What should you do if you are entering the job market for the first time in this unemployment climate?
If you don't desperately need the money, wait a bit longer. The real cost of doing a PhD or taking a year off to travel the world is not just what you have to pay for it, but also the income you forego by not working. With so few jobs to go round, investing in your future or pursuing that crazy dream of yours has never been cheaper - so go for it!
If you don't have a college degree at all, this is an absolute no-brainer. College graduates earn so much more over the course of their careers that getting a degree is wise even in a booming economy. In times when finding a job is so hard, it's an offer you can't refuse.
Now, if delaying getting a job is not an option, there's a few tricks that can help you get there:
1. Overall unemployment figures mask a lot of regional variation. Don't be afraid to move city, state or even country to where there is the highest demand for your skills. Apart from increasing your chances of landing a job, getting to live in a new place is fun, you'll learn things you never would have back home, and you'll earn lots of brownie points for your future resume.
2. Get some work experience, even if you have to put up with lousy pay or if it's not exactly the kind of job you eventually hope to get. Internships are great (and often culminate to a full job), but there are other options too - volunteering is an obvious one, and so is helping out at your uncle's small business. Whichever route you follow, make sure you take on as much responsibility as possible: dealing with the public or customers, helping with the accounts, coming up with ideas to do things in a better way, contributing to management decisions. You should be able to do all of these in a small charity or business, and they will offer you invaluable skills and experience that you can showcase when you are applying for a ‘proper’ job.
3. Work your contacts. Your biggest problem when trying to get a job for the first time is that, at least on paper, you look exactly the same as thousands of other job-seekers. People you know can help you get past this problem by informing you of hardly-advertised job opportunities in their industry, vouching for your skills and trustworthiness to other employers (especially if they happen to be their customers or partners), and even by offering you a job themselves – but you have to ask! It sounds obvious, but it’s not: after months of unsuccessful applications, a friend recently landed a job via a contact who noticed his –just updated- ‘looking for a job’ facebook status. Another friend simply asked her dad for some help – and it turns out he knew somebody, who knew somebody, who happened to want to fill a vacancy quickly with someone he could trust.
Thanks to Sharon Gitelle and Carl Lavin of Forbes.com for suggesting the topic.