Career tips for out-of-work college grads

I graduated from Penn State with a finance degree in 2002, just eight months after Sept. 11.

Jobs on Wall Street and in the financial industry were scarce...less so than now, but I remember it was no fun time to enter the workforce. So, fearing rejection I did what many of my scaredy-pants classmates chose to do: duck inside grad school and wait it out.

Now as college students finish up their degrees this month, it's like deja vu times ten. The Atlanta Journal Constitution recently mentions how companies plan to hire 22% fewer new college grads this year, citing The National Association of Colleges and Employers.

But don't worry. There are fine ways to bite the bullet. Going back to grad school isn't the only alternative. Luckily, grad school worked out for me in the end, but it's a personal decision and just because your friends are doing it, doesn't mean you should.

For one, it's pricey. On average, grad students owe about $30,000 upon completing a master's program, according to Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions. And who's to say you'll even get in? I know you're wicked smart, but competition is rising. Princeton, for example, saw 2009-2010 applications go up 10% and The University of North Carolina is reporting a 9% rise in graduate applicants.

As you read along, know that the bottom line here is you want to stay active and relevant. You want to be able to "show off your time-off." Just because you don't have a full-time job earning $50,000 upon graduation doesn't mean you're road kill. As you go about your job search, invest in yourself and your employability by considering these options:

Be A Glorified Intern.
There's no shame in taking on yet another internship, even after graduating from college. Be a glorified unpaid intern, even if it's for just a few days a week. This will put you in the face of decision makers, and when the economy recovers you're likely to be among the first to get hired. That said, some employers only take on interns that can receive "school credit" so be prepared for that. As an alternative, suggest that you come to "shadow" or "volunteer" for a couple days a week. Labor laws will limit exactly how much work you can take on for "free," but there is value in coming in early, staying late and showing initiative.

Spend a few days volunteering at a non-profit where you can invest your time and add experience and skills to your resume. Not to mention, it's a great way to network and give back to the community. This is a popular alternative right now. Teach for America's applications, for example, are up 40% this year from college students.

Work Out a Deal with Mom and Dad. Volunteering or "working for free" is a hard way to pay all your bills. As a result, living back home with mom and dad or boomeranging is a fast-growing option for young adults. According to the 2007 US census, 55% of men and 48% of women ages 18 to 24 are shacking up with their parents. This can be a great way to make ends meet, but parents you've been warned! Do your kids a favor and stay strict. Set your expectations, have a time-line of when you expect junior to be independent and give him chores. Make him earn the financial benefits of living at home, so he won't be too tempted to return when he's 40 and divorced.

Go Abroad. There are paid programs overseas, particularly in developing nations, that will pay college students to teach English. I have a friend who is going to South Korea to teach English starting this fall, after getting laid-off last summer. He figures it will be a way to learn a foreign language, make money, have a unique international experience and spend time away while the job market in the U.S. picks up.

Keep Your Profile Updated Online and Off. Sure, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and resume hotspot LinkedIn can help further your job search, but don't forget the importance of face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact with your friends, relatives, mentors, neighbors, fellow alumni, etc., people may be able to point you to insiders at companies. Make sure to keep your career services department at your college updated on your whereabouts and how your job search is going. And definitely join your local alumni chapter to keep in touch with fellow classmates. Graduating from a school with 50,000 students at any given time, my PSU alumni family has been an invaluable resource for me. To learn about opportunities check The Fulbright Program's web site and

Enrich Yourself. Visit museums and galleries, read more books, learn 50 ways to cook salmon, start drawing, go through old photo albums, exercise more, help an old lady cross the street, have conversations with strangers, go to the movies in the middle of the day and heck -- watch Millionaire Matchmaker,Dancing with the Stars and whatever guilty pleasures on TV you have but never had time to watch. Indulge in life. It will make you more interesting and a cooler person in the interview room.
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