Job Searching–A Full-Time Job in Itself. Advice to Recent Grads

It just so happens that 2009 was deemed the worst year for anyone to graduate college and start looking for a job. Congratulations to me, I graduated from college in May 2009. I started seriously job searching in January of 2009 and did not find an “actual” job that offered me benefits and a salary until November 30, 2009. More than six months after graduation I finally was receiving a salary. A small one at that, but, it was still in the range that my professors at UCF had quoted us to expect to make with my major (Communication) graduating and living in Orlando (between $27,000 and $29,000 is the average).

My dream, clearly, was not to stay in Orlando after graduating, but to move to California. So, my boyfriend and I went out there in July 2009 in search of jobs. The one job I got offered as a bar manager at the Hotel del Coronado was going to pay me a grand $15 an hour. (times that by 40, times that by 52, and you get $31,000 a year–NOT enough to live off of as a poor person even in Coronado Island) I also had interviewed for an entry level position at Target, which was like hitting a gold mine looking back on it. They are extremely selective (the company only hires about 10% of those they interview) but in the interview, I was quoted a starting salary of anywhere between $47,000 and $49,000 a year plus full benefits that start the day you’re hired. Too good to be true? Probably, because I wasn’t even offered a second interview. Now that was the kind of salary I needed for San Diego living!

So, the point of this is that I wanted to leave a few tips for those graduating soon, recently graduated, or maybe those that will be graduating next year. I made a full-time job out of looking for a job all over this country, so I feel like I’ve learned how to decipher a good job advertisement from another, and also let others in on the things I look for when sifting through advertisements. This is just my opinion, of course!

1. As a college graduate, you want a salaried position. This is why we went to college and spent tens of thousands of dollars on an education–so we didn’t have to work hourly anymore! No more clocking in and out, no more working nights or weekends or holidays. When thinking about all the things most of us have to pay for after graduation, there is a minimal salary you need to accept/propose. Between rent, car payments, car insurance, renter’s insurance, gas, food, utilities, and if you’re lucky–spending money, the minimal amount I was willing to accept when searching for a job was about $27,000 here in Orlando where the cost of living is relatively cheap. In California, the absolute minimum I was thinking I could live off of was $40,000. Times would be hard living off of $40,000 in Southern California. In the event that you do get an hourly administrative job, for instance, the minimum I would accept at this point is $15 per hour. Unfortunately, that wage is impossible to find around Orlando. Most places I’m finding are paying around $10 or $12 at the most. Average that out to how much you make a year and it’s in the low 20s. Not going to work if you’re supporting yourself.

2. You want a job where you can use what you’ve learned in college along with what you’re passionate about in life. This is a big one for me, because I currently work in a job that does not require a degree and is for a company that I had absolutely no interest in before I started working here. Finance, investments, and stocks are not my thing. They never have been and they probably never will be. I need to be writer and work in some kind of communication related role. However, unfortunately the only communication I do around here is answering the phone. Not my idea of why I studied my butt off for four years in school. But, the economy is bad and beggars cannot be choosers at this point, so I took this job. I currently spend most of my days at my desk searching for another job where I can do what I’m passionate about–writing. Fellow writers, you know that this is difficult as that industry is one of the hardest hit right now! But, I would like to encourage everyone, if they can, to find some kind of job that is in their field of passion and expertise. Otherwise, you will grow very weary very quickly.

3. In this economy, you must dumb yourself down. I know, as college grads we are supposed to be perceived as intelligent, trustworthy, and valuable to companies. Unfortunately, to employers right now, that is not the case. Never did I ever think my first job of college would be an administrative position that did not require a degree, but actually said on the advertisement, preferred. “Receptionist needed. College degree preferred.” I am finding that the best piece of advice I can give anyone is this one: if the job description says “college degree required, Master’s degree preferred” chances are they will hire someone with a Master’s or even PhD. If it says, “HS diploma required, college graduate preferred,” we’re golden. The more intelligent the person, the less they can pay them because they know they’ll take anything at this point. Take for instance this personal story of mine:

I was searching a job right after I graduated last summer. I found the perfect position–a post-graduate internship with one of the top communications firms in Orlando. I wrote a killer cover letter, perfected my resume, and submitted it. Within minutes I received a response applauding my efforts and complimenting my excellent cover letter, along with an invitation for an interview. I accepted, of course, and was later told that they received hundreds (if not a thousand) responses to that ad and they responded to two people, me included. I was enthralled, to say the least. I researched the company on their website and prepared my hardest for the interview. When I got there, I was interviewed by two people in a conference room. They asked the usual interview questions (weaknesses/strengths, what I can do for the company, etc) followed by, “The other candidate we are interviewing has a Master’s degree and three years of experience. What do you have to say about that?” Um, that I am leaving because clearly you aren’t going to hire me because I don’t have a leg to stand on with that kind of competition? Close. I said I could offer a new and fresh approach to my position because I have a creative mind. Well, to my not surprise, they hired the other person. And that person got paid $7.50 an hour as an intern, with their Master’s degree and three years of experience.

So I worked at Nordstrom soon thereafter as a sales associate in the plus size department for an amazing $9.00 an hour. Apparently having a degree doesn’t get you a professional position there either because “everyone must start on the sales floor” and only those that sell the most are rewarded with “real” jobs. Humph, impossible when you can barely sell anything to anyone because no one is buying in this economy! The point is, in my experience, the person with the most experience who exceeds what the company’s advertisement claims as “required” vs. “preferred” is the person who will be hired. Dumb yourself down. It’s the only way to make yourself stand out among the crowd of high school graduate applicants.

4. Taboo words of job names to seriously avoid when sifting through piles of advertisements are: manager, director, senior, and sometimes executive. Any of those words in the job title, minus the executive, usually equals required seven to ten years experience in the least. Seven to ten years of very specific experience that we as recent graduates do not have. And yes, a degree will be required of these positions of course, but the experience is what’s most important. I do not even open jobs that contain any of those words, so I would advise others as well– don’t waste your time. Words that we need to be looking for at this point are “junior” or “micro” or even “entry-level.” (In my experience, “entry-level” lately equals “scam.” I’ve started to ignore the ads that say “entry-level” in the title because they are, in my experience, pyramid-schemes that prey on naive college grads) “Executive” can be considered a good word if it’s followed by the words “assistant” or preceded by the word, “account.” On the other hand, “executive VP” is not what we need.

5. You need a job that offers medical benefits. For an entire year, I lived with no medical or dental insurance. Having come from a military family where any and all medical costs add up to zero my entire life, suddenly having that dropped from my name was a slap of reality. Most people that are covered under their parents’ insurance no longer receive coverage after they graduate from college. Therefore, I feel like at some point, every college grad goes through some period of time (some longer than others) with zero insurance coverage. This is a scary place to be because you never know if you need to go to the hospital for a random reason, or if God forbid, a car accident were to occur. My parents told me if a car accident that sent me to the hospital happened to me, I’d have to declare bankruptcy because there is no way they or I could pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical fees. Hardly anyone could pay these fees out of pocket in this country, which is why it’s so important to have insurance! Because of that, during my non-coverage of medical insurance period, I had what’s called “catastrophic insurance” which was about $30 a month for the uninsured in case of a “catastrophic event” such as a car accident. I would highly recommend this to anyone with no coverage just to be safe. So, with that being said, another reason we went to college is to get a job with an employer that will give us benefits. To me, these benefits should include at the very minimum medical coverage of some sort. Dental and vision are good to have, but medical is probably the most important. If you are interviewing for a job, this is a crucial question to ask employers. Some companies, like mine, offer benefits after 90 days. That is fine, as long as you get them at some point. Until then, be covered with some sort of small insurance payment for catastrophic insurance and you should be okay. (Again, this point also goes back to the salaried job issue–a lot of hourly jobs do not offer benefits, so make sure you ask if you agree to take an hourly position!)

6. Finally, the best bet to getting a job is applying in the city that is listed in your address on your resume. As late as 2008, college graduates I knew were getting multiple job offers after graduation and some people that I knew were even being moved out to Vegas by the company that hired them. They didn’t have to do a thing to move except get on the plane. Packing, shipping, even transporting their car was covered by the company. What a great idea! You barely have to be bothered with the inconvenience and very expensive cost of moving. Unfortunately, right now, a company paying to relocate you to where they are is basically nonexistant. Take it from me, the girl who is clearly obsessed with California and for months applied to no jobs but those that were in that bankrupt state. I never once heard anything back from any of those jobs I sent my resume to over the internet. Besides being trapped in some internet black hole, I figured the only reason why I was never even probably much as even considered for those positions (no matter how “micro” or “junior” they were), was because the moment they looked at my resume and saw an Orlando address, they disqualified me. I was told that this is what goes through most employers’ heads when they see an out of state or even out of town address: out of town equals flying someone out to interview, which equals paying for a plane ticket, which equals moving if hired, which equals paying for relocation, which in short all equals: MONEY WE DO NOT HAVE. The last thing most companies can afford at this point is relocation costs. The best advice I can give based on my experience is to either apply for for jobs where you currently are located or move where you want to live and then apply for a job. (The latter is the worst option though because no one can move somewhere with no promise of a job in the slightest) I hope that this will change once the economy gets better, because personally I know no one that would like to stay in the town they went to college in for the last four years!

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One thought on “Job Searching–A Full-Time Job in Itself. Advice to Recent Grads

  1. Taylor,
    I’ve stumbled onto your blog for the first time and think that this is a great post! I was lucky to avoid the job-searching hassles but you’ve hit every point on the nail. Other things that I would add off the top of my head: If possible, don’t go into debt to pursue further education. Many companies (if you can get a position) still encourage their staff to pursue Masters degrees at cost to the company generally with continued service agreements. I have started my Masters and the way I look at it, I am not paying a dime while still accumulating work experience at the same time! Also, adding to your point 6, you are absolutely correct about employers hiring applicants in close proximity. My roommate interned 3 summers in DC had a hard time getting a call back from any companies/agencies that she was applying for. She had a Florida address on her resume. I suggested to her a couple of months after her search that she should try using my address (a local DC area address). Within changing her address on Monster.com, she received three interview requests in one week. With that being said, she incurred the cost of flying out to Washington to interview and most of her relocation.

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