5 Ways to Make Lemonade When the Post-Graduation Job Hunt Gives You Lemons

With the bulk of your educational journey well behind you last fall, odds are you were either thinking about or well on your way through a job hunt, excited for your first post-college career. The grades were locked down. You were researching job options, honing your resume and getting ready to start applying. Graduation was within sight. Then BAM! Sometimes you can do everything right and still hit a wall. In this case, coronavirus — and the economic free-fall that has resulted from it. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. When the job search doesn’t go as expected, there are things you can do.

Here are five ways to tide you over — or help you switch gears — when your post-graduation job hunt doesn’t go as planned because of a terrible job market.

1.   Keep the cash flow flowing

You’ve graduated from college, tapped into your network and applied for the few perfect jobs that have come up — with no luck. It’s been weeks, or longer, and still no bites. What happens if you can’t afford to wait for the exact right opportunity? When the financial realities override the dream, you may need to take a “survival” job. Start by calculating how much income you need to make ends meet. Then scan the job listings for something that fits your schedule, pays the bills and gives you enough time to continue your job search. Grocery stores, big box stores and delivery services are all hiring. Driving and customer service jobs are available too. Dream job? No. But it will give you the money you need while you wait for the economy to rebound — and career opportunity to knock.

2.   Consider gig work

To make ends meet and keep busy while you’re searching for “the” job, there are a variety of virtual and gig jobs you may be able to get. Become a virtual tutor for middle or high school students in math, English, science or languages. Companies often hire freelancers for help with everything from writing, graphic design and customer service to software development, web design and other tech jobs. And when you’re not at work, you can continue on with your job search. Along with helping with cash flow, a temporary job can also help you hone your skills and gain additional experience that will translate to your dream job.

One of the most in-demand new jobs is also one of the most important — contact tracing. Hundreds of city and state health departments from coast to coast are looking to fill an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 positions. Key requirements include strong interpersonal skills and empathy — and training is provided. Depending on the area of the country, pay ranges from $17 to $25 an hour, often with at least some benefits. For more information, google the health department in your city, county or state.

3.   Add to your resume

If you have the financial means to hold out for the job you really want, consider getting an internship or doing volunteer work to fill out your days — and add additional skills and services to your resume. Post–graduate internships are a great way to get practical job experience. There are internship programs specifically for recent college graduates and in some cases, they pay a small stipend. Do a great job and who knows, you may even get hired. You can also consider volunteering for a nonprofit organization in the field you’re hoping to enter. Along with doing good, you can also make contacts and see what the day-to-day job experience might look like. And volunteering looks great on a resume.

4.  Deal with the unexpected

What happens if you were offered a job prior to graduation — and the pandemic? The unfortunate reality is that employers are having to make tough decisions, which could mean placing job offers on hold or even rescinded due to the coronavirus. If that happens, don’t panic.

Start by speaking directly with the person who hired you to get more information — such as  can the start date be delayed and if not, will the opportunity still be there once economic conditions improve?

If the job offer really is rescinded, talk to the hiring manager to see if they know of any departments in the same company that may be looking for candidates.

If there are no suitable positions within the company, add a note to your calendar to touch base in a few weeks to see if anything has changed. You had all the qualifications they wanted to hire you in the first place. Pinging the hiring manager shows them you’re still interested and shows them you’re dedicated. It also puts your name in front of them again, which is always a plus.

5.   Embrace your soft skills

Along with the career-specific skills you’ve learned in your major— known as hard skills — you’ve also become proficient in what job recruiters call “soft skills.” This includes attributes such as  communication, teamwork, critical thinking, creativity, time management, adaptability and leadership. Those group projects you always did well on? Soft skills. That mentorship program you ran for incoming freshmen? Soft skills. According to a well-known national recruiting agency, hard skills will get your resume looked at, but it’s the soft skills that will help you stand out and get you hired.

So if one door closes (or the knob falls off and you’re stuck), try honing in on your soft skills to see how they might translate into another career field. Problem solvers, for example, tend to excel in analysis, initiative, logic, observation and decision making — great in fields like medicine, information technology, teaching and finance. While writing skills, clarity, confidence, empathy and the ability to listen are often the hallmark of good communicators — great in fields like marketing, human resources, management and law. Doing some research to gain a better understanding of your key soft skills can open the door to career paths and opportunities you may not have considered.

Hopefully these tips will give you some options for how to regroup when things don’t go according to plan. The key is to be willing to adjust your sights and make the situation work for you.

Let’s say you just graduated with a degree in marketing. Your dream job is to work at a large, big-city advertising agency or media firm. But those jobs are few and far between right now. So think about jobs that use the same skill set — communications, writing, research, teamwork — and brainstorm other industries or fields where those skills are valued. Maybe it’s a social media position for a local TV station. Or an in-house marketing department at a small start-up. Perhaps it’s a nonprofit looking for part-time help. These are the types of jobs that can give you the experience you need to transition into your preferred role down the road. Or who knows, you may find an unexpected path you like even better.

Looking for additional help? Our student support resource page has an entire section dedicated to career support. Here, you’ll find a series of career resource videos — each spotlighting a different career resource. Plus a variety of downloadable handouts, worksheets and other tools.

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