Published on May 16, 2018, at 8:23 a.m.
by Greta Banks.
College graduation is right on the horizon. For some, it’s the light at the end of a long and laborious tunnel. They’ve accepted jobs already, and now it’s just a matter of walking the stage and turning their tassels. For many others, however, it may be a time full of stress, spent sending out job application after application, and hoping it all comes together in time.
In fact, as many as 80 percent of college grads leave college without a full-time job lined up. Graduates who fall into this category should fear not. You definitely aren’t alone. You also probably won’t be unemployed for long. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the unemployment rate for people holding a bachelor’s degree or higher was only 2.2 percent in March 2018.
Still, it can be nerve-wracking to think about being unemployed. However, many young, successful PR pros have been in this position before.
Take a break
“I was frustrated; I was jealous of people who already had jobs. But as I looked back, I saw that they moved into their apartments May 15, and they were already starting to work,” said Meredith Folsom, sales associate at Condé Nast. “They didn’t even get a break.”
Folsom graduated from The University of Alabama in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in communication. As a public relations major, she had interned for two summers during college with a health care company in New York and continued to work for the company remotely during the school year. She was offered a job after graduation, but in March of her senior year, the company laid off her entire department, effectively eliminating her position.
Though Folsom at the time was worried about her career, she now says the time off was a luxury.
“You will have a job the rest of your life. You will not have the luxury of having two months off where it’s relatively acceptable to live at your parents’ house ever again,” Folsom explained.
Figure out what you really want
“PR is hard,” said Folsom. “You’re not getting a specific skillset; you’re getting a lot of skills that can be applied to a lot of different industries. It can be sales, it can be internal or external communications, it can even be HR. So, I think that’s what’s tough; you’re not graduating school with an engineering degree where you’re like, ‘I’m a mechanical engineer, and I’m going to go work for XYZ where I can build bridges.’”
If you aren’t certain what you want to do with your degree yet, it might be better to take some time to get an idea of what you want rather than rushing into something you may not like.
“Taking your time and allowing yourself to be picky if you have the luxury to do so are OK,” said Folsom.
The pressure to be employed or to have a high-paying job right out of college can be great, but Folsom believes that doing something you are passionate about is ultimately more important.
“No one’s going to be rich when they’re 22 in the PR industry. So, you might as well do something you really like, and that’s really fun and enjoy it because then you won’t get burnt out. Then you go to work and you’re excited, and I really think that’s important,” said Folsom.
Brittany Ray, another University of Alabama PR class of 2017 graduate, agreed that taking advantage of your time off after graduation to figure out what you want to do is important.
“I know graduating college is a big milestone, but I just really needed those couple months to get my mind around what I was about to do with the rest of my life,” said Ray.
Ray had done an internship for a boutique PR agency during college, but found she wasn’t fully satisfied with the boutique environment.
“I was trying to decide what route I wanted to take, or if I wanted to stay in PR,” said Ray. “I think [not having a job] definitely did give me perspective, and it made me realize that I wanted to stay in PR and I did go to school for the right thing.”
Ray currently works as a social media intern for FleishmanHillard, and has already lined up a full-time position with another company following her internship. According to Ray, an internship can be a great way to gain experience and figure out what you want, even after college.
“Taking an internship after college is not the worst thing ever,” said Ray. “It does give you that experience that agencies are looking for.”
Use your connections
Folsom and Ray both agreed that cultivating your professional network is a must for a recent grad.
“I think the best thing that anyone can do in this situation is keep those connections that you’ve made,” said Ray. “It’s so easy to drop talking to friends you’ve made in college and kind of isolating yourself, so make sure you keep your connections because you will need to utilize those later on.”
“Use recent graduates as resources because we have been there,” said Folsom. “All of us had to look for jobs; it was hard for everyone. Just talk to [recent graduates] for their insight, for their guidance. You can talk to them without fishing for a job. There are people I still keep in contact with because they’re just really great connections.”
In addition to friends, family members, professors and classmates, mentors can be great connections to have. Ray attributes much of her ability to stay positive to having had a mentor with a similar experience.
“I had a mentor [through a UA program] who I think was also super beneficial just to having the mindset I did, because when he graduated college, he went 18 months without a job in the industry, and so that’s a long time,” said Ray. “Fortunately, mine was three months, so I couldn’t imagine going 18 months and still having high hopes, and still putting in all of those job applications.”
Ray added, “I also think that, if students are looking for a deeper connection to real world experience, it would be valuable to talk to those mentors about their real fears, because my mentor was able to put into perspective for me that it’s kind of hard out there. It’s a super competitive field and everyone’s trying their hardest to get a job and trying to show their worth, so make sure that you’re ready for everything that’s thrown your way.”
Ultimately, staying optimistic and continuing to send out those applications are the best ways to land a job after graduating.
“The main thing was keeping your hopes up and knowing that the organizations in which you were involved in college are super beneficial, even if you don’t graduate with something [lined up],” said Ray. “Those are great experiences that you will want to have on your résumé and will want to take to your interviews.”
For Folsom, there was a learning curve to this, but she stressed that everything works out for the better.
“It was a really good learning experience to not freak out. I graduated May 7; I got this job beginning of July. That’s not even two months off, but at the time, it felt like seven years.”
“At the end of the day I’m like, ‘Wow, this is really what I want to be doing.’ It’s exciting, and thank goodness I picked up that phone call when I was on a run, thank goodness I didn’t get that job from so and so down in Silicon Valley, thank goodness I was laid off,” Folsom summarized.