How college kids can get a job


The Curse of the Class of 2009, the Wall St. Journal headline screamed last month. Grim job outlook for new college grads, the Minnesota Public Radio News story echoed.

“If I were a college graduate right now, it’d be enough to make me hide under the covers for the rest of my life, ” Lindsey Pollak, a career columnist, told Kerri Miller on MPR’s Midmorning this morning.

Got it. It’s bad. But grads are getting jobs. We know that because many of them called in today.

Here are the tips we learned today:

Pay your dues

“You have to realize the path you thought you would take isn’t the path you can. We’re going back to the olden days when you have to pay your dues and some kids don’t want to hear that,” Pollack said.

Consider unpaid internships or waiting tables, said Steven Rothberg, the president and founder of, based in Edina. “My parents did that, I don’t see why this year’s graduating class should feel they shouldn’t have to do that,” he said.

Nick, a recent college graduate, is one of the few who got a job. He called into the show to say he had an unpaid internship program with GE and was told all he had to do was work hard and he’d have a job. He’s got a job.

Network with alumni

Caller Steve said he’d hand out business cards to everyone, including friends and other people he’d meet. He starts a job on Wall Street next week. “I had a list of 25 alumni and every month I’d make sure I’d go through the list and drop each a note.”

“It’s about taking the people you know and the people they know and talking to them about your career prospects. If you tap into the network of people who know you… that works,” Pollack said.

“Networking isn’t about asking people what they can do for you,” Rothberg said, “it’s what you can do for them.” He said an accounting major, for example, may tell a friend in business, “I see you have a stack of bills to get out, what do you think about me coming in and helping you do it for free?”

An engineering student said his “network dried up with hiring freezes.” Rothberg said he’s networking incorrectly.

Use your summer jobs to get experience in your field

A business owner said most of the resumes he gets have summer jobs listed that have nothing to do with what career they want to pursue. “They’re working as roofers because it pays more,” he said.

“Talk to professors who may know of businesses who may need some help through the summer,” Pollack said. “And just getting a sense of how a professional office works gives you a leg up.”

A caller who graduated from law school, disputed that. She worked at Menard’s for eight years. “If you can last at a job for eight years, you can do anything,” she said.

Don’t assume nobody’s hiring. Take advantage of the college’s career services

A St. Cloud State College career services pro said surveys sent out to area businesses

showed that while there are companies who don’t plan to hire until fall, several have indicated they’ve got jobs to fill.

Rothberg said students aren’t taking enough initiative to work with their college career services department. “You have to act like an adult,” he said.

“Students drop a resume off at a career fair and they’re shocked they didn’t get a job,” said Pollack. “The days of mailing in a resume and expecting to get a job are so over.”

Rothberg said he’s not much of a fan of college job fairs. He said many companies send “introverts” to them who don’t like shaking hands and meeting people.

Be memorable in interviews

“You can look great on paper and have all the experience in the world,” one young caller, Duncan, said. “But personality and humor is important in an interview, too.”

“Actors are good because they prepare and practice and a lot of students walk in and just wing it,” Pollack said. “It’s important not to just say ‘I’m great, I have a great personality or I have experience,’ you have to explain why you’re the best person for the job.”

“Role play,” said Rothberg. “Get your college roommate to pretend he/she’s the hiring manager and practice. Get prepared for the stupid questions.”

Remain optimistic

Find job-search support groups and don’t let yourself get isolated. “You cannot put your eggs in one basket. A lot of students get all worked up about one or two job possibilities and sit by the phone. You’ve got to cast a wider net,” Pollack said.

Go work with kids or volunteer at a hospital. It’ll make you feel better about yourself.

It’s great to hear success stories. If you’ve got some tips, add them below.

(Photo: Getty Images)

  • As a 2008 college grad, these tips are right on with everything I have heard and experienced. My story is a little different in that I got a job easily–through an uncle that is the VP of a company that needed an accounts payable assistant–but here I am working in AP when my degree is in music and frankly, I don’t get much satisfaction at all from this work. But, it pays the bills while I try to discern what I really want to do with my life. In the meantime I also work as a barista at big coffee chain on the weekends and occasional evenings, which I DO find enjoyable and hope that if I decide to pursue advancement in that company my loyalty and hard work will pay off (it’s been 2+ years so far).

    My tips:

    Don’t be afraid to take a chance on an opportunity you’re given even if it’s not what you want-chances are you’ll learn skills you can use elsewhere and you’ll make some new connections.

    Do as much volunteering as you can because new opportunities can come from it and you’ll definitely gain some good references.

    You may not always love your job but it can be worth it if it allows you the means (money, time, or whatever) to pursue the other things you want to do.

  • Bob Collins

    EP, when you say you need to figure out what to do with the rest of your life, you’re not giving up on your music dream, are you?

  • JSmith

    I’m also doing something not at all related to what I want to be doing (which is also music). Interestingly, when I was jobless I wrote and recorded 1 song a week, sometimes more. Now that I’m an office administrator full time I don’t have the luxury of spending my time on it, and since I don’t particularly enjoy my job it tends to drain my creative energy so that even when I do have the time I don’t have the force of will.

    But the income has definitely changed my quality of life. I can do things I couldn’t possibly do before (as mentioned above).

    Years later, for me I think now that I’m getting married and have bills to pay it makes doing what I love even harder. For example, a job in broadcasting might be nice. I worked at my college’s radio station for nearly a year as a D.J. (and was nominated for music director, but declined due to time constraints) and loved it. Working with the switch boards and doing programming on-air was actually a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I’d either need to go back to school for it which would reduce an already strained budget of time and money, or work an internship which tend to be unpaid. Given the above situation, that’s not possible.

    This is also true of other fields of work that I’ve found are related to my love of music and audio and performance, like sound production.

    Note that for me, it’s not even what I went to school for in the first place (which was fine arts and computer science). Personally I wonder how people reconcile those changes when they’re already committed to conflicting responsibilities?

  • EP

    Not giving up, no, but probably figuring out new ways of incorporating it into my life. My dream job would be a full-time orchestra gig, but obviously those are few and far between and I’d need more schooling to even be able to be a serious contender. Lately I’ve been feeling that if I can get myself into some sort of fulfilling line of work and still make the time to play and perform on a regular basis – in community groups, continuing to study privately, and small chamber ensembles – that might be the best thing for me. But I still have to figure out what kind of work that might be…

  • sdf

    These are all good tips. I just found a great little book called The Power of Small. Of manty of its great tips one of my favorites is- keep a daily list of 5 positives/accomplishments. This way you can keep your spirits up and go into an interview ready to talk with confidence about how youve been spending your time while looking for a job.