Graduating into a weak job market: Steps to consider

Looking through recent articles about college students, I keep seeing the same basic suggestions: minimize loans, don't get a credit card, pay your bills, and keep track of your spending. While these are certainly useful little tidbits of advice, they don't really address the largest problem that is currently facing students: the economy.

In some ways, college students are sort of like the canaries that miners used to carry with them. Given that they have shallower pockets and have not yet fully entered the job market, they are much more susceptible to downturns in the economy. From having to survive on ever-decreasing resources to trying to find work in a sluggish job market, students are having to make difficult decisions before they even get their diplomas. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for the soon-to-be graduated about ways to weather a very difficult economic storm.

Stay in School

Years ago, as my college graduation date neared, I found myself about to enter an economy that was firmly entrenched in the doldrums. Facing a depressed job market and carrying a fair chunk of student loan debt, I decided to look into graduate school. Within a few months, I was working on a Master's degree and, when I finished the program, I found myself in a much stronger job market with a degree that opened quite a few doors.

While graduate school helped me out, however, it is worth noting that I didn't have to pay for it. My assistantship not only covered my tuition, but it also gave me valuable experience in front of the classroom. In fact, my friends who footed the bill for their graduate education were in a much rougher situation than I; not only did they have to face greater student loan debt, but they also had very light resumes. When it comes to graduate school, an old adage holds true: if you have to pay for it, you probably shouldn't be there.

Help Others
While teaching kids in Cape Verde for a few years might not be part of your long-term plan, the Peace Corps can be an outstanding choice if you have a looming graduation date and no idea what to do next. In addition to giving you the opportunity to learn a new language and live in a completely different world, it can also provide you with the chance to find real-world applications for the skills that you just spent four years learning. Moreover, it looks great on your resume. For people who are skittish about going overseas, Teach for America and Americorp are both great domestic options.

If you're dying to enter the workforce but can't find a decent job, you might consider temping. While it generally pays less than a full-time job and usually doesn't have benefits, it can offer you freedom, flexibility, and an outstanding glimpse into the job market. Whether your job is in the human resources department of a Fortune 500 company or the accounts receivable office of a medium-sized engineering firm, temping can give you a feel for the way that businesses are actually run. An added benefit is that the temp market is usually recession-proof.

Even in the best of times, it can be difficult to find one's place in the economy; in tough times, the ability to hit the ground running becomes a vital skill. With this in mind, it's a good idea to consider the options that are available and the best way to survive before you get your diploma!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. His least favorite job was probably working in an HR office.
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