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Graduating and Don’t Have a Job? Now What?

May 8, 2020

Life is tough for graduating seniors. College senioritis is a real thing and a lot of us are eager to get out there and find our dream jobs. We’re excited about the prospect of having a new job and gaining new experiences. But for the rest of us, this can be really daunting and finding a new job can be really difficult for some, especially finding a job in your chosen field. So what do you do? Well today we’re going to give 10 tips on what you should and should not do when looking for a job as well as some additional resources that Idaho State University offers to make your job search easier. Now, every job and every situation is different and the economy is always changing so some of the following points and information may seem to contradict each other or may not apply to your particular situation. Our biggest advice is to do what is best for you and your situation and that this list is simply to help you get started looking for a job and to give some helpful tips and pointers as well as information to help you in your job search.


What NOT to do


1: Don’t only accept your “dream job”


We all have our own idea of what our dream job is, whether it be a nice cushy corporate job or spending your time as support staff. But no matter what your dream job, do not put off other opportunities because they aren’t what you want for the long haul. There are a lot of opportunities in every field so if you only look for your dream job, chances are you’ll be disappointed and jobless by the time you graduate. More often than not, by taking the jobs that maybe aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, you end up on the path or getting the experience necessary to get to the job you really do want. Beyond that, practical experience is priceless and if you want a top job like Chief Executive Officer (CEO), then experience working at lower levels is a must. As a new graduate, especially if you are an exceptional one, you will have the chance to choose between numerous great jobs once you put yourself out there. But, don’t decline every offer and opportunity to hold out for the ideal position right out of college. It’s pretty rare you will get that. 


“When I graduated from college, jobs were very hard to come by. I was living in the Moscow, ID - Pullman WA area. The only job I could find was in a call center working for the phone company GTE (eventually became Verizon). I was so frustrated!” says John Ney, the director of professional development at the College of Business. “After all, I had a Master’s degree and I thought I was ready for a management position! Not to mention this call center job was something I could have had with a high school diploma. I worked two years in the call center before my first promotion into management. But after that, my career took off and I had many great jobs and ended as a senior director over national customer quality and sales. As I look back now, that start in the call center was so good for me and a great experience! I learned the business from the ground up and when I did compete for higher level jobs, it really helped me because I had both the business knowledge/experience and the education.   


Thus, my advice to our students is not to be discouraged if you have to start in a position lower than you want/expect.  Find a great company and start wherever you can, embrace it and make the most of it. You will climb the corporate ladder and when you do get to those higher positions you will be thankful for your experience and other employees will respect you more because you will have been there!”

2: Don't’ settle for less


Okay, so you want the experience and you need a job but on that same token, don’t sell yourself short either. Do some research and find out what the entry salary for your degree/job occupation should be and make sure it comes from reputable sources. Director of the Small Business Development Center Ann Swanson gives a presentation during many of the College of Business’s Professional Development activities that shows you how you can do just this. Download her tip sheet here. Swanson says that two of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to salary negotiation is not doing the research and bringing up salary too early. She says that negotiating a salary all comes down to data and if you don’t have that to back you up, then there’s no reason for the employer to pay you what you’re requesting. Use the information you find to make sure that you’re getting a fair deal from your employer and that you’re getting paid what you’re worth. Of course, that will also grow as you get more experience and gain more expertise so make sure you keep up on what your salary should be over time. 


Swanson also suggests keeping an active and updated LinkedIn profile to help you keep track of your accomplishments, expertise and skills that will aid in your research as well as provide a quick reference sheet if you’re needing to put together a resume really quickly. An up-to-date LinkedIn profile can also be used as a way to show why you should get the pay that you’re requesting. The second thing to be careful about when negotiating salaries is bringing it up too early. Swanson says that you should deflect questions about salary until an offer is made. Once the job is almost guaranteed, that’s when you should start talking about salaries. 


Not settling for less also includes accepting jobs that are below your expertise. If you have a degree, find a way to use it rather than getting a retail job or a job at a restaurant. .There isn’t anything wrong with working in retail or food service but if you go to school and get a degree only to go back to a job that doesn’t need it, you’ve essentially wasted lots of time and money for a degree you’re not using. Use that degree to get a better job and be in a better place, even if it means starting off in something unrelated to what you want to do for your dream job. Having a degree means you will gain a lot of earning potential. There is no need to settle for a job that does not require an education just to get a job. Apply at a bank, look for jobs that require degrees that relate to some of your skills, if jobs in your desired field aren’t panning out.  


3: Don’t only look for specific jobs


Sometimes, yes, you need to look for specific jobs if you’re in a niche or specialized field. But if you have a degree in a more general discipline, consider jobs you may not have before. For example, Kelsey West, the marketing director at the College of Business, had initially wanted to have her own photography and graphic design business but instead accepted a marketing role at the Idaho State Journal (ISJ) (despite not having a degree in marketing) and that opportunity led her to her current position she has now. West said that in working for the ISJ for two years, she was able to gain experience-based expertise in digital marketing, which was a huge selling point for to land the position in the College of Business.  “It's a position I would have not thought of myself in while I was in school, but it turned out to be perfect for me!” says West.  So even if you may not feel like you have the expertise needed or if it’s a little outside your scope, give it a shot. The worst that can happen is that they say no, but it can also turn into an opportunity of a lifetime.


4: Don’t turn down a lower paying job


I know, this sounds counter intuitive. But oftentimes, even with a degree, you may not start out making $50,000 right out of the gate. You might get job offers where you only get paid $30,000 a year and while that may not be what you hoped/wanted to start making, it is better than nothing. Just make sure it is a position you can either move up in, or that will help you get the experience you need to continue to move up. Having more experience will also give you more knowledge and expertise with which you can negotiate your salary to be higher or enable you to find a position that pays you better. 


Also take into consideration what kind of benefits a lower paying job may offer. Good benefits are often the reason pay might be lower because the company is putting money into giving you those benefits. Things like paid time off (PTO), good insurance, sick leave, opportunity for advancement, high retirement contribution and company match, and other perks can outweigh making more money with less benefits. Swanson uses Idaho State as an example, “It’s a state job and while we may not have the highest salaries, we have amazing benefits. Make sure that you really understand what the benefits are and you can leverage that in negotiation. Some benefit packages will be flexible and some won’t. Larger companies may have benefits they can put into the package even if the salary isn’t what you want it to be. You can ask for certain things like ‘can I work from home for two days a week, can I pick up a different shift, etc.’”


5: Don’t put off grad school


If you’re thinking about grad school and have goals of becoming a high-ranking executive or partner...don’t push it off. School is one of those things that’s difficult to come back to if you’ve been gone for a period of time and you’ve gotten used to a life without homework, without class and without the stress of being in school. Student life isn’t appealing for a lot of reasons so getting it done now is the better option. You may also be wondering about how to afford graduate school, as depending on where you go, it can be a pretty penny. This is one of the few times that I would advise taking a loan. Higher education can be pretty costly and the only way to get through it sooner is by taking a loan or looking for great opportunities like a Graduate Assistantship (GA) program. If you can get a GA position, schools like the College of Business offer paid tuition and a stipend for 20 hours of work a week while you are in school. Depending on where you go, graduate school can cost anywhere from $4,000-$50,000 or more and since most freshly graduated people can’t come up with that kind of money in a year or two, it makes sense to use loans to bypass that. Should you consider maybe saving for a year? Yes, because that will reduce the amount that you will need to borrow and will ultimately be better for you in the long run and that time will also give you time to build up residency if you are attending school in another state. So don’t push off grad school as just an option. If it’s something you want, go do it, especially if it’ll open up better career options and options that you actually want.

What You SHOULD Do


1: “Zhuzh” your resume


A resume is something you should have when you start college and should update regularly as you learn more and get more experience in the workforce. It’s particularly important to not only include your work and school experience but to also include your accomplishments as well. Were you involved in a club? Did you do a lot of service? What academic things have you participated in? Employers value these things because activities like these can give you more learning opportunities and teach you things you might not get otherwise. 


For example, I have participated in the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC) for two years now. In this competition, there is a company that sponsors it and sends out what’s called a Request For Proposal (RFP) to university teams across the nation that are organized into 13 districts. In the RFP, they detail what they are looking for in a campaign that you will develop as well as any of other research, details and other pertinent information. This competition is the closest thing to actually having a real job in advertising. It emulates how an ad agency would work and the work that they would do in order to win a client account, so it is considered to be one of the best things you can have on your resume. Any agency worth their salt will recognize the NSAC competition and it’s touted as something that will put you at the top of the application stack. Look for similar opportunities in your discipline as they can also help round out your resume. If you don’t have a resume or need help revamping it, you can contact the Career Center and Sariah Millis or John Ney at the College of Business, all of whom offer help to students looking to improve their resume.


2: Have a career path


Does the future feel daunting? Do you feel uncertain because you aren’t sure about what you want to do once you’re done with school? Well, start planning! To help alleviate that stress and anxiety, come up with a general 5-10 year plan. What do you want to do in the next five years? Grad school? Move to a bigger city to work? Do you have a dream job and what are the steps you want to take to achieve that? The Idaho State University Career Center is an excellent resource for helping you plan out these steps to get you towards your career goals. If you don’t really have any career goals, they can help you with that too! They can also help you discover career opportunities and paths that you may not have thought about or heard of before. This is what the Career Center is for, after all.


3: Consider an internship


One way to get a foot in the door when it comes to jobs is to take internship opportunities. Not only does this give you an in into the company, it also gives you the opportunity to learn about the company and gain more industry experience so even if you don’t end up with a job at that company, you have at the very least learned skills you can apply elsewhere. Most schools offer career fairs once or twice a year and at ISU, we offer one school-wide career fair in the spring and then a College of Business specific one in the fall. These fairs offer career opportunities in addition to internships and allow you to meet  prospective employers face-to-face. Make a good enough impression and it could give you the lead you need. ISU offers internships through it’s Career Path Internship (CPI) program across all its campuses


4: Prepare!


Not many people think that a job application/interview is something that you should practice for, but it absolutely is! The more prepared you are, the better your interview and other opportunities will go. You can anticipate questions that they might ask you about their experience and will help you feel calmer and more relaxed when in an interview setting. Every year, the College of Business has a Professional Development month in September that includes events like a resume round-up (for resume help), practice interviews, and an etiquette dinner to help you perfect your professional skills and to help you prepare for the inevitable moment when you meet a potential employer.


5: Networking


I know we’ve said it before but we’ll say it again: networking is very important. It is arguably one of the most important things you can do because depending on the people you know and how well they know you, it could very well land you a job. There’s a saying that goes “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” which is true in many cases. Even if they aren’t the ones hiring, they can provide you a recommendation which in some cases might as well be an instant hire. For example, Kelsey West, the marketing director at the College of Business, was given a recommendation by John Ney to the person who was her first employer. Because of John’s recommendation, West was offered the job and John gave another recommendation in addition to Kristine McCarty, the director of graduate studies at the College of Business, when she applied for her current job as director. These recommendations didn’t necessarily land her the job but it gave her a leg up as she was interviewing against candidates with more experience and helped her get the initial interview. Recommendations can carry a lot of weight so make sure you get to know your classmates, professors, and bosses because they can make a difference down the line.


As you can see, if you’re a senior who’s still jobless, don’t fret! There are always options and help available to you. Just keep hunting, working, and applying and you’ll eventually find a job you love. Happy hunting!