to him)
  • Production assistant (they made up a position for me, called "Slatrix")
  • Stylist

Here's hoping that by the end of this trip, we'll all have a better chance of finding the ideal job -- and know it when we see it.

Next: Lola's look into retail sales and merchandising

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