How to Survive Unemployment After Graduation

It’s April and you know what that means. A fresh batch of undergrads will be tossing up their graduation caps and entering the real world. So, I’m going to share a series of posts focused on life and unemployment after graduation.

I’m sorry for starting this series off with a post that’s sort of a Debbie Downer, but I really wish someone had written this when I was about to graduate.

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What I Thought It Would Be Like After I Graduated

I graduated from university in 2009. I was 23, just a month shy of turning 24, and after 5 years of writing papers and making short films I was so unbelievably ready to start my first real job, move out of my parents’ place, and become a real adult. But life never works out the way you want it to, does it?

To be fair, I was really lucky getting my first job just a month after graduation. It was an office job at a film festival and was quite honestly my dream job. Not only was I part of a really exciting office environment, but there were a ton of perks like getting a free festival pass and access to almost all the parties. The only catch was it was only a 4-month contract.

I was still incredibly happy to take it, not just to start making above minimum wage for the first time in my life, but also to get some much-needed office work experience. Up until then I had only worked retail and I knew having Blockbuster and Jacob Connexion on my résumé wasn’t exactly a selling point to future employers.

The First Few Months of Unemployment

The 4 months I spent at the film festival were amazing. Unfortunately, once my contract ended, so did my lucky streak. Being the naïve overachiever that I was, I thought I’d be able to score a permanent full-time job within a month no problem.

And why not? I’m smart, I’m a hard worker and I’ve got a Bachelor’s degree! I followed all the steps for success that I knew of. But I learned pretty quickly that doesn’t matter when you graduate at the beginning of a recession and are competing with thousands of other post-grads just as qualified and desperate for work as you are.

In total, I was unemployed for 8 months. Well, not completely unemployed. I did take the odd on-call shift at a news station and once in awhile worked as a Production Assistant on some very small, very low-budget film sets.

That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t broke and in debt — I was. I also slowly slipped into a deep, dark depression that comes with staring at a computer all day, waiting anxiously for a response from one of the hundred jobs I applied to.

What Not to Do When You’re Unemployed

A bit of advice, do not check Facebook when you’re unemployed. Reading Britney’s status update about how much she loves her new government job and is so happy her parents own a condo downtown so she can live rent-free will make you want to punch both Britney and your computer screen.

Another thing to be wary of is that your standards for your ideal job will plummet quicker than you think. For the first couple months I was holding out for an assistant or coordinator position at some cool artsy start-up, but around month 4 I was applying for every receptionist post that went up.

Of course, every time I went to interview for a receptionist position I was told that I was overqualified. Ah, life as a post-grad. The Catch-22 of being overeducated and under-experienced. Isn’t life just a big ol’ kick in the pants?

The Key Is to Never Give Up

Okay, enough self-pity. I’m here to talk to you about how to survive unemployment after graduation, not how to become a depressed hermit that wears pyjamas all day and doesn’t bother shaving her legs because there’s no point anymore.

Unemployment after graduation sucks, but it’s a natural part of life and it happens to everyone. Except for those jerks who never experience it, but don’t worry about them. Karma probably has something really good in store for them. Maybe a real kick in the pants?

Listen, the main key to keeping your motivation and sanity going is to never stop trying. I remember someone telling me that opportunities won’t literally knock on your door. You’ve gotta get out there and find them. And that’s what I did. I started volunteering at a few arts festivals. I started reading up on finances and budgeted a plan to pay off my student loan. I started working out in the mornings and made a point to leave the house at least once a day.

I also started looking into different ways to find job postings. Instead of relying on all the job boards out there, I started making a list of places I wanted to work at and started checking their websites regularly to see if they ever listed any available positions. That’s actually how I found my current job.

Another thing I wish I had done more was follow-up after applying for a job. I was always afraid of bugging the employer with a phone call so I almost never followed up. Of course, I really wanted the job I now have, so I finally ignored my fears and followed up and it definitely made all the difference.

Unemployment After Graduation Is Normal and Temporary

So, what have we learned here? Unemployment after graduation isn’t something to be ashamed of and it will not last forever. It’s important to keep motivated even when you feel completely hopeless. Remember that old saying “Failure only happens when you stop trying”? It’s true! One last piece of advice, check out these two awesome careers blogs: Evil HR Lady and Ask a Manager. I’ve only recently discovered them and man are they a godsend!

Listen to My Podcast Interview with Alison Green from Ask a Manager

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Showing 11 comments
  • Bridget
    Reply

    Great post! I was lucky to never be unemployed but I was definitely underemployed for a few months. I was working part-time at Apple = yep me and my honours BSc, earning just $15/hr, 20hrs per week. It was pretty bad. I’m really glad I found the job I have now.

    • Mo' Money Mo' Houses
      Reply

      I think most grads experience either unemployment after graduating or are forced to work for less than they deserve for a little while. But there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel and patience and perseverance is key. Thanks for the comment!

  • eemusings
    Reply

    Ugh! All those kids who can go off swanning overseas because they’re subsidised by their parents…or buy houses, again, thanks to their parents?!

    But seriously. It’s rough. Like Bridget, I was lucky to never have been unemployed (I’ve been fully independent since 17 so can’t afford to be). I’ve always patched together multiple jobs – even when full-time I would do tutoring, editing, mystery shopping etc. And of course, approaching organisations you’d like to work for never hurts (proactivity!) The sticking point is often internships/volunteering is the best way to get your foot in the door – if you can afford to work for free. We had a great full time intern who worked all summer, and worked weekends at a cafe (so working literally nonstop all summer to earn her keep and to get work experience).

    • Mo' Money Mo' Houses
      Reply

      Haha I know! I definitely agree that doing internships and volunteering is a great way to find job opportunities and I don’t even know why I didn’t look more into that when I was unemployed. Oh well, live and learn!

  • Country Girl
    Reply

    Loved this post, it’s fabulously written! I am so fortunate that I found employment actually before I technically finished my Masters. I couldn’t imagine being unemployed, it would be so disheartening.

    • Mo' Money Mo' Houses
      Reply

      Why thank you! It’s been a post I’ve wanted to write for a while, especially since I wish someone wrote it when I was going through the same thing.

  • Melissa
    Reply

    Ah, this is such a great post! I’m so glad you touched on this topic. Being unemployed can be so hard, especially when you’re young and there’s so much pressure. Plus, I find a lot of the older generation gets stuck on the whole “swallow your pride and get a job that’s ‘beneath’ you” thing, when in reality, even that’s not really possible! For one, a minimum wage job likely isn’t going to pay enough to make student loan payments. And for two, do you know how hard it is for someone with a university degree to get a job in retail?! It’s not a pride thing. They won’t hire, at least not in this area, because they assume you’ll leave as soon as you get a better job. You totally nailed the catch 22 of being either over qualified or under qualified for almost everything. Honestly, none of my university educated friends have worked in retail or food services since graduating, even though they can’t find jobs in the field. And it’s not a pride thing — retail won’t hire them!

    Thankfully, I haven’t had too much experience with unemployment, but in the summer of 2009, just after my third year of university, I couldn’t find a job to save my life. I actually had a job lined up, and it fell through at the last minute, and by then it was too late. It was awful. I ended up back with my parents for the summer, having to sublet my apartment, and I was getting passed over for jobs that I would have been overqualified for back in high school. It was really demoralizing. I started feeling like I was unemployable. Looking back, I know this obviously wasn’t the case, and it was just a bad time for finding work, but it really got me down at the time. It was the only time I’d been without a job since I started working at 14!

    • Mo' Money Mo' Houses
      Reply

      Oh wow, thanks for this awesome comment! I’m so glad you liked my post! I felt like I needed to write it and put it out there in case someone got something out of it or could relate. I remember being in my 4th and 5th years of university and it being literally impossible to find a retail job because I was overeducated. It sucked because it forced me to take out a student loan for my last year. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • crystal
    Reply

    this is a great article for me right now to read. i have just been laid off due to economic slowdown after working for 13 years. being unemployed is completely new to me and i have taken a month to let myself grieve for the future i thought i would have, the career i was ok with, and the changes that are coming our way. It is now time to get back out there and earn money to contribute to the family. I like what you said about following up, i always thought the same thing too, that i was just bothering the employer and i would get a red star by my name in the future. Perhaps i will take your advice and make a few phone calls on Monday. Thanks for the motivation and inspiration. And i agree, to those who have never been unemployed, i hope you get your life lessons someday. We need these events to shape us and grow as individuals.

    • Mo' Money Mo' Houses
      Reply

      I totally agree, I think unemployment (althought it sucks) can definitely make you stronger and maybe even give you the opportunity to reassess what you want to do as a career. It definitely helped me realize I didn’t want to pursue filmmaking as a full-time career but more as a passion, and marketing and business was more something I wanted to pursue. Thanks for the comment!

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  • […] fell into. I had just finished my bachelor’s degree in film production in 2009, and man was that a terrible time to graduate. The recession was in full swing, no one was hiring, and I was desperate to make some money to […]

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