How to Launch Your Career In a Lousy Economy

The high stakes of first jobs.

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Not giving up. Attending grad school is not the only way to avoid a long-term decrease in wages. The wage effect observed by Kahn and others is not an inevitability for anyone who starts a career in a recession. It is an average, and some people who are especially good at finding jobs will make more. It is difficult for researchers to measure many of the intangible skills that make some people better than others at finding jobs. For example, it is hard to measure how skilled a person is at networking, Mansour says.

But networking has become more important in finding a job in recent years, says Mark Mehler, cofounder of CareerXRoads, a staffing strategy consulting firm in New Jersey. "Employee referrals are the highest source of external hires" for companies today, he says, and that number has increased since the recession began. Networking is essential to standing out because "if an employer gets 500 résumés, which is average in today's job market, their job is not to read through all of those," says Raymond Rogers, director of career services at Rollins College.

Other job seekers are using less conventional means to get attention and find the best job—and wage—possible. Kellett has blogged about his job search on his personal website, and he considers that blog part of his résumé. He even links to it in his cover letter. "If an employer looked at it, they would get an interesting and unique perspective from there," he says.

For Kellett, attitude is just as important as his résumé. He has decided not to dwell on the bad luck of having to enter the workforce in a downtime for the economy. When he first started looking for a job, "I wasn't particularly worried, which was troubling to some of my friends," says Kellett. " 'Why aren't you freaking out about the job market?' they said. I really couldn't tell them why. It helps to have a positive attitude."