It's tempting to bury your head in the sand when you learn that, according to recent analysis by the Associated Press, approximately 54 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 are unemployed or doing a job that doesn't require college: waiter, retail clerk, cab driver, etc.
The good news is that if you open your eyes, you can greatly boost your chances of being among the other 46 percent.
Choose courses with an eye to your career. Choose at least some courses by asking yourself whether or not they would abet your future career. For example:
- Its content is relevant to your career.
- Writing assignments will be required and it's a small-enough class that you can expect considerable feedback on your writing and thinking.
- It includes a term paper or project. Often, even if the standard assignment isn't relevant to your career, propose a reasonable alternative and you'll often get permission. That work product can be a valuable addition to your job applications.
- It includes in-class debate – maybe the best way to develop your thinking skills.
- It has a fieldwork component relevant to your career.
- The instructor is eminent and, if you're impressive, could give you a valuable job reference.
Choose career-boosting extracurricular activities. Select activities that develop leadership, entrepreneurship, initiative and thinking skills. For example, run for student government, join the debate team, work for the campus newspaper, radio or TV station. Join a club, perhaps one related to your major, like the Future Biologist Club. Often leadership is there for the taking within those organizations. You could also start a club or activity, from a ski trip to a protest.
Play at the career center. Play around in your campus's career library and you may well learn about well-suited, under-the-radar careers you've never considered. Have a session or three with the best career counselor there. Take a career-finding and/or job-search workshop. Let visiting job recruiters interview you.
Network, college-student style. While you're doing extracurricular activities or simply are hanging out with friends, you're building bonds that can generate job leads or business startup partners. Of course, that's how Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook. At many colleges, students can join the alumni association, which is a great place to make connections.
You could also join your field's professional association, for example, the American Optometric Association. Its local and national meetings and online discussion groups may be the most direct link to good jobs and to guidance on how to succeed in your career.
Your parents and relatives may know more people than you do who can open career doors for you. So ask them for leads to people who at least are willing to give you an informational interview, for example, your cousin the lawyer who'll tell you what it's really like to work in the field.
Intern or apprentice wisely. Alas, in these tight times, everyone knows you may need an internship before expecting a paid job. Just be sure it's not mainly envelope-licking. An internship should primarily be for your benefit and for your development, not a way for an employer to get work done without paying even minimum wage.
Internships needn't be formal. You might simply try to convince a master in your field to let you work at his or her elbow and teach you the ropes in exchange for your doing some work.
To maximize your chances of converting that internship or apprenticeship into a good and good-paying job, strike the balance between doing what you're told and showing the initiative to go beyond and even to propose a big idea or two. Also, nurture a relationship with your boss and other key players that would make them want to hire you. Think of them as seeds: For them to bear fruit, you must patiently water and feed them.
Grad school? Grad school used to be a good way to ride out the lousy job market. But now there's an oversupply even of graduate degree holders. So before spending yet more money and years behind a student desk, consider using the above tactics to land a great job at which you can earn while you learn.
A résumé that works. If you've done even some of the above, you'll have plenty to put on your résumé that will impress employers and make you likely to become one of the 46 percent.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.