10 tips for recent graduates entering tight job market

Recent college graduates have probably heard enough job search advice to last a lifetime, but I’m going to add my two cents anyway. The following 10 tips come from my own experiences and from my observations of job-seeking grads over the years.

1. Celebrate your life and your graduation, regardless of the economy. There's no point in making comparisons to earlier generations. You’re living your life, not theirs, so embrace your challenges and stop thinking about how it could or "should" be different.

2. Feel free to ignore the economic news. It doesn't matter if the job market is tight. What matters is what you experience in the market. When I first began job searching as an adult, we were in a terrible recession, and I had run out of funds for college. Sound familiar?

If I had known the market was terrible (I didn’t), I might have slowed my job search efforts. But I only knew that I needed work, pronto, so I found work. As regular readers of my column know, it wasn’t great work, and I ended up with dozens of jobs before starting my business in 1985 (and finishing my degree in 1986). It wasn't until much later that I learned I had been finding work in one of the most difficult job markets since the Depression. I'm glad I didn't know at the time.

3. Eradicate any sense of entitlement related to your degree. Yes, you worked hard for it, and yes, it cost a lot. But employers aren’t obligated to reward you for your education. They offer "a day’s wage for a day’s work," as the saying goes. To get hired, you’ll need to prove you can do the work. If you can’t, Plan B is to network into foot-in-the-door positions, ever mindful that you’re being trusted with an opportunity, not honored for your degree.

4. Consider that your degree may have nothing to do with your life's work. It's notoriously difficult to choose one's occupation at the tender age of 18 or 20. Maybe you got it right and maybe you didn't. In either case, you did get an education and likely a very good foundation for future learning. If your skills don't happen to match up to a job in your field, then make the best of the skills you do have and move forward.

5. If you feel committed to your field, then don't let go of it under any circumstances. Trained as a biologist but working at Starbucks? Then tutor kids, network with other scientists, read the journals in your field, assist in the lab at a local college, help a startup company, take additional classes, go to conferences ... if you are a biologist, be a biologist, even if you're a biologist who happens to work at Starbucks. Staying in your field is a matter of your own determination, not someone else's "permission" to do so.

6. Earn money no matter what. If you're not in school, you need to work. Even if you're living at home and have no bills, you need to earn money, if only to build the habit. If you really don't need the income, then save or invest it.

7. Don’t be trapped by your career path. Assuming you do need money, determine to work at whatever job you can find, whether or not it fits your career goals. Don’t worry about how you’ll look later to your “real” employers; keeping up appearances is no reason to starve.

8. Set your life goals and go after them. Do you want to travel? Then find work that takes you places, even if it's not in your field. Are you pining to own a home? Maybe you could buy into a transitioning neighborhood or co-purchase a duplex with a friend.

In all cases, figure out what you want, figure out how to get it and get going. And if you don't know what you want, get going anyway. See No. 6 above -- just earn some money and save what you can. When you find your grand plan, you will be very grateful to have been using your time wisely in the interim.

9. Master your distractions. Downtime is important, but too much will hinder your progress toward real achievement. And sleeping in? Just don’t. Do you really want to remember this as the year you spent sleeping?

10. Celebrate your life and your graduation. Yep, that’s a duplicate tip, but it bears repeating. Congratulations on your achievement!

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

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