Finding a Job After School In a Terrible Market

I read an article on one of my favourite personal finance websites – Financial Samurai – last week and the content of it saddened me, but unfortunately it did not come as a real surprise.  Basically, a commenter on the site had suggested to Sam (owner/writer of the site, successful business man, and entrepreneurial spirit) that anyone that expected a college graduate with decent grades from a decent (non-Ivy league) school to work more than 40 hours a week was crazy.  There was no way she would take such an affront to her personal dignity.  Sam was understandably taken aback by this, as were many in the personal finance community that usually post on the site.  A lot of the negative comments on the board had a, “Kids these days,” sort of ring to them, and I found myself hesitantly agreeing.

We Got Next… Or Maybe Later

Generation Y, I’m sorry but many of us are seriously dropping the ball here.  The really sad thing is that we aren’t hurting the workaholic dudes that came before us, we are actually hurting ourselves.  I find that often our culture of entitlement knows no bounds.  We expect things now, and damn anyone who wants to hit us with a reality different from the ideal one we have envisioned.  You see guys, just because you worked relatively hard (by student standards) and got Bs from a decent school, this doesn’t mean most professional businesses will be lining up to offer you signing bonuses.  Especially in this job environment.  In case you haven’t noticed, there is an unemployment epidemic going around, and many of these dudes looking for jobs have relevant experience and the same academic qualifications you do.  If you aren’t going to pitch hustle, energy, and commitment as your main advantages when you’re fresh out of school then you’ve got a mountain to climb.  I was lucky in that I have parents whose idea of relaxing is a hard day of work for most people (seriously, when your dad is a lumberjack, waking up at 7am is sleeping in).  I’m a solid step down from them, which still makes me a “go-getter” among my peers.

So what exactly do employers expect out of us in order to get a job in this rough job market?  Well obviously I’m not an expert (and I would definitely welcome some input from those of you that do own companies, or are in HR out there), but here are some ways that you can stand out and guarantee yourself a second look.  They’re not all fun, but they will get your foot in the door:

1) Pick An In-Demand Educational Stream

Look, I have a shiny BA too, but just because reading about history and politics is cool, doesn’t mean it is going to get you hired.  The best way to get a job is simply to look at what’s needed.  There are all kinds of work for certain kinds of professionals out there.  Basic BA degrees are flooding the market.  Doing what you love for a living is great, but doing something you really like and getting paid a lot of money is a little better in my books.

2) Finding A Job – Move To Where The Jobs Are

One of the biggest advantages recent graduates have over more experienced workers in this economy is that they don’t have solid roots anywhere.  This should allow you (in theory) to take advantage of the situation.  Yet this seems to be a major hang-up for my generation.  I shake my head when I see all the good jobs in North Dakota right now, and the number of people that would rather stay close to home and collect social assistance cheques (what economists like to call a “negative incentive”).  I know that moving 1000 miles away is not a great gig, but there are usually opportunities to move once you have experience within a sector, or even better, within company.  They key is to get in first.  Volunteering to move to a slightly undesirable location is a great way to separate yourself from the pack (just in case putting “hard worker” on your resume doesn’t cut it).

3) You Need To Be Flexible

So many graduates believe that there is this magical light at the end of the academic tunnel, and once you don your cap and gown you will instantly be catapulted into the job you had envisioned when you stayed up and pulled those caffeine-fuelled all-nighters.  The truth is that the job market is changing faster than ever before.  Many employers are simply looking for smart people who can adapt to a certain position, as opposed to a specific skill set already in place.  Pitching yourself as someone with a diverse background that has no problem integrating new concepts and willing to do whatever it takes, is definitely going to make a good impression.

4) Check Out Our Resume and Interview Tips

Not to toot our own horns, but as a couple of non-elite guys that immediately got pretty good jobs right out of school, we feel that we know a thing or two about presentation tips.  It’s well worth the price of admission!

5) Realize That We Do Not Have The Leverage Right Now

Ladies and gents, we aren’t in our parents’ job market.  No matter what your high school guidance counsellor told you, there is no company out there right now that NEEDS YOU if you are not willing you go above-and-beyond the usual or average.  The truth is that there are a bevy of qualified sharks swimming around the employment ocean and you have to hustle and make sacrifices to get ahead.  Whether that means sacrificing a lot of fun being an art history major and opting instead for the slightly more complicated calling of being an architect, or moving to “the sticks,” you have to do something that screams, “I am an asset to you and your company!”  Working 45, 50, or even the odd 60 hour week shouldn’t kill anyone guys.  I love work-life balance too, but think about who you would hire if you were in charge – a young graduate who immediately declares that working more than 40 hours is inhumane, or someone with 10-20 years experience that doesn’t shed away from working an extra day or evening once in awhile?  Usually after a couple of years of paying your dues there will be plenty of young bucks coming in ready to prove themselves and take some weight off of your shoulders, but you have to prove you belong before that acceptance will take place.

Am I just a corporate stooge who has bought into big-business conspiracy?  I don’t mean to paint all of us Y’ers with the same brush, but I think it is definitely a broader trend than we would like to admit.  Finding a Job doesn’t have to be hard if you’re willing to put in your time.


  1. Sustainable PF

    Oh boy.
    I’m in my mid 30s. However, my wife, Mrs. SPF, is in her mid 20s. She entered the workforce 3 years ago.

    We live in eastern Ontario (still considered south) but we don’t live in the GTA or Ottawa.

    Jobs do not abound for the holder of a simple BA (even if it is an odd triple minor as Mrs. SPF has).
    work for the ON Govt. Good job, good pay, good benefits, great pension.

    Mrs. SPF wanted a job where I work as well. Thing is, every entry level or internship position get inundated with HUNDREDS of applications – and many, many from those with Masters degrees or PhDs.

    Even with my assistance (a glowing resume and cover letter) Mrs. SPF was unable to land an interview for entry level positions in the “south”. Eventually, we explored the internships in the “north”. She applied for one that interested her and was selected for an interview, and she won! Thing is, the job was in Cochrane Ontario. “End of the road” – literally. You have to train or fly from there, there is no more highway north.

    Mrs. SPF spent 10 months in Cochrane (we were not married yet). It was tough. She’s from Montreal and Cochrane is TINY. But there was some French speaking in northern Ontario. After 10 months they wanted her to stay, but both her and I wanted her back home. So she applied to those same internships she had no chance at a year early and low and behold she wins an internship in the office I work in – we were back together again!

    The lesson here? Some sacrifice – moving away from the mainstream “south” and being separated from your partner can make your career. Her experience in a remote area was invaluable in landing a job at the main office. Once she lost her university-rose-coloured glasses and realized she had to make something happen – it wasn’t going to get handed to her on a platter (like the White Tower leads us to believe) she did what she had to do.

    Mrs. SPF is now a “classified” (read: not contract) employee, as am I. We live outside the GTA (meaning we can afford to own a house!) in a nice city.

  2. Teacher Man

    Great story that exactly proves my point! I’m originally from Southeast Manitoba so I know Northwestern Ontario pretty well. Especially when it comes to government jobs, once your foot is in the door you’re pretty much set. Bureaucracy always protects itself. A side benefit is that you really appreciate where you end up, if you pay your dues in Cochrane for awhile! Thanks for the great anecdote, make sure and stop by more often!

  3. 101 Centavos

    Being flexible with location is a great advantage of the North American labor market. Europeans don’t move as well or as much, or at least they didn’t use to. Eastern Europeans have migrated west in great numbers.

  4. Teacher Man

    I heard Bill Clinton say that labour force mobility was one of the toughest unemployment issues to solve (along with a population that lacks the pertinent education and skill set). Makes sense.

  5. Little House

    Great perspective. Right now, flexibility and the commitment to work hard will open more doors than sitting on your laurels hoping a job lands in your lap. I’d also add that for those graduates out there who are flexible and willing to work more than 40 hour weeks, but still can’t get a job, it’s time to think outside the box; work odd jobs, invest your time in an unusual idea, volunteer for the Peace Corps. Now’s the time to take advantage in this crummy job market of trying things others haven’t thought of. The job market stinks, but there’s always a silver lining somewhere if you look hard enough for it.

  6. Jim

    This is a well written article and hits the nail on the head. Our generation has far to many entitlement issues and are not willing to work for the high salary and luxuries we often see others with. My message to those who think they deserve the big salary coming out of school with a vanilla degree: Life doesn’t owe you anything – take some accountability and work for it.

  7. retirebyforty

    Great story about sacrifice SPF. You can’t expect a great job to drop into your lap these days. It’s going to take sacrifice and hard work to get started in this job market.
    If you have to move, do it. It’s not permanent and it can open doors.

  8. Teacher Man

    Great ideas. Those are awesome suggestions for experiences and resume material!

  9. Teacher Man

    It’s funny that this seems so obvious to us, yet it seems to go right by so many people.

  10. Harri @ TotallyMoney

    Whilst I have never been work shy and I cannot empathise at all with the girl who commented on Sam’s post, I was definitely too over-confident when I left university.

    I graduated from Oxford University in 2008 and I thought that I was the dog’s bollocks, frankly. I had straight As and a history degree from one of the best schools in the world- who wouldn’t want to hire me?! A lot of people, it turned out.

    I agree enormously with everything you’ve said in this article. There’s a lot to be said for choosing a degree course which will open more doors on the other side (maths and the sciences, for example), eating humble pie and realising that life doesn’t owe you anything. You’ve got to work hard and make sacrifices.

  11. Teacher Man

    Wow… If that doesn’t prove my theory about a BA I’m not sure what evidence people need. I’d say you had reason to think you were the “dog’s bollocks” (thanks for the new word in my vocabulary!) and that you should be proud of your Oxford education! I’m not saying people should hate what they do for a living just to make money. Life is short, and all the rest of that. But I think you have to make your choice knowing all the facts. Do a lot of people love History enough to sacrifice all the future luxuries in their life in order to study it?

  12. UltimateSmartMoney

    I think “#2 Move To Where The Jobs Are” is the key and this is a great point. You have to be around where there are lots of jobs available. I know for fact that Norther Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland areas have tons of jobs right now. I see so many people finding jobs quickly in this area.

  13. Teacher Man

    That’s what I don’t get. People seem to believe that a job should just be given to them, and that it’s the government’s job to do that just by stating, “Jobs are important,” over and over and over again. I know it’s not easy to re-train and/or move some place new, but this is the modern economy.

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