Brave Alternatives to the Day Job

What do you do when you can’t find a job after college?

Very few students graduate from college with a crystal clear vision of what their future will hold. The world is all before them, as Milton would have said, and as if the weight of choosing from an infinite number of career and life paths wasn’t enough, most recent grads find that they can’t get the job of their dreams right out of college.

In fact, most graduates are lucky to find a job at all. After four years of hard work and learning — not to mention the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars spent on tuition — the first years out of school can be very discouraging for graduates, especially in this economy, which demands 3+ years of experience for entry level positions. You can’t change the economy or the hiring decisions of employers.

Economists are saying that we are finally coming out of the “Great Recession,” but progress is slow, and it will still be years before we are back to normal. What you can change, however, are your tactics. To succeed in the current market, it’s going to take some creativity, boldness, and a lot of drive.

The upside is that the months and years just after graduation are the perfect time to be creative and pursue risky passions; the downside is that it will be unsteady and irregular work. The bottom line, though, is that there are several alternatives to working the grind right out of college, and that taking some time to figure out exactly what you want will be far more helpful than just finding steady work the day after you graduate.

Alternative 1: Start Your Own Business

Have an idea and a few friends? Start a business! Small start-ups have taken the business world by storm in the past three years, especially in the technology, software, and internet markets. You will face innumerable obstacles, not the least of which being fundraising, but if you have the wherewithal to stick with it, just a little business savvy, and a few insights into market research, you can make it work.

The obstacles are not without reward, though. Starting a business has so many benefits it’s hard to list all of them, but some of the most important are the lessons you will learn and the contacts you will make. Plus, if you work hard, put it in the research and the hours, you could sell the company for millions just a few years down the road. Granted, this does not happen to every start-up, and in fact does not happen to most, but you can still learn a lot and have fun in the process.

Alternative 2: Volunteer

In some ways this is the polar opposite of starting a business. You won’t be making any money, and you won’t have any chance to become a millionaire “overnight,” but volunteering does share some of the benefits of starting a business, namely the networking benefits. While you volunteer you will meet people in the industry, and have the opportunity to get a foot in the door at several places, just by showing that you are dedicated enough to work in your field for free.

Volunteering is also a litmus test — it’s a great way to find out whether you actually like the field you committed to in college. You might find out that you really don’t enjoy it as much as you thought you did.

Alternative 3: Freelance

Freelancing is similar to starting a business, but doesn’t require as much planning or capital. If you are an expert in something, start identifying a market that you could serve and that would pay you for your services. The blogger, author, and Gen-X financial expert Ramit Sethi outlines a great system for freelancers, and also gives pointers about how much to charge, a point many inexperienced freelancers negotiate poorly.

Freelance work takes a lot of initiative, but also give you countless networking opportunities and forces you to sharpen and expand your skill set, so that you can charge more and continue to be the best. There are more alternatives out there, but these are just three that should get you thinking creatively about how to solve your employment dilemma, and maybe even decide on a new career path for your life.

This article was contributed by Nadia Jones, who blogs at about education, college, students, teachers, money saving, and movies. You can reach her at

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