Can’t find a job? 6 alternatives for life and work after College

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It’s 2011. Unless you were one of those college students we all secretly resent (5.0, three extracurricular clubs, two part-time jobs that enabled you to graduate with 50k in savings and a paid off car), you’re probably swimming in the sea of rejections such as “this position requires 3+ years of specialized experience” or “unfortunately you were not as qualified as one of the hundred 45-year old applicants, we hired one of them instead, have fun living at your parent’s house”.

Sounds pretty numbing, right? It doesn’t have to be. Your parents can’t be upset with you for not getting that job that pays you $70,000 a year. Well, they can’t if they’re smart. The job market is flooded with college grads toting Bachelor’s of Everything Possible, so your chances, even if your parents think you’re a rockin’ academic and just the brightest star in the sky, are slim. More than likely a majority of the jobs you apply for will involve an HR manager skimming your resume and setting it aside in favor of one in a pool of applicants toting the much more valued asset–experience.

Hey, if you scored a sweet job after college, that’s totally awesome. That doesn’t mean this article isn’t for you. This article is for those of us who are either sick of 4 grey walls inside 4 grey walls (think cubicle inside a windowless corporate building), or have no desire to get sick of the 4×4 complex. If you’ve seen Joe versus the Volcano, you’ll get the idea.

So, I present to you a varied list of options for you. Perhaps some things you never thought sounded good and might strike your fancy now, or maybe you’re desperate, on your laptop in your parent\’s basement, right now, mentally screaming “GET. ME. OUT.”

6 Alternatives For Life And Work After College

1. Teach English in a foreign country.

If it’s catching on as fast as I think it is, you probably know someone either personally or through degrees of separation who has hopped on a plane with 3 checked bags and a freshly stamped Visa and hightailed it out of the country.

Advantages:

  • Work experience that’s legit. Yeah, maybe you don’t have a passion for teaching, but most of the gigs are one year contracts and when it’s all said and done you can either do another year, usually at higher wages because you gained experience, or decide to come back stateside. A year of teaching experience is better than nothing.
  • Travel. It doesn’t matter what country you go to, you’ll be travelling there and back, and if you’re smart, you’ll spend the weekends exploring surrounding areas and/or countries (particularly if you go to countries like France, where Germany, Spain, and England are just hours away). Travel does the body and mind good, and if you’ve never left your cozy living situation, it wouldn’t hurt for a 16 hour flight and some Italian driving to kick you in the pants.
  • Steady income. Think monthly paychecks that are usually at least $1000. Korea offers pay from $1800 to $2200 per month, depending on the school you sign up with. Health benefits (a lot of countries have jumped on the social healthcare bandwagon), vacation time, job training, and sometimes room and board is covered. Covered as in, you’re not wandering around Foreign Country X with a language handbook trying to score an apartment with a flush toilet.

Disadvantages:

  • You’ll be away from home for a year. Which, was going to happen at some point in your life anyway, but being away from home in a foreign country means there are some creature comforts you take for granted that won’t be available in your new home. I don’t think Moe’s is making burritos worldwide. No more drunken nights with the bestie, wings on Sunday with the boys during the season, and all those other great American past times.
  • If you’ve got pets, relocation. As nice and fuzzy as it sounds, bringing your cat to an Asian country or your dog to Saudi Arabia just isn’t practical. Safety, vaccinations, quarantine (some countries require you leave your animal in quarantine for 6 months), and cost. There are many ways to go about relocating your pets, some much better than others. Think friends and family, not animal shelters. Ultimately you want your animal to live, not die.
  • Your partner. Lover. Shaker or babymaker. Whatever you call your cohab, if you’ve got one, this may mean either a long-distance relationship or a break. If they’re toting a degree, see if they want to join in on the dysentery fun (just kidding). Lots of different programs will accept couples, and even find housing situations for them.
  • Paperwork. Hey, no one likes paperwork. Just thought it was worth mentioning, so you don\’t comment later in all caps about staples, faxes, and passports. End disclaimer.

2. Volunteer.

Such a dirty word. You’ve practically been volunteering for years, slaving over textbooks and paying all this money, it’s time you made some of that money back, right? Maybe. Volunteering doesn’t have to be all bad, a lot of programs give you stipends (enough money to live on) and really, what you earn and learn can’t be monetized. Poetically speaking, volunteering is great. But it’s not for everyone.

Advantages:

  • You’re doing something good. For yourself and humanity. Volunteering is a humbling experience, and we all could use a little of that.
  • I repeat myself, but travel. You will travel. First by plane, then probably by bicycle, quite frequently. As many volunteer programs place people in third-world countries, you will probably get to see parts of the world that many others don’t, and beauty can be found everywhere. That little cove on the beach in Indonesia? Hopefully not a tourist spot, and it just became your own private paradise. Call mom and tell her to send you a hammock.
  • Experience. Volunteering is included in work experience. It’s still work, you’re just not getting paid. If you teach people how to farm via the PeaceCorps, then you just gained XP (experience points for the less-geeky) in agriculture. It all shows up later on your resume and will work to your advantage. Any experience you get after college that demonstrates leadership and teaching will do you well when you decide to return to the world of 401(k)s.

Disadvantages:

  • Plainly speaking, you’re not getting paid. You’re not saving money, you’re not investing money, you’re not paying off student loans. Volunteering might be a good option for those of us who graduated with very little debt or debt-like commitments. If you\’re trying to buy a house in the next two years and looking for a down payment, volunteering might not be the best option for you.

3. Work aboard a cruise ship (or spend 6 months being seasick, all depends on your sealegs)

If you’ve ever been on a cruise, a lasting impression that is often made is the quantity and quality of the employees aboard the giant floating town you’re sunbathing on. They have hundreds of employees per ship, and a point is usually made about the employees nationality (perhaps by nametag). Who wouldn’t want to hit the Bahamas a couple of times over the summer? You just graduated, you’ve got nothing better to do, right?

Advantages:

  • Travel to exotic lands and tourist hot spots. You may not always be able to leave the ship when it’s in port, but chances are you’ll get to spend a lot of time on land before you have to return to work.
  • Variety of jobs available. Photographer, bartender, casino dealer, housekeeping, gift shop, cook, server, engine repair, maintenance, gigalo, etc.
  • Lodging is paid for.

Disadvantages:

  • Pay is not great. Think something close to minimum wage, however, since lodging is paid for, a majority of your income can either be spent as you please while seeing the different sights or just saved up for future travels. Six months aboard a ship may fund that backpacking across Europe trip, who knows?
  • Lodging is small. Think bed and dresser, and a strip of floor space. This may not matter so much when you’re not spending too much time in your living quarters, but just know that you’re not getting a studio apartment.
  • Working conditions vary. Do your research before you accept a job aboard a cruise ship, because many of them originate from other countries. Countries in which guidelines that the U.S. applies to working conditions may not be the same, so your rights and benefits may be different than what you’re used to. If you’ve never been yelled at or treated differently because of gender in a workplace, that’s awesome. That might be different working for a cruise ship, just keep in mind.

4. Join the military.

I can just hear the knuckles cracking, coffee being sputtered, and just an all-round outrageous indignation. Or perhaps, you’re wisely thinking “You know, I have considered that before…” Ellipsis intended.

If you can look PAST the debate of reasons for or against why a person would choose to join the military and it look at it objectively (I know you know how, objective is that pesky word professors put in the syllabus to make their classes seem structured), the military has a lot to offer.

Advantages:

  • Royal ass-kicking. Some college graduates need it. Boot camp will be an ass-kicking. Might be a good way to shed the infamous freshman fifteen that stuck around for 4 years. And hey, you should probably get into shape before you’re 30 anyways, I’ve been told by many that after 30….well, let\s not think about that.
  • Steady paycheck. Direct deposit. Health insurance (and good insurance, too), community benefits, paid relocations, support for spouses and children, on-base schooling for children, etc. I could list all these individually, but it’s all under a blanket of job security.
  • Travel, again. This could fall under disadvantages, because whereas getting stationed in Guam might be nice for you and the family (or just you), a deployment (which is very likely) to the sandbox may not be as fun.
  • Experience, of a high degree. Many employers are anxious to hire those who have spent 4+ years in the military not only because of the work experience you gain, but also because of the sort of individual the military invariably produces. And if you go in as an officer (which would be wise on your part, with a Bachelor’s Degree its definitely possible and your paygrade is almost doubled, along with responsibility), your desirability as a job candidate definitely increases.
  • When you get out, go back to school with your GI Bill and get that Master’s Degree you never wanted. Why the hell not?
  • Veteran’s preference for federal government jobs. Go to usajobs.gov, browse the jobs and notice that at the end of almost every job listing that there are paragraphs dedicated to Veteran’s Preferences. Basically, you do some time in the military, when you get out there are some jobs that you may have an up on in comparison to the rest of the applicants.

Disadvantages:

  • This may seem obvious, but with our current political “climate”, the military is dangerous. No need to expand on the subject unnecessarily.
  • Requires a commitment you may not be willing to fork over. Think, 4 years minimum.
  • Once you’re in, you’re in. There are a few ways to get out of the military after you’ve signed up, but they rarely work and won’t do you much good. Accept the fact that once you sign on the dotted line, you made a long-term commitment. Same as you would before you ask a girl to marry you.
  • Another set of laws, less freedom. The military has it’s own set of laws you must abide by, as well as those of your country, state, and county.

5. Work on a farm

Aside from closet cultivation, farming means making your way to the great West of the U.S.A. and finding employment on a farm, either harvesting plants or helping on a horse ranch. Think waking up at 4 A.M. everyday, lunch at the big house, and swimming in the river after the day is done.

Advantages:

  • You can save money. Many places will offer room and board in exchange for paying you less per month. Think around $300 per month in pay, and your food and rent is covered. More than likely, there will be other perks.
  • Experience. Unless you were raised on a farm in the Midwest, I’m guessing you don’t know one end of a rake from another, what tack is or how to tell that most fruits are ripe. Think about doing the Laura Ingalls Wilder thing. Getting dirty, working with your hands, through all weather, and being outside every day. A cubicle will seem like a prison after an experience like that.
  • Less stress. If all you’re doing every day is getting up early and working manually, you don’t have to worry about office politics and pleasing customers. You’d probably interact more with animals than you would people on a farm for a summer, and sometimes that’s a welcome break from 4 years of collegiate conversation.
  • It’s probably something you and a friend can do together. Many larger farms hire many hands at once for the season, so if your college buddy is down for some adventure-havin’, see if they’re up for roughing it over the summer and mucking out stables. Company is always nice, and memories will be made.

Disadvantages:

  • You’re not netting a grand a month. Sometimes the actual income of a job outweighs the peachiness of not having to pay rent. We all like to have a savings account and spending money, and that’s about all you’ll get out of working on a farm, monetarily.
  • You’ll spend some time away from home, yet again. If you haven’t noticed that there is a trend here, you will by the end of this article.

6. Keep doing what you’re doing

If you spent most of your college years hiding in your dorm, being studious, and getting good grades, chances are you didn’t party….that much. Most graduates are working in the service industry; think bartending, serving, delivering pizza, cooking, etc. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. To continue what you did during college because the job market took a dive makes sense. Working for tips is the best method of survival for those of us in that situation.

Advantages:

  • It’s fun. In my experience, working in the service industry introduced me to a lifestyle of complete debauchery that was beyond what I ever saw on campus, off campus, or around campus. Bartenders drink like fish and get the best service. I spent much of my college years at the bar after work and hitting the beach on a Tuesday, when I wasn’t needed at work.
  • You can make decent money. Depending on your state, minimum wage either works for you or against you (Texas is around 2 bucks an hour, Washington is over 8 bucks per hour) and you can sustain a yearly income of at least $24,000. Better than nothing, friends.
  • It’s casual. It has it’s stresses, but you don’t have to bring work home with you that involves memos and meetings. You clock out, you’re done.
  • It’s CASH. It’s not reported, unless you want to report it.

Disadvantages:

  • Working in the service industry for too long can perpetuate a lifestyle of extremes. Extreme partying, extreme casualness, extreme apathy. I know many people who have turned around, realized they were 35 years old and still bartending. This is only bad if you dont want to be a bartender for the rest of your life. Many people bartend as careers and make it work for them. If you’re not careful, you can get stuck in the “make money bake money waste money” cycle.
  • It can only give you so much experience. Past about 4 years, it’s no longer impressive on a resume that you’ve worked in the same industry for 15 years. Sure, you may know how to make every shot known to man, but in all likelihood it won’t do much for you in the future as far as changing career paths. It’s hard to get out of the industry when you’re done with it, because a majority of your experience lies in doing one thing–service.

Got more questions? Well, there are answers. This will be the first in a series of articles on the how-to’s, where-to-find-on-the-internets’, and other expansions on the above listed after-college options.

NextTeaching English In A Foreign Country

29 comments

Winston #permalink

Love the article!

I'm in this exact position. I just graduated from college and do not have one of those salary jobs. It wasn't from a lack of trying, it was from a lack of understanding of what I wanted to do for work. Your post resonated with me because your ideas are also a great way for people to expose themselves to many different experiences and help narrow down their work interests.

A possible addition to the "Work on a Farm" suggestion is WWOOFing, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This might break the mold of what we consider farming to be like – monoculture farms out west – and replaces it with international organic farm opportunities. It also is a great way to travel cheap because many of these farms, as you mentioned in your article, take care of room and board expenses. http://www.wwoof.org/

Reply
Winston #permalink

Love the article!

I'm in this exact position. I just graduated from college and do not have one of those salary jobs. It wasn't from a lack of trying, it was from a lack of understanding of what I wanted to do for work. Your post resonated with me because your ideas are also a great way for people to expose themselves to many different experiences and help narrow down their work interests.

A possible addition to the "Work on a Farm" suggestion is WWOOFing, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This might break the mold of what we consider farming to be like – monoculture farms out west – and replaces it with international organic farm opportunities. It also is a great way to travel cheap because many of these farms, as you mentioned in your article, take care of room and board expenses. http://www.wwoof.org/

Reply
Winston #permalink

Love the article!

I'm in this exact position. I just graduated from college and do not have one of those salary jobs. It wasn't from a lack of trying, it was from a lack of understanding of what I wanted to do for work. Your post resonated with me because your ideas are also a great way for people to expose themselves to many different experiences and help narrow down their work interests.

A possible addition to the "Work on a Farm" suggestion is WWOOFing, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This might break the mold of what we consider farming to be like – monoculture farms out west – and replaces it with international organic farm opportunities. It also is a great way to travel cheap because many of these farms, as you mentioned in your article, take care of room and board expenses. http://www.wwoof.org/

Reply
Winston #permalink

Love the article!

I'm in this exact position. I just graduated from college and do not have one of those salary jobs. It wasn't from a lack of trying, it was from a lack of understanding of what I wanted to do for work. Your post resonated with me because your ideas are also a great way for people to expose themselves to many different experiences and help narrow down their work interests.

A possible addition to the "Work on a Farm" suggestion is WWOOFing, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This might break the mold of what we consider farming to be like – monoculture farms out west – and replaces it with international organic farm opportunities. It also is a great way to travel cheap because many of these farms, as you mentioned in your article, take care of room and board expenses. http://www.wwoof.org/

Reply
Winston #permalink

Love the article!

I'm in this exact position. I just graduated from college and do not have one of those salary jobs. It wasn't from a lack of trying, it was from a lack of understanding of what I wanted to do for work. Your post resonated with me because your ideas are also a great way for people to expose themselves to many different experiences and help narrow down their work interests.

A possible addition to the "Work on a Farm" suggestion is WWOOFing, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This might break the mold of what we consider farming to be like – monoculture farms out west – and replaces it with international organic farm opportunities. It also is a great way to travel cheap because many of these farms, as you mentioned in your article, take care of room and board expenses. http://www.wwoof.org/

Reply
Winston #permalink

Love the article!

I'm in this exact position. I just graduated from college and do not have one of those salary jobs. It wasn't from a lack of trying, it was from a lack of understanding of what I wanted to do for work. Your post resonated with me because your ideas are also a great way for people to expose themselves to many different experiences and help narrow down their work interests.

A possible addition to the "Work on a Farm" suggestion is WWOOFing, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This might break the mold of what we consider farming to be like – monoculture farms out west – and replaces it with international organic farm opportunities. It also is a great way to travel cheap because many of these farms, as you mentioned in your article, take care of room and board expenses. http://www.wwoof.org/

Reply
Dan #permalink

Just wanted to add that another option is to do something entrepreneurial – if no one's willing to give you a job, create one for yourself! Maybe you'll make the kind of money you're hoping to make. Maybe you won't. But you gain valuable experience in any case. And wouldn't we all rather have the level of freedom and self-determination that comes from having your own business rather than working for someone else's?

Reply
Divya #permalink

This page is so useful. I mean, after finishing formal education, everybody keeps talking about getting a job. As if it is so easy to land one in the first place. No one ever gives even the slightest thought to what they would alternately do if nobody really wanted to employ them at all (for whatever reason). I mean, for how many days and months will you spend more in applying to various companies?

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Katherine #permalink

I never though there are graduates from this country that would experience a jobless moment in their life. I though this is rich country and there are many opportunities available.

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Good work ….I went to college out of high school. Work jobs in food service, welding, machining, construction, landscaping, government contracting, logistics, etc.. Finally at age 25 after realizing that life was to short to chase the almighty dollar i decided to do something i wanted to and not think about money. Now i am doing an apprenticship with a very established nationally known woodworker and will take over the business when he retires. I make decent money for my area but i have never been happier. I wake up every morning looking forward to work. I never watch the clock. I don't care if its monday morning or friday afternoon. I love what i do and couldn't imagine doing anything different. My only complaint is i didn't start this sooner. Life is too short to chase the dollar, DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE!

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Whether you find employment after college or not, you should definitely try to put yourself into a work environment as soon as you can by volunteering or offering your services to a company in your field of expertise. Your job can be your whole life, so enjoy your student days while you can and get as much experience as you can.

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