New grads, start a business if you can’t find a job
What can new college graduates do to maximize their chance of getting a job? Six years into the economic recovery, the unemployment rate for young people ages 20 to 24, at 9.6%, is more than twice that for those 25 years and older, 4.5%. Young Americans are having trouble finding employment, and they are dropping out of the labor force, leading to delayed life milestones.
It’s too late to change your major or your grade point average, but here are five tips that anyone can use successfully.
Don’t be too picky. It’s better to have a job than no job at all. Remember, you’re not looking for a lifetime position, you’re looking for a stepping stone to your next job. A job brings in money, and it looks good on your résumé. Employers prefer hiring people who already have jobs to those who have been out of the workforce for a while. That’s because if you’re working, even if the job isn’t challenging, you are developing soft skills such as getting to work on time, staying the whole day, and being respectful to your coworkers and your boss.
When you have worked for about a year, you might be ready to move on to your next position. You should be looking around for better opportunities, especially if your first position wasn’t your dream job. You get bigger raises when you move than when you stay in the same position. Another option is to ask your current employer if he can match your new salary offer. There’s nothing like a new job offer to show how much you’re worth. If he won’t match, you explain, regretfully, that you have to move on.
Write a good cover letter. It sounds like a small thing. Anyone can write a good letter, right? But many grads have trouble with letters, even though today they can just email them without even addressing an envelope and using a stamp. I have received countless letters with grammatical and spelling errors. These letters don’t achieve their desired purpose, which is making your application stand out among others in a positive way.
A letter should express interest and enthusiasm for the organization to which you’re applying. It should show how you can add to the organization, rather than what the organization can do for you. Don’t write “I want to work for the First Class Think Tank because it will help me fulfill my passion for policy.” Instead, say “I want to work for First Class Think Tank because my statistical, research and writing skills would enable me to contribute to your reports.”
If you’re unsure as to whether you have the correct grammar, ask a friend (or two) to read it over before you send it.
Don’t exaggerate on your CV. A résumé is easy for a potential employer to check. You’re not going to get the job if the employer finds that you’re overstating your experience or qualifications. If you were an intern in a prior position, put down that you were an intern. Don’t put researcher. If you were helping with payroll and inventory, say you were “assisting with payroll and inventory,” not “managing payroll and inventory.” If you’re not fluent in Spanish or French or Arabic, don’t say that you are — your potential employer might start speaking French to you in the interview. While you’re checking your résumé for facts, you also want to check it for typos. If you can’t produce a typo-free résumé for yourself, your employer won’t believe you can produce a typo-free document for the firm.
Dress for the interview. Not all workplaces require business clothing, but all prefer candidates to be clean and presentable. Your career guidance office won’t dare to tell you this, but leave the extra earrings, as well as nose rings and studs, at home — that goes for men and women. As for workplace dress, find out beforehand by looking at the company’s website, calling a friend at the company or even calling the person who set up the interview. A white shirt and tie or a dress with a jacket goes fine for Citibank but perhaps not for a Silicon Valley startup. Get a good haircut. Men, either shave or make that beard look presentable.
Start your own business. If you can’t get a job, think of a market niche and start your own business. With the Internet, it’s easier than ever before, and there’s nothing like the satisfaction of being your own boss. One eminent economist I know quit his day job and started Bagel Day, a company in Spencerville, Md., that delivers bagels once a week to offices in the Washington, D.C., area. He never looked back and earned a chapter in “Freakonomics.”
Check the licensing requirements before you start. Some states require them for certain occupations — designed to keep out new entrants such as yourself. If you don’t live in Florida, Nevada, Louisiana or the District of Columbia, which require a license, you could start an interior-design business. If you don’t live in Louisiana, you could start a florist business. You can become a tree trimmer without a license in 40 states.
With promising new sharing-economy services, you can either work full time for yourself, or supplement your income by working flexible, part-time hours. Have a car? Why not drive for ride-sharing companies such as Uber or Lyft for a few hours on your commute home. Wondering what to do with that spare bedroom in your new apartment? Airbnb allows you to rent that out to travelers to help you pay your rent. Did your mother teach you how to cook a family favorite? You can earn money by cooking meals for others in your community on Feastly or EatWith.
The advantage of starting your own business is that you are your own boss, and you can set your own schedule. You don’t have to worry about dress. You can keep all net income. The disadvantage is that when there is no net income, you don’t have a salary. Minimum-wage requirements don’t apply to the self-employed: The Labor Department is not going to arrest you for paying yourself too little.
Grads, you’re starting at a disadvantage. America is in fiscal trouble and you’re being asked to shoulder the burden. You’re being asked to pay for retirement programs that might not be there when you retire, and higher health-insurance premiums to subsidize those who often have higher incomes and wealth. About three-quarters of you have college loans, and in 2014, total debt per borrower was $27,000, according to the New York Federal Reserve.
Still, you have to move forward. If you follow my five tips, you will get a first job, and then a better one. Email me (with correct grammar and spelling) and let me know how it’s worked out for you.