Even though the economy is improving, the job market is still pretty rough—especially for new college graduates.
With little or no professional experience to rely on, you can do little to distinguish yourself in the working world, though you can leverage your ability to learn. Many grads become dissuaded from pursuing their desired career when they can’t find jobs, and instead resort to working at the job they had in high school.
But there is a way for you to cultivate your career, make decent money and pay off the mounting debt you accrued to get your degrees. It’s all about finding a “foundation job.”
What’s a foundation job?
As a new graduate, your goal is to lay the groundwork for the career you want and less about actually having it. Foundation jobs are positions you may not consider when you set out on the job hunt, but you should incorporate into your overall employment pursuit. They enable you to develop skills you will use in the future.
If you don’t know what you want to do upon getting your degree, a foundation job will help you build a broad skill set you can use just about anywhere. These jobs can be in any industry as long as it helps you develop applicable skills; it can be in the field you ideally want to be in (not necessarily at the company you wanted), or working for the company you want to be at (just not in the capacity you originally expected.) They also typically require a college degree, so the pay is decent. If you just took a minimum wage job, in most cases, you wouldn’t be fostering applicable skills and the money wouldn’t be enough to sustain the debt most graduates face.
The foundation job provides the financial stability you need so you can focus on your career and not worry about making ends meet. So while you may not be in the field you desire, you are working toward something.
What’s a typical foundation job?
Here’s an example: If you majored in English and want to be a reporter, you may not be able to become a journalist right now—jobs in the media industry are scarce. A foundation job would be taking a position as a marketing assistant at a well-known company that would look great on your résumé and you’d be building writing skills as well. Or you could work for a newspaper but in another role. You may not be writing exposes, but you’d still be developing the skills needed to do so.
By the time you applied for a job as a reporter, you’d have a strong background and some groundwork from which to draw upon professionally. That definitely sets you apart from the wannabe reporter who spent that same year or so flipping burgers—they’re coming in with nothing.
To start your foundation job search, ask yourself these questions:
• What do I want to do? What are the abilities I need to excel in that area?
• What kinds of jobs would let me build those skills? Can I go outside my intended field to do so?
• If you don’t know what career path you want to take, what would be some smart skills to build? Once you identify the skills you need, consider these factors:
• What other industries out there would let you build these skills?
• Are there companies in your area that may give you a solid start and provide solid name recognition on your résumé?
• If you decide to stay in your targeted industry but can’t get the job you originally wanted, what other or similar roles are available?
• Can you build skills in a different business format? Consider private companies, government entities, nonprofit organizations and agencies.
By all means, apply for that dream job, but also be practical in your job search and submit for other less-desirable roles. Weigh all your options and put thought into the job you take. After all, job offers will come and go, but a good foundation can make all the difference in where you go.
Kristen Fischer (www.kristenfischer.com) is the author of Ramen Noodles, Rent and Résumés: An After-College Guide to Life.