I'm not going to sugarcoat it: Graduating without a job was terrifying. That terror was really heightened by the fact that it seemed as if just about every one of my friends got jobs before I did by graduation. But I'm here to tell you that you can, in fact, survive that terror. You will get a job, and this time without one will feel like a blip.
I can promise you this because I went through it. As an economics major, a huge chunk of my classmates had swanky banking and consulting positions lined up well before graduation. As much as I enjoyed letting them take me out with their signing bonuses, each friend's new job was like a little twist pointing to my inadequacy. This was especially hard because I'd generally always been successful; I got into my first-choice school early decision and landed ideal internships throughout college. It was hard to even accept that I was struggling to make something work. I reminded myself constantly that I wasn't going into banking, and the job cycle for my chosen industry (media) was much different. But then a classmate would land a fellowship at The New York Times or The Atlantic and I'd crumble all over again.
It felt like everyone had a job or grad school lined up by May, and I was scared to tell anyone I barely had a lead. But by opening up, I very quickly realized I was far from the only person graduating without a clue of what would be next. The thing is, it's easy to shout about your achievements, but it's difficult to say what's not working, which is why it felt like I was the only one without a plan. We're not exactly out here posting statuses about not hearing back on applications, after all.
"Just because you don’t have a great offer now doesn't mean you’ll never get one," Maura Koutoujian, a career coach with Jody Michael Associates, tells Elite Daily. "Let go of some of the pressure."
It is really, really not unusual to graduate without a job, no matter how it feels (especially if you're not going corporate or a STEM major, Lesley Mitler, co-founder of Early Stage Careers, tells Elite Daily, citing hiring cycles). A 2016 survey of 503 recent college graduates by GradStaff found that 86 percent of them had no job offers pending. Meanwhile, job prospects are hugely impacted by economic factors (look at me, finally putting my degree to use!) that grads have no control over. And aside from statistics, there's the realities of the job application process. "Statistically, it takes about 7.4 months from the time a college senior initiates a job search to be employed," Mitler says, cautioning that this varies by factors like industry and your experience.
Plus, it often makes sense to wait for the right job. "Never panic about not having a job, because you’ll then take any job, and most likely be underemployed," Nadine Varca Bilotta and Nancy Thomas of Complete Candidate tell Elite Daily. "We see many clients who are out of college a year or two, and because they took the wrong job just to take a job at graduation, they now need help with a job search that can lead to their career goals."
So, I graduated without a job. I had some privileges here: I didn't need to make money immediately, I could live at home, and I didn't have immigration status pressures to deal with. I moved back to the suburbs and spent seemingly endless days going to my local gym, writing cover letters, then going to the gym again because I had nothing better to do. The break in the monotony was doing informational interviews and landing freelance pieces. I felt like I was losing my mind some days, especially because I had few people to hang out with since everyone was either not in the suburbs or already had a job keeping them busy.
Koutoujian suggests you "keep staying engaged [in the area you're interested in], just keep reading and talking about it, find a meet-up." Find ways to be involved in what you like, even if it's not a job; for instance, if you like science, volunteer at a science museum. "It sounds corny, but really it’s nice, it’s fun! It really can make a difference, because you’re staying engaged in what you are about. Get away from thinking that every single thing we do has to get us a job." You can also use the time, Mitler suggests, to get an internship and build skills, including getting "certifications or badges to verify your level of competency and capabilities in certain areas."
And if you're networking (which is suggested by the experts), "think about how to build your network; treat it as a noun, not a verb," Koutoujian says. Don't just barrel in to an event asking for a job; have real conversations and make actual connections.
In addition to networking and freelancing, I got to go to my friend's graduation, see my cousin off to junior prom, spend a weekend with high school friends upstate, help my parents temporarily move to Boston (long story), and take family from Italy to visit the Washington monuments when they came stateside. My best friend from college was also #funemployed, as we joked with strained smiles, and we bonded over going to the gym and writing cover letters and going to the gym and writing cover letters. We also started a new tradition of spending the Fourth of July wandering around New York without a plan. Aimlessness: It can lead to fireworks!
It made for lots of great Instagram posts, and I know you're expecting me to say those experiences made up for the joblessness. But let's be real: I needed a job ASAP or I was going to lose it. Those experiences were useful in that they forced me not to isolate myself, which was seriously a blessing. And while obviously I'm glad I got to do those things, it was shaded by the fact that I was totally panicking. This is where something like a meet-up would have helped me, Koutoujian says, as "it’s important to realize that you’re not the only one, and if you’ve got some crazy idea or you’re feeling lonely or frustrated, other people are, too."
You can also get out of the monotony of applications by putting in real work on the ones you care about. Landing a job, per Bilotta and Thomas, "also depends on how a person packages themselves, and does their packaging match the job description they’re applying to? Oftentimes, that in itself is a stumbling block, because a person keeps applying to either the wrong jobs or with the wrong packaging, and can’t figure out why, after 300 applications, they haven’t received any positive activity."
By August, I put in that specified work and was finally in the middle of a process for an awesome post-grad fellowship position when I had to go to Greece for a wedding. So while I was posting pretty pictures of myself looking carefree like this:
On the inside, I felt like this:
I did everything I could to get that fellowship, including spending a day holed up in a hotel room in Mykonos to do a Skype interview and an edit test because I knew I couldn't risk someone else getting the job all because I had to go see my cousin get married on a gorgeous island with finicky wifi. "It’s not just about time, it’s about effort," Koutoujian says about the application process — you should be sending follow-up and thank you notes, building relationships, and so on.
By the time I got back home, I landed the job. My start date was in September, and my summer of panic was over. By the next Fourth of July, as my best friend and I wandered New York in search of fireworks, I was funemployed again as the fellowship had just ended.
This time around, though, I knew the reality: This will suck for some time, but something will work out. And then the awfulness will be over. Just have patience, put in the work, talk to professional contacts, don't isolate yourself, and keep sending in those applications — with care. Be open to new ideas about work or what type of company you think you're supposed to be in. This will not last forever. I promise.