With graduation season around the corner, many soon-to-be grads are finding themselves confronting "the real world" that their parents, TV shows and random strangers have always warned them about. And, if they're anything like I was at that age, many of them are entering that phase of their lives without a job offer or even an idea of what to do next.
For as scary as that might sound if you're someone in that position, there's a lot of good news to keep in mind as you confront your as-yet-undefined path forward. So, while there's no great time to be an unemployed graduate, there have definitely been worse times. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:
Unemployment is near record lows
You may have read that national unemployment dipped below 4% last month. What you might not know, especially if you're making your first foray into the working world, is how big of a deal that is. Here's something that should give you an idea: back when I first started writing about careers for Vault—way back in 2007—the national unemployment rate stood at 5%, during a period that is widely recognized as having been one of wild economic excess. Today, we're a full point lower than that—and a long way below the 10% rate of unemployment that existed less than 2 years after I took my job: a climb that represented some 8.7 million lost jobs, and which set many graduates back by years in terms of starting their careers.
You know that stereotype about millennials moving back in with their parents? 8.7 million job losses in 2 years is what caused it. Thankfully, we're no longer in that scenario today. In fact, we've seen almost unprecedented economic growth since 2010, and now find ourselves in a situation that is the polar opposite of the depths of a recession: serious economists are now surveying the landscape and worrying about how we keep an expansion like this chugging along. The result: despite the concerns over AI and automation destroying careers, companies cannot hire workers fast enough—which means that there are plenty of opportunities out there.
Graduate unemployment is even lower
"Stay in school, kids" wasn't just something that adults told you to try to keep you out of trouble—it was the key to setting you up with the best chance of attaining a successful adult life. To wit: did you know that the unemployment rate for college graduates is around half of what it is for the population as a whole?
For proof, check out this chart from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, which clearly demonstrates how well the demand for college-educated talent has held up over the years—even as the number of graduates has increased exponentially:
"Getting by" has never been easier
I'm no great advocate of the so-called "gig economy", mainly because companies like Uber and TaskRabbit seem to have figured out the art of taking all of the profit and none of the responsibility when it comes to connecting casual employees with demand for their services (as opposed to an actual employer, which has to pay benefits and bears legal responsibility for how its workers are treated). However, for those who need to make extra income to make ends meet, the range of opportunities on offer has never been better. Sure, you probably don't want to live the "I've got a couple of hours to spare, so I'll drive people around" lifestyle for too long, but having ready access to steady, flexible hours—a crucial consideration when you're trying to schedule job interviews—can't be overlooked.
It's never been easier to network and connect
Last, but certainly not least, is the ability to use technology to seek out contacts and opportunities that would otherwise be impossible to find. Obviously, LinkedIn is the major player in this space, but don't underestimate the power of following (and even reaching out to) leaders in your industry of choice on Twitter and Instagram. And, as we all know, networking is the real key to finding the job of your dreams.
The bottom line here: while the prospect of looking for work is never easy—especially if you're coming straight out of college with very little experience—it's also never been easier to find opportunities than it is right now. It's an employee's market out there—so get out and take advantage of it!
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