Making It Between College and Your First Job

How long does it take to find a job after college?

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Graduating from college is a huge accomplishment, but it can be scary if you're buried in student loans. You need a well-paying job—yesterday, and ideally in the area you've been studying for and preparing for these last several years.

It can take college graduates an average of three to six months to land that first position after graduation, according to the University of Washington. That might sound like an eternity, but you have some options, from taking a not-so-perfect job for the time being to—gulp!—moving back home temporarily.

Work Somewhere

You need income...any income. This isn't a time to get on your high horse and hold out for a position that's perfectly suited to your new degree. The perfect job is out there on the horizon, but you have bills to pay right now. You need a source of income while you're looking for your dream job.

Hang onto that part-time job if you were working while you were in college. You can hopefully stretch the money you're making to cover your basic expenses now. The time you would have spent studying for school and attending classes can be refocused on looking for that perfect position.

Apply for part-time or seasonal work for the time being if you weren't working while you were in school, or if you can't keep that position. Maybe you were working in the city where your college was located but now you've moved back home. You might end up juggling more than one part-time job while you're looking for "real" work.

Consider looking for a job that pays more per hour through tips.

Develop a Great Resume

You might want to look into internships as well to help build experience in your field. These positions don't always offer pay, but the right one can look great on your resume if you can get by without the income for a short while.

The same goes for volunteer work in your desired field. The individual who will ultimately interview you for your dream job will be more interested in the experience you gained than how much money you made in the process.

As for that part-time job you're still holding on to, that can actually add luster to your resume as well if it evolves into a managerial or leadership type of role.

About That Job Search

Widen your search if you're having a difficult time finding a position in your chosen field. Some people narrow their hunt by looking only in a specific city or state, or by holding out for a certain type of position. Explore other options as well.

You might have to look for work that's related to your degree but they're not the dream job you want most. You might want to live in a specific area of the state or country, but you can relocate if you find a great company match elsewhere. What's more important to you—the location or the job? Broaden your horizons and hunt accordingly.

Take advantages of the job search resources offered by your college. Use your contacts through school, and your parents' and friends' contacts as well. Attend any and all job fairs in your area.

Check job portals online every day, not just when you have some free time. These portals are constantly being updated with new listings that can be filled and gone by the time you get around to checking on the weekend. You want your resume to be in the proper hands before other folks get around to signing on to take a look at what's available.

Above all, don't neglect to follow up each time you send your resume out. It's perfectly OK to reach out and inquire about the status of the position—and your application—if you haven't heard anything in two to three days. It's also OK to send out multiple applications and resumes daily, as long as you keep good records so you know what you sent to whom.

You Need a Budget

Create a working budget to follow until you land your dream job. It should cover all your daily expenses, from your phone to your car payment and rent, utilities, and food. Make sure that you have access to the internet so you can look for work.

Ask your parents if they're willing or able to help you make ends meet until you land the position you've been educated for. Maybe they'll pay your phone bill or car insurance for a period of time. Even reallocating just one monthly expense can make a big difference. Check to find out if your student loans have a six-month grace period for payment after graduation. Many do.

Put a Lid on Spending

Don't make any major financial changes in your life until you've found the job. Don't sign a new lease—unless, of course, you have no choice because your current lease expires when you graduate. Look for something that's less expensive in this case, or consider taking on a roommate. Otherwise, try to stay put until you know where you'll be working.

Don't purchase a new car, assuming your credit is up for it, or make other financial commitments until you have a decent, steady paycheck. You won't know what your annual salary will be until you've actually landed that job, so making financial commitments now just doesn't make a lot of sense.

Avoid using credit cards and running up a lot of debt that will be looming on the horizon, waiting for you when you finally get that job.

Don't buy your entire professional wardrobe until you land that job, either—one professional outfit for interviews will suffice for now. The workplace dress code can vary depending on where you end up working, so you really don't know what to buy yet anyway.

You Need a Roof Over Your Head

Yes, moving back in with your parents sounds a lot like a last resort. Unfortunately, many college graduates do end up moving back home because they're having a difficult time finding a job.

Go in with clear expectations for both you and your parents. Make sure that you find ways to contribute to the household, whether it's through chores, cooking, or paying a small amount in rent. Have a clear plan that will help you prepare to move out, and a timeline in place once you find a job. 

And look for that dream job every day, using every tip and trick in your arsenal.