How do I survive until I get my first paycheck?

Isaac wrote recently with a question about how to make the transition from college to the Real World. He has a good degree, but it’ll take him time to find a job, especially since the economy is still sluggish. He’s worried about how he should handle is finances in the meantime. Here’s his question:

I recently graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering. I’m currently living at home with my family while I search for a job. I’m concerned about my first month or two once I find one, though.

I have no savings, and I’m not sure how I will be able to buy a car (and insurance) to get to and from work, rent an apartment, or even buy necessities for my first few weeks while I wait for a paycheck. I know that some jobs will give a signing bonus or relocation package but I don’t want to count on that. My parents are in deep credit-card debt and live paycheck to paycheck, so I can’t borrow money from them.

Any advice? Should I get a short-term bank loan? Or maybe borrow from better-off friends?

This is something that I struggled with almost 20 years ago; my transition from college to my first job was rough. A lot of my trouble was self-induced, though. As soon as I found work, I bought a brand-new car, a new wardrobe, and all sorts of new toys. So, instead of waiting until my first paychecks started coming in, I spent money I anticipated having…eventually.

My story is all too common; I know a lot of folks who have done the very same thing. Looking back, these mistakes seem obvious, but they weren’t so obvious at the time. I think there are at least three things that Isaac can do to gain more control of his situation.

Accumulate Cash

It doesn’t sound like Isaac is doing any sort of work now while he’s looking for a job in his field. I think he should — and I don’t think he should be picky about it. One way to ease worries about where he’ll get money to tide him over until his first paycheck is to actually earn that money in advance.

Some people don’t like taking short-term employment, especially if the pay is low. They think it’s beneath them or that it looks bad on a job application. Hogwash. It’s always better to have some income — no matter how small — than to be earning nothing. Every little bit helps. So, I’d recommend that Isaac look for work in a restaurant or a retail store, or maybe even seek the help of a temporary agency. (I waited tables at Red Robin while hunting for my first job; I also did odd jobs through a temp agency.)

Moderate Spending

Meanwhile, Isaac should be cautious with his spending until he’s found a job and a place to live. That means no big indulgences, but it also means that Isaac should be wary of committed expenses. I can’t emphasize this enough: When you’re just starting out, you should take on as few recurring expenses as possible. And those you do take on should be kept as low as possible.

  • Keep your rent low.
  • If you don’t have to take out a car loan, don’t. (Buy a cheap beater if you have to! Better yet, bike or take the bus.)
  • Don’t subscribe to newspapers and magazines.
  • Don’t sign up for cable TV.

When you get out of school and move out on your own, it can be tempting to buy all the things your parents had, or the things you’ve always wanted. There’ll be plenty of time for that in the months and years to come. Isaac’s goal now should be to take care of the essentials so that later he can afford comforts and luxuries without having to go into debt.

Negotiate Benefits

Isaac is going into a field that could require him to relocate. When he’s hired, there may be some sort of signing bonus or relocation package. But here’s the important thing: Even if there’s not, Isaac should negotiate for this sort of benefit. (Here’s a GRS article from last year about how to negotiate your salary; the same principles apply to negotiating benefits.)

By preparing now to negotiate this benefit, Isaac can increase the odds that he’ll receive it as part of a job offer. For more details, Isaac should check out Jack Chapman’s site on salary negotiations.

Note: In his question, Isaac asked if he should consider borrowing money from a friend. I really dislike this option. Borrowing and lending money with friends is a recipe for disaster. Sure, most transactions probably go fine, but the potential for catastrophe is so large that it’s almost always better to look at other options.

What Would You Do?

I’m sure that Isaac’s situation is common. Many folks graduate from college (or leave home) and find themselves without any cash to get by while they wait for their first paycheck to come in. Some rely on debt to get by. (That’s what I did, and I regret it.) But surely there are other options.

How did you bridge the gap between the time you left home and received your first paycheck? What worked? What didn’t? What would you do if you were in Isaac’s situation today?

Update: Isaac left a comment below to let us know that he does have a part-time job, but that he’ll look at other possible ways to make money. So, there’s no need for additional “get a job” suggestions!

More about...Career

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

There are 95 comments to "How do I survive until I get my first paycheck?".

  1. sf_oxford says 20 August 2010 at 01:32

    I took part-time jobs every holiday during my degree course. Apart from the summer holiday before my final year, when I got a summer studentship with the company that would become my final employer, these were all as shop assistants. A couple of times, I couldn’t get a paying job and I did a few weeks of voluntary work, which only cost me the bus fare, but added to my CV. Don’t underestimate what skills you are learning in a low-paid job. Lots of application forms are “competence based” these days – just think a bit and you’ll find that being a checkout girl gives you customer service, handling difficult situations (when the customer doesn’t have enough money for their trolley – not uncommon), responsibility (all that cash), and maybe others depending on the job.
    I managed to save up a little nest egg during my course, but I assume that Isaac hasn’t, or has used it up while job-hunting.
    Don’t be afraid to take on low-paid jobs while hunting. If you can get there free or cheap (walk, bike), do some volunteer work – it looks great on your CV. Don’t plan on buying everything when you start your job. Find a house-share to live in. Get furniture from freecycle, or become a minimalist. Find a way to get to work without a car. I’ve worked for over a decade and never owned a car, or wished for one (and no, I haven’t lived really close to work – for three years I had a 45 minute commute involving trains on a route where the trains were unreliable and 15 minutes of walking – I read a lot of books on those trains). If you look for imaginative options, you’ll find that you don’t *need* to buy all the stuff you think you do.
    Oh, and you might find that saving money actually gives you a better quality of life. Sharing a house makes you new friends. Commuting by public transport can get you talking to new colleagues, including those who you wouldn’t ordinarily talk to during the working day (like managers or people in different parts of the organisation) – instant networking!

  2. william says 20 August 2010 at 02:51

    Back in 2003 when I entered the job market, I also lived with my parents (though not in debt).
    It took me about 8 months to find a job. Keeping myself busy was a must, as I really wanted to keep my sanity intact.
    Answering job offers, sending out applications, etc is time consuming… and mind numbing. Having a job on the side, even if unrelated to your speciality, will keep you busy and bring in some money.

    For my part, I ended up doing quite a lot of temp work.
    This ranged from: data mining, reporting, User guide translation, but also things like putting letters into enveloppes, or moving furniture.
    This work kept me busy, helped me put some money aside, and it also helped (to some extent) to network…

    Also, I moved from my parents after almost a year after getting my first job. If this something remotely possible, do it. Getting your independance (physical, financial…) from your parents is fantastic, but if they can support you for just a little longer, it will help to keep you out of debt.

    One last point: often when I got interviewed for a job, I was asked:”what have you done since you got your degree?”
    I always figured that:
    “I have been job hunting, but have also worked in this or that company as a temp” expressed a higher will to work than just “I’ve been job hunting”.

    Best of luck for the job search.

  3. bon says 20 August 2010 at 03:28

    A few thoughts:

    * Sell stuff, it’s great to get rid of a lot of things at this point in you life – you don’t want to have a lot of stuff stuck in boxes at your parents’ house if you move away

    * Look for work that will allow you flexibility in your schedule (so that you can interview as needed)

    * Look for local internships (or call up a company and propose one) in your field – no, this may not help with income, but if it gets you connections, sets you apart, and ultimately speeds up your ability to start your “career” it will be well worth it.

  4. S says 20 August 2010 at 04:20

    Yes, get a job. If not, than at least volunteer, maybe for your local professional organization(s) or even a political campaign (great contacts and references). Either way, both working and volunteering look good on a resume and nicley fill in blank spots.

    Oh, and tell EVERYONE you know, and your parents know, that you are looking for a job.

  5. kylydia says 20 August 2010 at 04:23

    I began job hunting during my last semester of college. I also worked a part-time (10 hrs. per week) job during college. So, I saved up some money, that way. I used the return of my college apartment’s deposit to put a deposit on my next place.

    Upon graduation I moved, there, but I didn’t start my first “real” job until a month later, with my first paycheck then held for 30 days.

    I ate a lot of crummy meals. I bummed off my parents for meals and I didn’t do many activities that needed money.

    Once that first paycheck came, I started ordering things like cable, etc. I drove my beater college car for another three years.

  6. Aerin says 20 August 2010 at 04:57

    I second the suggestion to look into temp work. I’ve temped a few times when “between jobs”, and enjoyed it every time. It keeps some money coming in, and is a real boost to self-esteem. In social situations, and in job interviews, it was very satisfying to discuss temp assignments and what I learned, in addition to talking about the job hunt.

    And sometimes a temp job turns permanent. That happened to me, too. The job I have now (over 4 years at the company) started out as a temp assigment!

  7. Nicole says 20 August 2010 at 05:17

    Well… we did a little of a bunch of stuff. Getting an apartment required a realtor’s fee and a deposit, which was a lot of money on top of meager living expenses. I had a couple thousand saved from college. DH was able to get a temp job in a lab before we got our first real paychecks (I wasn’t). We made up the difference by borrowing a thousand from my mom which we paid back as soon as we got paid. We at a lot of beans, rice, split pea soup, and potatoes. We lived in a 10×10 apartment and bought a metal frame futon for $115 to sleep on. We got a computer cart, silverware, dishes, and pots and pans for I think $20 from someone who was moving out of the building.

    We would have lived with our parents until time to move for the job, but that was gently suggested as not being a viable alternative for newlyweds, and a loan was offered up instead.

    I agree on the temping and volunteering. Volunteering has been shown to make a big difference in probability of getting an interview in experimental studies.

    Good luck!

  8. Julie Sibert says 20 August 2010 at 05:17

    Great post. Love your blog. I agree with the above recommendations.

    Another one to consider… if you have to relocate, don’t hesitate to say to your new employer, “I am new in town and looking to keep my expenses to a minimum. Do you know of anyone in the company who is looking for a roommate?”

    Depending on the size of the company, they may even have message boards for this type of thing. The employer may even admire his frugality, affirming that they made the right choice in hiring you.

    Sounds like you are young, so the roommate situation would not be unheard of.

    And if you find the right roommate, there can be nice side benefits as far as car pooling, learning the city, making new friends, learning about the company, etc.

    Always remember too that you shouldn’t rule out all your options. Get creative. Be humble. Don’t be afraid to ask.

    And remember that sometimes we have to make temporary situatians work (i.e., roommate, temp job, living on the bare minimum, etc.), so that more permanent desirable circumstances are eventually possible.

    Have fun and best wishes. You’ll do well.

  9. MM says 20 August 2010 at 05:36

    I graduated in late 2006.

    After graduation, I got a part-time job at a crafts store to get some money. This also allowed me time to interview for a full time job and also ease out of the college lifestyle into the real world.

    I suggest finding just a part-timer while you search for the big fish. Even when you accept a “real” job, you can continue to work part time to keep the cash flow going before you tell them you quit. Even working at the Unimart is fine (just wear a bullet proof vest).

    If they ask you what have you been doing at an interview, just say “I have been taking some time for myself while I seach for the right opportunity. I don’t want to rush into something that I don’t feel would be a good fit.” Thats what I said and got a job 5 months after I graduated.

  10. Erik says 20 August 2010 at 05:42

    I just went through this same issue last year. I was job hunting after graduating college in May 2009 while living with my parents. I ended up finding a job an hour away from my parents house, then taking a small car loan for a cheap used car. After I started my job, I commuted for a month. The hour or more commute was not ideal, but the couple paychecks I racked up living rent free with my parents allowed me to save enough and get my own place. Theres nothing wrong with starting work while still living at you parents’ house.

    If thats not possible, once you do find a job, look for a roomate. Someone you know who needs a roomate may be willing to spot you first months rent if you can pay the second.

    Good luck!

  11. Nancy L. says 20 August 2010 at 05:52

    While I think the overall advice that you offer Isaac is good, I’d like to point out that in this economy, it’s not always as easy to just “go get any job” as it was for many of us who graduated in previous “tough” times. For example, two years ago my son’s daycare program used to be staffed by recent college graduates, but now almost all of the people working there are experienced child care specialists who got laid off from other centers. It’s not impossible for a recent college grad to get hired for a retail/service/unskilled job, but it’s not the failsafe that many of us are used to considering it to be.

    Issac, my advice to you would be to start putting the word out now to friends and family about your potential upcoming need for a car. You may luck into someone with a reliable beater that’s happy to help you out–we got our first car from a family member for free, and when we were ready to replace it, we passed it along to another friend who used it for a number of years afterwards. It actually outlived the “more reliable” car we bought to replace it, lol. Don’t take on a car until you definitely know you need it though. No reason to spend money on registration, insurance or gas until you absolutely need to.

    As for an apartment, it’s obviously going to depend on where you end up working. If you end up anywhere within a couple of hours of your family’s house, I’d try to delay moving for a month or two until my income was settled, and just suck up the long commute short term. That gives you a little bit of time to decide on where you’d like to live, and to save up for the deposit.

    And definitely do NOT borrow from friends. It rarely ends well!!

  12. Sarah says 20 August 2010 at 05:54

    I worked all through college (and high school) so I can’t really relate, but my advice would be to get a job now, any job, and sock away the money. Apply at bookstores, restaurants, the mall, wherever. Even at minimum wage you can save up enough to get you started in just a couple months, since you have no living expenses right now.

    And yes, sell your things. Anything of value that you have and don’t use (that’s yours, not your parents’) sell it on ebay or craigslist.

    I have never met anyone in this situation, who graduates college without ever having worked. Or those that did had rich parents. I hope it all works out for you, good luck!

  13. Malorie says 20 August 2010 at 06:15

    As a graduate student who has plenty of friends in Isaac’s position, I strongly agree with the advice to get a job – ANY job – until you find something in your field.

    One of my friends graduated with me in 2009 with a B.A. I went to grad school because of my field, she started looking for a job. Her job search did not include any “low-level” job, since she felt her degree should get her plenty of work.

    After almost a year of being unemployed, having no money, and living at home with parents, she finally got a “Mc-job.” Her happiness level is so much higher! She’s still actively looking for a job in her field, but she at least has the comfort of knowing a steady paycheck is coming.

    A hint about applying for jobs in which you do NOT need a degree: Don’t mention you have a degree! I’ve had a few friends denied jobs at Taco Bell and other fast food places because they were “overqualified” to work there. Not having a degree makes you more appealing in certain jobs.

  14. Ellen says 20 August 2010 at 06:17

    Agree wholeheartedly with the advice to look for a retail or temp job. While I was job-searching after college, I lived with my parents and worked a long-term temp job, with the result that when I got a job (in another city, with no relocation bonus), I had a few thousand dollars in savings to put toward moving expenses.

  15. MaryR says 20 August 2010 at 06:20

    Some of the best advice I got when young was to immediately get some sort of part-time retail or food service job if I ever was unemployed. It keeps you out of the unemployment drift and means there is some cash coming in.

    If it seemed appropriate to mention in an interview, I would say that I had been doing part-time retail work and found it extremely motivating in forming my career goals. This always worked.

    The only time I didn’t is when I got laid off while in school. I did a full and heavy semester on unemployment, so I would have some breathing room on coursework when I did get a job.

  16. Ann says 20 August 2010 at 06:24

    Warning bells went off when I read “I’m not sure how I will be able to buy a car (and insurance) to get to and from work.” If you’re not sure, then don’t. Unless you live out in the boonies, public transportation is a wonderful option–sometimes the ONLY option–for someone with no savings. Frankly, the tone of entire note makes me uneasy because it seems like Isaac’s asking for permission to go into debt.

    I worked all through junior high, high school and university to build my savings, but that’s too late for Isaac. If possible, Isaac should consider living with his parents for a few months after getting a job to pad his savings account. I see nothing wrong with this option as long as he’s helping out his parents, both financially and with chores.

    In the meantime, he should definitely consider a temp job. If he’s smart, he can pick a temp job that will give him more than a paycheck. Months before I moved into my first place, I took a part-time job at William-Sonoma at less than 1/4 pay of my day job. This benefited me in two ways: (1) I got a 40% employee discount, which I used to outfit my kitchen and (2) I learned to love my day job because it takes a special type of person to do retail.

  17. Everyday Tips says 20 August 2010 at 06:26

    I agree, he should work wherever he can to try and get some cash together. Working off shift hours may be good too so he can still have time for job hunting and interviewing. If he works while looking and still lives at home, he can easily accumulate some cash for when he does need to place a down payment on an apartment.

    Also, if he does get an engineering job that is local, he should live at home while working to save some money (and pay a little rent to his parents while he lives at home).

  18. Colleen says 20 August 2010 at 06:27

    “Some people don’t like taking short-term employment, especially if the pay is low. They think it’s beneath them or that it looks bad on a job application. Hogwash.”

    THANK YOU! I have frequently been amazed at people who refuse to apply for certain jobs because they think the job is beneath them. Honest work is honest work, period.

  19. Kyle says 20 August 2010 at 06:39

    Thirding, fourthing, and fifthing getting a job while you’re looking for one if at all possible. Even if you can only work 10 hours a week at $7.25 an hour that’s a few hundred dollars that you’ll have when you do get a job.

    I was so lucky (well, in some ways) when I graduated college – one of my professors offered me a job (which was extremely low-paying, and turned out to be a disaster in a lot of ways, but still), and another asked me to house-sit for the summer. I didn’t have a car, so I had to sponge rides off my co-housesitter and take the world’s least convenient bus for a few months until I could afford to buy one (looking back on it now, I wish I’d thought to get a bike!).

    Assuming you still have very little savings when you do get a job, and you can’t live with your parents while you’re working, my recommendation is: public transportation or bike if at all possible, and roommates, roommates, roommates. If you can avoid buying a car even for just three or four months, that’s hundreds of dollars you can save for a down payment on a car (or possibly even enough to buy a beater).

  20. AnneKD says 20 August 2010 at 06:41

    Find a job, any job, like Sarah said. If you need to move, find roommates. My first apartment was shared with two other girls who advertised for a roommate. Some roommate situations can be bad, yes, but others work out great. In those situations where current roommates advertise to replace one that left, you’ll probably have to pay security but not realtor’s fees- and just part of the utility bills. Also, try to find a place owned by a single/couple who would be willing to talk about bartering as part of rent. Maybe help with mowing the lawn, doing your own repairs for a leaking faucet or fixing the broken floor tiles, stuff like that.

    When I accepted a job five states away a few years ago, I asked for (and got) a $500 ‘signing bonus’ because that position didn’t include reimbursement for moving costs. It was part of negotiating my salary. Should have asked for a higher salary too, now I know better. That $500 paid for the Uhaul truck. Also, since I was just coming off unemployment at the time, I asked for (and got) an advance on my first paycheck, which allowed me to get groceries, a phone line, and laundry money.

  21. Techbud says 20 August 2010 at 06:41

    Agree with the comments. Depending on Job location you may not need a car and apartment day 1. Find a part time / temp job in the mean time to bank roll some cash to get you started when you do find the full time job. Be resourceful, leverage friend, family, college alumni until you get on your feet.

  22. Anna says 20 August 2010 at 06:54

    I worked with a temp agency while waiting for a job in my field and saved most of my paycheck- 80% and lived with my relatives and took the train to work. I also had a part time job during the weekends and by the time I got the job (took me 6 months) I was able to build an emergency fund. The odd jobs weren’t the most glamorous jobs but they helped me build my emergency fund which I still haven’t touched to date- 4 years after. It’s a lot of hard work for that 6 months but it sure was worth it.

  23. MikeTheRed says 20 August 2010 at 07:02

    When I graduated back in 2003, I was fortunate enough to have a part-time job at the university that I was able to extend until I found full employment. Having some income, even if it wasn’t a lot, was the key to getting through those 8 months until I found work.

    Any job you can find is going to help here. Even if it’s flipping burgers, or stocking shelves. Some money > no money. If you hold out for the “right” job right now, you’re just going to amass debt, which is a very bad thing.

    I’m also in agreement with the “Wait, why do you need a new car?” comments. Aim for a very cheap used car. For under $5k, you can find something that does the job and won’t ruin your bank account. So what if it’s not sexy? If you really have nothing right now, your goals and expectations should adjust accordingly.

    Separate “wants” from “needs” right now to avoid falling into a deep money pit. I made a lot of “buy stuff” mistakes straight out of college, and it took 6 years to get out. Don’t make the common mistakes and your life will be a lot easier!

  24. Isaac says 20 August 2010 at 07:17
    Hey guys. I’m Isaac. Thanks for the responses, there’s a lot here that I hadn’t considered. I’m working part time at a print shop to save a bit of cash, and you’re right – selling some of the crap I have laying around will a) declutter and b) make some additional cash. FWIW, I have a second interview on Tuesday for an engineering position at a small company. It looks like a good place to work, so I’d probably take the job if I receive an offer. This place is about 2:45 from my parents house, which would make a pretty miserable commute.

    William – You’re right, that’s a much stronger answer to that question.
    Julie – good point to ask the company about potential roommates.
    Ann – I’ve got about 70k in student loans and I plan to have that all paid off within six years. The most I would spend on a car would be about 3000, and that’s only if I lived too far away to bike to work.

    Thanks guys!

  25. Becca says 20 August 2010 at 07:18

    I don’t have any truly stellar advice, but I figured I could share what I did:

    When I got my job with the Federal Government, I read through everything on the hiring website and noticed that they offered new hires the opportunity to take an advance on their paycheck, provided it was done within the first X days and paid back within a particular time period. So I figured out how much I needed (and it was luckily under their limit) and figured out exactly how much I could get away with my future paychecks being so I could pay it off as soon as possible. It actually worked really well, since it forced me to learn to live with that smaller amount and it made it easier to put that money towards my credit card debt once my advance was paid off.

    Obviously not everyone will have that option, but you’ll never know until you ask!

  26. Alex says 20 August 2010 at 07:21

    Keep doing part-time/temp work until you find what’s right for you. Not sure why Isaac thinks that getting a job requires car, rent, etc.: Keep living at home, take public transit/bike if possible, until you have an emergency fund, security deposit, and a disciplined retirement savings program. That’s what I did and it really set me up nicely for the next decade of my life. Every month when I assess my financial situation, I look back and say “thank you” to my old self for doing right.

  27. Oluv Oyl says 20 August 2010 at 07:26

    When I graduated from college, I went immediately to grad school. And since the graduate school, at the time, did not have student housing, I had to find – and fund – an apartment on my own. What did I do? Took out student loans to cover everything.


    I don’t have many regrets in life. But thinking about the amount of loans I took out to finance my living expenses – and because I saw it as “free money,” of course I chose the most luxurious apartment I could find – with the frugal way that I’m living now, it almost makes me cry.

    Fortunately, when I graduated from law school, and REALLY had to start living in the real world, I had already secured a job, so I was able to transition immediately from paying my living expenses from loan proceeds (shudder) to applying the proceeds of my first couple paychecks to paying my rent, etc.

    So I agree 200% with the advice given: DO NOT TAKE OUT LOANS. Suck it up and try to get something to earn money while you’re looking, or if you can, stay at your parents’ until you’ve saved enough to move out on your own. If you turn to ANY type of debt – be it credit cards, student or personal loans – you’ll be putting yourself at a disavantage, and anchoring yourself down with debt, right out the gate.

    Good luck!!

  28. Alison Wiley says 20 August 2010 at 07:31

    Lots of good advice above. I would add: cook for yourself, consistently, to avoid the costs of restaurants (which tend to be my weakness). This menu is uber-inexpensive

    I’d also suggest living if possible in a dense, central location with one or more roommates. If you have good transit, bike and walk options you may be able to bypass car ownership altogether, which is an enormous cost savings.

  29. Louis says 20 August 2010 at 07:37

    There is a lot of great advice from other readers.

    I own a small business now with several employees, and unfortunately a lot come to me for money advice. I always tell them- ” You drive a nicer vehicle than me, not a bad thing, but mine is paid for. My money is in savings for emergencies, rainy days and the children’s college funds. The compay’s money is in the bank for payroll, the machines,the building and inventory.”

    I always give the same advice, ” Build a small fund in savings, get two jobs if you have to, get the money saved and learn to borrow from it and then put it back. Learn to live on less and get rid of the non-essentials. Life is about habits and money management is the same.”

    MY advice to you is do without, get a job asap, give your parents some money for rent and food, do chores, cut the grass for them and save like crazy- now is the time in your life- today- to set yourself up for life, no new car, no extras- until all debt is erased and savings goals are met. It’s not that hard, it’s just good habits. Eventually, you will look @ a new car and say- I can get it cheaper somewhere else, or I can buy it used and save 10k. Trust me, you will think this way eventually. Don’t deprive yourself, but keep you financial objectives clear.

    Read everything you can on personal finance, apply it, and very quickly things will change and you will be on good solid ground. Make sure and keep your objective @ hand and remember, stocking shelves or whatever is just temporary. If you cannot get a job in your field soon, I highly recommend graduate school, asap. Good luck.

  30. fairydust says 20 August 2010 at 07:41

    One comment in Isaac’s question that popped out at me was, “My parents are in deep credit-card debt and live paycheck to paycheck, so I can’t borrow money from them.” That plus the fact that Isaac’s a college grad with no savings. I’m not trying to pass any judgment here, just suggesting that if Isaac hasn’t already learned from seeing his parents’ predicament, he should try to make sure he never ends up in their situation. Asking you and your readers for help here was a very smart move IMO and I think it shows that he’s hoping to avoid the same situation for himself. That would be a great first step.

  31. MBA2010 says 20 August 2010 at 07:44

    I am in the same position. I graduated with my MBA and was lucky enough to get offered a job last December. I even was lucky enough to be offered a job WITH a relocation bonus. But, even that bonus is not paid until my first paycheck, a full 2 weeks after I start working!

    I did have savings to see me through the summer, but I’ve been earning a little extra money since I have the time.

    Here are some things I have done:

    – I am also hanging out with my parents for the summer to save on rent. I have been selling a bunch of unused stuff in their house on craigslist and eBay and splitting the proceeds. It’s a win-win – they are glad to get a little something for things they probably would have otherwise thrown away or donated, and I make some quick money

    – Signed up for a focus group list in my area. I have gotten to taste test chocolate and yogurt.

    – Ran errands for a neighbor who recently had surgery.

    Of course, in Isaac’s position he still needs a more lucrative gig to accumulate enough cash to get him through, but these kinds of projects are a great way to accumulate some extra cash!

  32. Rachel211 says 20 August 2010 at 07:45

    I agree with most of the people on here and I am glad to see that he is already working at a part time job. BUT as #11 (Nancy L.) said – THE MARKET IS HORRIBLE RIGHT NOW. I certainly hope that you get the job you have the interview for, but there are a LOT of people out there with college degrees that are finding that their last ditch attempts to “fall back” on a McD, Walmart, or Target job are not even getting a call back from them.
    I had over 2/3 years experience working at both Target and Walmart during HS/college and then I went and got a ‘real job’ for 10 years. Last year I was laid off, couldn’t find anything anywhere, and thought I could at least go back to getting a paycheck at the stores where I had experience and it was a ‘easy to get’ job. Not quite. I applied at all similar stores and only one called me back 6 months after I applied asking if I wanted a part-time job in another city 30 miles away.
    PLEASE – all I would like to see is for people who didn’t lose their jobs in this recession to stop assuming that there are just thousands of easy to get, or part time jobs out there just waiting for lazy people to just get out there and take them. Just a bit of consideration for others.

  33. Erin says 20 August 2010 at 07:49

    I finished my masters in May, also in engineering, and I too am unemployed, so I relate to Isaac. In my part of the country and especially at my university, nearly all engineering graduates go to work immediately. It is very common to be hired during your last year of school and to start a few weeks after finals. This year and the last few years have been different. Very few people had jobs lined up by the end of the semester.

    I worked all through college and I’m a saver, so I planned for my jobless phase. I saved enough to get me through the summer, and I spent my time moving, fixing up our new place, volunteering, job hunting, and even interviewing a bit. But so far nothing has come through and I’m at the point where I need income. I’m waiting to hear about a job next week, but if that falls through, then I’ll be going to the local grocery store and fast food locations to apply for part time work.

    I agree with a previous commenter – keep the degree to yourself, especially any graduate degrees. When I worked at a restaurant, we avoided college grads with technical degrees because they likely wouldn’t last long. Other degrees like english or political science didn’t get the same treatment, but I live in a very tech-heavy city.

  34. Tim of Angle says 20 August 2010 at 07:54

    One word: Military.

    No problem getting the job, money starts coming in right away, all basic expenses covered so it’s easy to save (if you’re inclined to), lots of very good training available, and when you get out you’ll have experience that will help you get that next job. Plus a lot of government benefits, if you keep your nose clean.

    And then there’s that whole, you know, serving your country thing.

    This is just such a no-brainer that I can’t believe how nobody ever thinks of it.

  35. Andrea says 20 August 2010 at 08:15

    Very excellent advice. How wise of Isaac to seek out this information…likely he’ll avoid the paycheck to paycheck hole his parents are in and decidedly manage his money more appropriately.

    (If only I had been so keen)

    Looks like he’s on the right track.

  36. Ann says 20 August 2010 at 08:17

    I keep hearing about how hard it is to find jobs, but then I talk to my boss and he tells me we can’t hire enough engineering, science or business grads. We haven’t been able to meet our hiring targets for the last five years. No, I don’t work for a dinky little company. I work for a Fortune 500 corporation that pays, on average, six figures with very nice benefits. I would mention the company name, but I’d rather not pop up on Google if someone in HR has spare time.

  37. Gimena says 20 August 2010 at 08:33

    I have to disagree with the “take whatever job you can get” crowd. This is not a good idea for a person with an engineering degree. Your potential employers may look down on someone who has not been active in their field. I think it is a dumb way to look at things but that is the way it is. I got caught in this trap.

    Here are my suggestions:
    1. In engineering OIL is where the money is. If you have a GPA of at least 3.0, apply to the new grad programs at the majors like shell, chevron, exxon etc. They will give you relocation, car discounts, 0% loans for a new car etc. ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING IS IN HUGE DEMAND. Don’t settle.

    2. Go to the meetings of the local electrical or instrumentation engineer association meetings. they will help you out and prove to potential employers that you are serious about your career.

    3. Try to get a part time job working as an electrician’s assistant or something along those lines. Also, you could probably become licensed pretty easily.

    4. If you get any offer, negotiate. Make sure you get a signing bonus and a good salary. Check out what you should aim for on a salary website.

    5. If you have to, take out loans. I know this goes against what others say, but as an entry level engineer your job is more stable and higher paying than most others. Just make sure they are reasonable (amount and reason) and make them a part of your budget.

  38. margot says 20 August 2010 at 08:37

    Stop with all of your money-spending assumptions about what it means to be an “adult” or a “working person.” In most areas of the country, you can get by without a car, at least for a period of time. So, don’t buy one. Don’t burden yourself with expenses and debt before you’ve even begun in the work world. Take the bus or other public transit, live walking or biking distance to work, etc.

    Get creative with the work you’re doing now, and do LOTS of it until you find your “real” job. You could work 60-70 hours a week and still have plenty of time for job applications. I’m a fan of things like babysitting, lawn mowing, house keeping and other jobs that let me charge more than minimum wage jobs pay. You should be able to save the vast majority of what you earn other than what you spend on groceries or your part of the utility bills. Don’t buy anything that’s unnecessary.

    Your parents obviously modeled terrible money habits for you. You’re going to have to learn how to be different from them if you want your financial life to be different. The first step to undoing their mentality is to avoid running to debt as an option. You do not need to taint your friendships by borrowing money from friends. And you don’t need a bank loan when you’re perfectly capable of earning money right now.

  39. Isaac says 20 August 2010 at 08:52
    Tim – I’ve been tossing the idea of Coast Guard around in the back of my mind.

    Fairydust/Andrea – Exactly. I want to learn from my parents mistakes. I’m from a family of seven and we’re packed into a mobile home because my parents prioritized private schooling for the kids when they couldn’t afford it, etc. Don’t get me wrong I’m immensely grateful but I feel I can do better, finance-wise.

    Ann – if your company has openings, would you mind dropping me a line and at [isaac at]?

    Gimena – Interesting. I hadn’t thought about applying for oil jobs although I recognize that demand is high right now. Are you in that field?

  40. Ashley says 20 August 2010 at 08:55

    This is why it is so important to save money while in college so you have a cushion to live off of until your first paycheck comes in. That being said, while I understand that looking for a job is a full time job in and of itself, I agree with J.D. that he should be doing some part time work in order to build up his savings. He should be able to build up his savings quickly if he is living with his parents. I wouldn’t advise taking a loan from anyone. As far as I’m concerned, loans are a bad idea.

  41. Carrie says 20 August 2010 at 09:05

    Hi Issac,

    My suggestion: reach out to friends, lots of them, in every place you might potentially find a job. Immediately after graduation I taught English abroad for a year, then arrived in New York with $600 in savings and no job in the middle of a recession (2002). Somewhat miraculously, I landed one within two months, during which time I slept on a lot of couches and worked temporarily at the bartending job from hell – the only job from which I have ever been fired, and it was a mercy.

    Be flexible, use credit sparingly and ask for help. Some employers will give you a small advance if you’re moving from elsewhere in the country and take it out of your earnings for your first year – it’s worth inquiring.

    Good luck! Something will work out!

  42. ebyt says 20 August 2010 at 09:10

    Live with your parents for as long as you possibly can. Pay them a small rent, help with chores and so on, but don’t move out without any savings. I did that, am I am still paying for it 2 years later.

    Work 2 jobs if you can for the first 6 months to a year. It’s imperative you build a cushion.

  43. AC says 20 August 2010 at 09:21

    I would take a high paying federal/contractor job and go overseas working in Afghanistan. You would pay off your loans, get a lot of experience, work with people from all sorts of backgrounds and have something on your resume that sets you apart. Plus, working overseas, you don’t need all those other expenses so that much more will go in the bank. You are young! Do it while you are young. To my understanding, they are very hungry for people in technical fields over there.

  44. bethh says 20 August 2010 at 09:28

    I graduated with twenty dollars to my name! I couldn’t even participate in a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard with friends during our college’s Senior Week, I was so broke. I moved home with my parents while I looked for work in Boston, which was a 1.5-hour drive from their place (not that I had a car!).

    While I looked for real work, I signed up with a temp agency and worked whatever they gave me (including a dance competition that was overrun with little girls dancing to Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” .. awful).

    This was in the early 90s, which was also not a great time in our economy, and I had a liberal arts degree and not much career direction. So, I took the first crappy job offer I got – working at a bank for $8.50/hour.

    I didn’t have the money for a place to live or a car, so I spent the summer commuting from my parents’ place to Boston and back every day – because of the glitches in transit schedules, it was 3 hours each way. Yep, it sucked, but I had a light at the end of the tunnel: a lease on a crappy but cheap apartment started in September, and I was sharing with a friend and two other tenants the landlord found.

    – do anything (legal) to make money for now
    – keep looking for work
    – take the first reasonable offer you get
    – keep your overhead low the first couple of years you’re working.

    Good luck!

  45. Brenton says 20 August 2010 at 09:33

    I feel alot of sympathy for Isaac. His story sounds very familiar. When I graduated in 2001, I had a terrible time finding a job. I worked temp jobs through an agency making $8/hr or so. When I finally found a job, I immediately went on a spending spree thinking my troubles were over. I racked up $1200 in credit card debt in just a couple of months, which really sucked when I got laid off soon after that.

    Now, I was back to working hourly jobs, only with a big credit card payment every month along with rent, since I moved out asap after finding a job. I ended up working two jobs, one full time, one part time, just to pay the bills.

    My advice to Isaac is similar to JD’s. Take whatever job you can now and build up a cushion until you start your career. Keep an emergency savings and only buy neccessities until that emergency fund is fully stocked. You never know when you will go from a hot shot who just got offered a great job to getting laid off and working 70 hours a week to make enough to cover the payments for the stuff you bought on credit.

  46. KMJ says 20 August 2010 at 09:36

    For me, there was a 4 month gap between the end of graduate school and when I got my first real paycheck. I had the job lined up before graduation, and there was a nice but small stipend for the lag-time, but I still ended up living on my credit card in the interim to get an apartment (w/ a deposit), get some professional clothes, eat, pay the utilities, and buy some basic necessities (silverware, dishes, a nightstand). I got a good portion of the stuff second-hand and tried to economize (i.e., I only had one utility knife for all of my cooking), but I do not regret living off credit for a couple months. It’s strange to say, but it really made the most sense at the time. I didn’t have to fill out any extra paperwork. I knew what I was doing. And I had a reasonable plan. I would NOT advise anybody to do the same thing, particularly not in the current dire economy, but it made sense for me at the time. I did not have a parental home to move back into, and I didn’t know anyone in the area, so I knew it was all on me. It was my time to stand or fail on my own.

    I paid off my credit card in full with my first few paychecks and then started tackling other debts.

    Before the job started, I never considered getting a part-time job in the interim — not because it was beneath me, but just because I did not think it would help me prepare for my upcoming career, which was my primary goal and the entire reason I went to graduate school. If anything, I wanted to save my energy so I could put in long hours when my real career started. Also, I had to take certification exams following graduate school, which required massive amounts of studying, so really it was only 4-6 weeks of true free time. And I didn’t know when I was going to have free time like that ever again.

    Specialization and development of valuable skills is not a waste of time if you have a reasonable plan and a means to accomplish it. Do what works for you, right?

  47. Des says 20 August 2010 at 09:42

    This sentence was a red flag for me:

    “Any advice? Should I get a short-term bank loan? Or maybe borrow from better-off friends?”

    Do NOT borrow money from your friends, no matter how “better-off” you think they are. It puts your friend in the awkward position of having to tell you no, or being forced to loan you money out of guilt. If you are a real friend, you won’t put them in that position, unless money is more important to you than your friends. As someone said above, these things never ends well.

  48. Suzanne says 20 August 2010 at 09:50

    I graduated in a recession, too, in 1991. I lived at home until I found my first job. Once I had it, I made sure that my expenses would be very low, just in case. I rented a room in a home (that meant very low rent and tiny utilities, no need for kitchenware, etc), got my parents to buy me a beater car as a graduation present, and just took everything I could with me from my room at home.

    Living below my means (even at that ridiculously low salary) meant that I could build my cash cushion. I never really let my lifestyle inflate – I lived like a student until later in life and it served me well for a long time.

    Good luck! And no worries about the commute, get a place in the new city. You can always go home on the weekends.

  49. Honey says 20 August 2010 at 09:54

    If the military’s not his thing, wouldn’t they love an engineer in the Peace Corps?

    Can’t he freelance as an engineer? I don’t know a lot about it but there must be some skills he’s gained that he could put to use without violating any contracting/licensing laws. Maybe he doesn’t need to “get a job,” he can start his own business?

    Other than that I don’t know, though obviously I’d echo a lot of what has been said here.

  50. Tyler Karaszewski says 20 August 2010 at 10:01

    During my last semester of college, I started looking for a job before I finished. I had a job lined up about 3-4 weeks before the semester ended, so I immediately left college and moved to San Francisco to start my new job. I also worked all through college, and managed to save at least enough to put down a deposit on my new apartment in SF and pay for food for those first couple weeks in the new city. I already had a car. It was an older car, but that was fine. I really didn’t *need* a car anyway, I could have gotten by with a bicycle, and I would have done just that if I didn’t already have a car.

    Also, I would never take a job just because “it looks like a good place to work”, if it forced me to live somewhere I didn’t want to be. In that last semester of school, when I was looking for jobs, one of my criteria was that any place I applied needed to be in San Francisco — and I don’t mean “the San Francisco Bay Area”, I mean the city proper. I wanted to live the big city life with a job downtown that I could bike to, and so I only looked at places in the city. I would have hated life even if I’d gotten a “better” job an hour inland.

    Finally, the job market for engineers is a completely different job market than the one for Walmart shelf-stocking positions or McDonald’s burger-flippers. There are a lot more unskilled laborers out of work right now than there are talented engineers, and that means that there’s a lot more competition in those lower-end jobs. We can’t find enough decent software engineers to fill open positions, and this seems to be common across silicon valley — the members of my team are regularly getting cold-calls from recruiters at places like Google and Oracle. As a disclaimer: not all people with engineering or computer science degrees are talented. If you have one of these degrees and nobody’s interested in hiring you, you need to step back and take a look at your skills.

  51. Niel Malan says 20 August 2010 at 10:03

    On thing to try (that I’ve done) is to get a job that includes meals and accommodation: as an electrical engineer it shouldn’t be too hard. The prototypical job of this kind is working on an oil rig, but I went to Antarctica for a winter. Of course it might be pretty inconvenient to have to move away for a while, but it’s an adventure, and it looks good on a resumé. These kind of jobs normally come with fixed-term contracts, so it’s easy to escape the life if you can’t stand it.

    I you prefer more conventional employment, I’d recommend getting an apartment within walking or biking distance of the job. Get along without a car for as long as you can.

  52. Carly says 20 August 2010 at 10:06

    Check on Craigslist under part time and gigs – I took a third (sounds busy, but the others are very part time) job that I found on there and it was all computer work that I did at home on my own time and it paid 12/hour for the first part and 25/hr for the second, which I was selected for based on skill/efficiency. Now any time they have another project they contact me and it’s extra money.

    Also, see if there’s a Kaplan center in your area, they pay 15/hr to teach ACT/SAT/GRE, etc. prep class and 20/hr for the MCAT/PCAT type tests. Basically, if you’ve taken a standardized test and done really well, contact them because you can do teaching/tutoring and it’s a good, flexible job. Also, if you work at one you can work at them all so it’s really easy to have a job if you move later.

  53. Budgeting in the Fun Stuff says 20 August 2010 at 10:06

    Other than get a job advice, I got nuttin’…

    I worked 3 part-time jobs for a total of 52 hours or more during my last semester of college while taking 12 hours and planning our wedding. We had about $3000 afterwards – I used $1000 of it as a downpayment on the crappy Aveo I paid off in 2 years and still drive (biking to my job in Houston is not an option if I don’t like the idea of playing “Frogger” for keeps…). 🙂

    I’d say if you can’t earn the money through a regular job, create a job of your own (dog walking, tutoring, pet sitting, babysitting, holding a sign as advertisement, etc…). Craigslist is awesome for marketing your services. They also have listings for all kinds of menial tasks anyone can do for $20-$100 here and there.

  54. mike says 20 August 2010 at 10:08


    Take no loans, especially from friends. Getting by with little cash takes integrity, and it builds a foundation for solid financial planning in the future.

    Have you considered federal employment? A few posters already mentioned it, but like them, I’m a fed employee and we’re hiring engineers like crazy all over America and the world.

    If you have the courage and interest to look beyond your parents’ neighborhood, you can open your search with as wide of a net as you feel comfortable.

    If you’ve ever considered overseas employment, there’s safer places than Iraq and Afghanistan that you could consider – Italy, Germany, England, Spain, Japan, South Korea, Singapore… the list goes on. And the benefits are outstanding.

    If you’re interested, prepare a resume at, which is the fed’s official job search site.

  55. Katelyn says 20 August 2010 at 10:10


    I too have an engineering degree, and I took a job with a small company (30 people). I was lucky that I lived only 26 miles away, so relocation was not necessary. Because the company was so small (only 22 when I started working) they were not able to offer any sort of signing bonus or relocation benefits, despite being a well established company (~50 years old). Even if the company does give you a signing bonus or relocation benefits, you should be aware that they often comes with strings. A roommate of mine got a signing bonus that she received at the time of her first paycheck. I have known other people who got signing bonuses but had to sign a contract saying they would stay with the company for at least two years. Others have gotten signing bonuses that they get half when they first start work and the other half at six months or a year. And bonuses tend to be taxed at a high rate. Also, for relocation benefits, quite a few companies have a reimbursement policy. You pay up front and then they reimburse you after you submit all your receipts.

    Something else that I would like to mention is that my company offers pay advances. I’m sure other companies offer this too. You may talk to your employer about getting your first paycheck or two early.

    I graduated in December 2008, and had an extremely hard time finding a job. I ended up doing some volunteer work for a local solar power organization. This helped me to explain to employers what I had been doing for the seven months it took me to find a job after graduating, and gave me experience to put on my resume. I had tried temp agencies (there are quite a few that are specialized for lab/science/engineering fields), but I was turned down from all that I applied to because they were having trouble finding jobs for the people they already had. I don’t want to scare you; the job market may be better than it was when I was looking for a job (plus EE is much more main stream that Ceramic Engineering) but it could take awhile. And when you do get an offer, the company may be less willing to negotiate than they would be in a better economy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

    Good Luck! 🙂

  56. gerard says 20 August 2010 at 10:17

    oh to be young…..
    travel light is what people are saying, I think. Focus on relationships, not stuff and long term financial ball and chains.

    bikes are great, and so is walking.

    Consider having a great adventure with some relevance to your field.

    I am a physician and have experience in delayed gratification. Once you finish residency , your income suddenly jumps a lot. The key for me was to keep my lifestyle basically the same, because, although my income jumped, I was older, with kids and no retirement savings, and student loans. That allowed us to get out of debt early on. By not having a preconceived notion of what a doctor’s lifestyle should be we were much happier. Let go of any preconception of what an engineer’s lifestyle should be, but don’t let them think you are a total freak at work.

  57. Isaac says 20 August 2010 at 10:25
    Honey/Carly – as a matter of fact my roommates and I spent half our senior year writing a book, the Field Guide to College Success. [ ] We started a publishing company for it as well, We’re waiting on a proof from our printer and the book should be on sale on Amazon within a week.
  58. shallowwater says 20 August 2010 at 10:26

    This is probably not useful for the OP, but I did summer internships/work while in college, and that is how I got my first job and started immediately out of school. The job was an extension of the one I had been doing over the summers and was in the town my parents lived in, so I stayed with them the first few months and then moved out.

  59. Andrew says 20 August 2010 at 10:27

    I recommend living off your credit card for the month: (this is also why it’s a great idea to open a credit card as soon as you’re eligible and just sit on it, the credit history you will generate will give you access to better credit limits by this stage in your life)

    You have 30 days before they billing period ends, then like 25 days to pay the minimum balance, that 55 days you can spend money while waiting for your first paycheck, and it’s free! (if you pay the entire balance off).

    Even if you don’t, and you can only afford, half the balance at the end of 55 days, a small hit of interest over the next month is not that bad, it’s certainly better than trying to arrange a loan, which starts accruing interest on day 1.

    Obviously you’ll need to work out our cash flow, before hand so that you don’t dig yourself a big hole, but that’s easy: add up rent, car, insurance (easy information to get ahead of time), forgo cable the first month, you can blow off your first month’s utils if you need to without any penalty – they’ll just send you scary looking late notices and then start tacking on late fees if you’re too late, but if you miss by a week, no penalty.

    The rest of the stuff you need is simply food and clothing.

    Some self discipline will make a Credit Card your most useful financial tool.

  60. mike says 20 August 2010 at 10:31

    @56 gerard who says “Let go of any preconception of what an engineer’s lifestyle should be, but don’t let them think you are a total freak at work.”

    As an engineer myself, this made me LOL. I always see engineers as the “blue collared” professionals in a “white collared” job market. I think society places much more of an emphasis on how a doctor’s or lawyer’s lifestyle should be than an engineer’s.

    That said, I respect your advice.

  61. Isaac says 20 August 2010 at 10:32
    Andrew – I’ve tried to get a credit card in the past but was denied because my parents weren’t creditworthy cosigners and I wasn’t employed. I’m leery in general of credit cards – as of now, (not having one,) I feel I’d be able to control my spending well, but if I’m wrong I get fucked.
  62. Kelli Wise says 20 August 2010 at 10:41

    I graduated from engineering school in 1982, the bottom of the great 80’s recession. Not much money to my name, and it took a few months to get a job. So I was in the same boat.

    As an engineer, if the company relocates you, they will probably help you with relocation and a hotel for a couple of weeks. They are also used to helping out recent grads, so the HR people will be a great source of information if you ask. They can sometimes help you with finances or good leads on cheap rent. If they have hired other recent grads, maybe one of them would like a roommate short term.

    I had no furniture or bed when I graduated. I got hand me down sheets, towels, and dishes that I used. I slept on the floor for almost 6 months until I could afford to make payments on a mattress (it helped establish a credit rating, back when you needed to do that sort of thing). You can make do for the first few months with virtually nothing and an efficiency apartment is cheap and doesn’t require much in the line of stuff.

    My first job was in a city with no transit service and it was not bikeable, so I understand you may need a car. Again, if you can get a roommate or carpool for a few months while you save money, that will help.

    Good luck in the engineering world!

  63. Nicole says 20 August 2010 at 10:44

    Isaac– Definitely recommend the oil industry– if you can get into it. Most of my relatives are engineers. The ones who got laid off, had trouble finding jobs etc. worked in the Midwest in the auto industry. The ones pulling 6 figures with steady employment are in oil in the South and medical on the coasts. But these companies can afford to be picky with who they hire. The big companies also have specific hiring cycles– if you can do an informational interview with someone in a firm you’re targeting to see when those cycles are and what you can do to make yourself more attractive. For example, Exxon has been really big on safety ever since the Valdez so if you have safety experience you would want to move that up on your resume. Also hit the job fairs at your school and hook up with alumni in your field at your school. Your school’s jobs office should have a database of people you can network with. A lot of people don’t use these resources when they’re in school but they can be invaluable.

    @56 and 60… My sister is constantly complaining that they don’t let her wear high heels at work. I think she’s a freak (in that respect).

  64. Andrea says 20 August 2010 at 10:56

    If you know what company you want to work for apply for any job they have that you qualify for. That may mean being a customer service rep for a year but at least you will already be working for the company when they are hiring for a position you are interested in. Most companies are more likely to hire within and you will be able to determine if it really is a company you would like to stay at.

  65. Dave says 20 August 2010 at 10:57

    I would like to comment about the approach taken by Isaac, as it is the same approach taken by many other college graduates; it is a classic mistake.

    Your job search should start well before graduation! In your senior year of college, you should be VERY familiar with your school’s office of career development. You paid tuition to your school for the very purpose of furthering your career; use those resources that are available to you. By this time, you should have taken on internship roles during your breaks from classes. These are opportunities for experience as well as networking. You should be interviewing throughout your senior year until you get a job. Aim to have a job offer accepted BEFORE you graduate.

    Perspective students and parents, please do some research on a school’s career development, internship, and cooperative education programs.

    I went to an engineering university (for Computer Science) whose career development office is ranked very high. The office had interview rooms for companies to come and interview student candidates. These rooms were booked a full year in advance because demand is so high. By the middle of October (before the Spring that I graduated), I had accepted 1 of several competitive job offers.

    Every school has such services on some level, and you are PAYING for those services. It is up to you to use them to your advantage.

  66. Rob Ward says 20 August 2010 at 11:06

    Even if you do have a part-time job, you don’t HAVE to put it on your resume or application, if you think it would hurt your chances. Although, generally speaking it will usually help, even if it is an entry level job. That way they know you were at least out doing something, not just sitting home all day until you got a job.

  67. Tom says 20 August 2010 at 11:10

    ‘I recommend living off your credit card for the month: (this is also why it’s a great idea to open a credit card as soon as you’re eligible and just sit on it, the credit history you will generate will give you access to better credit limits by this stage in your life)”

    Great idea… immediately go into debt


  68. JL says 20 August 2010 at 11:16

    Transportation and housing are the two biggest expenses. If he could get a job close to his family and take public transportation for the first couple of months that would set him on good footing. I lived with my parents and did park & ride for my first job out of school.

    I also advise against asking friends for money. They might let you crash on their couch though. I lent money to my sister and husband while we were dating, a lot for a college student actually. I still remember that they didn’t pay me back, but it’s only ok because I understood I might never see that money back when I lent it to them.

  69. Isaac says 20 August 2010 at 11:20
    Dave – I indeed spent a couple hours per week at my career center. I spoke to the director just this morning to get some thoughts on my upcoming second interview, as a matter of fact. Unfortunately the openings available didn’t pan out while I was finishing up senior year. During my breaks from classes I opted to do research with professors at my school rather than internships.

    Tom – did you read Andrew’s post? He’s recommending using the 55 day window as a free loan, and to pay it back at the end of that window.

  70. Andrew says 20 August 2010 at 11:49

    Hmm, you just need some access to some short term capital.

    I would disagree with #47 Des: “Do NOT borrow money from your friends, no matter how “better-off” you think they are.”

    If i was your friend, and you came to me with your new employer’s offer letter, and you told me that you have not a dollar to your name and you need some money up front to start your job, I would loan you your first paycheck.

    I would have a very reasonable assurance that you would be able to pay me back (offer letter) and There should be some trust between friends, and friends should help each other out.

    I’d even write out a loan contract. If you are really starting a professional job, you are not going to be trying to dodge debts, you wouldn’t be able to run anywhere, it wouldn’t make any sense.

  71. Caroline says 20 August 2010 at 11:51

    I was unemployed for a full 5 months between college and my first real job. Before leaving school (when I had a job – it was a govt student position and we got kicked out when we graduated), I saved a cushion of about $1000 (I also sold many of my things to get this built up) – mainly to make my credit card payments and do the sorts of things only cash will do. Next I found small jobs to generate bits of cash here and there (just a couple things really – I made a couple hundred extra dollars that way). I also lived with a friend and then my grandmother. I did as much as I could around their places to earn my keep while I was waiting to actually earn steady money. For everything else I relied on credit cards, and tapped the cash as little as possible. However, once I did get a job, I quickly repaid everyone who helped me and continued to live with my grandmother for about 15 months (win-win for both of us, and it helped out my aunts and uncles too b/c they didn’t worry as much about her). In that space of time, I paid off all my credit cards and nearly all of my student loans. I didn’t even try to rent an apt or anything like that til I really felt ready. It’s not the perfect scenario, but it turned out really well. I could have done better, but I did more than most, I think 🙂 I never even thought I would have lived with my grandmother (kind of a bitch, honestly), but we became close and I’m very glad I did it. This was all back in 2004 – imagine if I had been reading these sorts of blogs then – I would have done an even better job. At the time, I was following my own rules 😛 One of my cousins even followed my lead and moved in with us when she graduated!

  72. GJ says 20 August 2010 at 12:35

    If you actually have a guaranteed job in hand and you’ve signed for it, you could easily get by for a month on a credit card. Depending on where you live, there is presumably public transportation. Don’t buy a car yet. Or, borrow a bicycle! Check out or other sites to find places to crash, and live out of a small suitcase. Offer to pay someone $200 to sleep on their couch for a month.

    At the very most you’ll have $700 or so on your credit card. PAY IT OFF. As soon as you get your first paycheck, PAY IT OFF! You won’t even have to pay interest, so you’re basically getting a free loan. Now, if you think you’ll be tempted into buying a PS3 or iPad or whatever new gadget is out instead of paying off the credit card, then this may not be the best idea. Instead, pay it off! Make yourself accountable and tell your parents/friends exactly what you’re doing and make them pester you to see if you’ve actually paid it off when you get your first paycheck.

    Overall, be cheap! Get creative! Sure you have to eat, but be cheap about it. Make PB&Js for lunch. Don’t fall into the trap of “needing” a complete apartment filled with crap. Rent a bedroom off craigslist for a month. There are so many doors open to you, you just have to realize they’re there! Best of luck!

  73. Gimena says 20 August 2010 at 12:48

    I do work in the oil industry as a chemical engineer. I am in consulting and many of the major companies are still hiring. You do have to go through their programs and they are on a cycle. You should start TODAY, as most companies are looking for people to start in Jan. Like I said before you must have at least a 3.0. They will not even glance at your application if you don’t.

    A few years ago when I finished, most of my classmates got jobs through career fairs. Try to go to the very specialzed ones, maybe one through or at the upcoming eWEEK.

    @66- A part time job will come up at the interview, even if it is not on the resume. In engineering they do hold part time jobs outside of your field against you.

    I am still in the “take out a loan” camp. A credit union is your best option. When you get your offer, take the letter in as proof of income. Not only will you be able to live closer to work but you will also build your credit. You may want to consider this option even if you are offered a relocation package, as they come with a lot of strings attached.

  74. Isaac says 20 August 2010 at 13:14
    David – that’s what I was thinking when I asked JD about borrowing from a friend. My best friend/roommate already has a solid job and offered to lend me money if I need it. I’d consider it a secondary option but by no means am I taking it off the table.

    Gimena – I’ll take a look. Thanks for the advice!

  75. mike says 20 August 2010 at 13:39


    Another thought – does your school have an Alumni Association or Young Alumni group? I’ve been offered no less than three very attractive job offers because of my association with my alma mater. Networking is a powerful tool, especially if it pairs you up with folks who might have similar degrees from your university.

  76. Holly says 20 August 2010 at 16:23

    @Mike – So true, and so funny! My husband and his coworkers were very upset when their company issued a “no jeans” policy. The engineers threw such a fit about it that they were exempted from the rule.

    @Isaac -I don’t really have any advice other than what has already been communicated here, but I do want to say good for you for taking another job in the interim. My husband and I graduated in June 2001, he as an electrical engineer. He was hired on full-time with the aeronautics company with which he had done his senior internship. We were engaged, his career looked promising, I planned on working for a year or two and then going to grad school…life was good. Who would have guessed that, three months later, the aeronautics industry would go down the drain after 9/11? He was laid off in October 2001. As a new grad w/ a limited resume, he didn’t stand a chance of finding an EE job, not with the thousands of more highly qualified engineers who were also suddenly out of work. I had a low-paying entry level job, we both had student loans, we were planning our wedding…we couldn’t make ends meet. So my husband went to work at Target. He worked in the stockroom during the early morning shift, getting up at 4AM, working until 1PM, and then spent the rest of his day applying for engineering jobs. He did that for a year, during which time we got married. It was a tough time for him. Here he was, fresh out of college with what was, at the time of graduation, a very marketable degree. He had big dreams. His classmates who had been hired on at non-aerospace companies were still working as engineers, making a ton of money for 22 year olds, buying houses and cars, traveling. We were discouraged.

    It all worked out, of course. After a year, and through a series of most fortunate events, he was given the opportunity to go to grad school, and as a research assistant, his tuition was paid and he received a stipend (which actually paid more than Target). Now he has an MSEE and a competitive resume, and is working, interestingly enough, in aerospace. That all makes me very happy, but you know what? His willingness to go work at Target was absolutely the best thing he could possibly have done for our marriage. It cemented in my mind that he will do whatever it takes to take care of our family. I am proud of what my husband has accomplished in his career. His research has been published in professional journals, he has presented at conferences, he has been steadily promoted. That Target job, though, is the one that makes me most proud of my husband. He is a good engineer, but more importantly, he is a good man.

  77. Jill S says 20 August 2010 at 16:31

    I might catch some flak for this, but I applied for a credit card with an introductory 0% APR. It’s a free loan up to the credit limit until you start working, as long as you’re willing to bet that’s within the next 6 or 12 months.

    I get offers like this for AmEx all the time (12 mo.) and Chase Freedom often has a 6 mo. promotion.

  78. DianaH says 20 August 2010 at 16:47

    I hope you (or anybody else) will consider the Coast Guard. I married a “Coastie” as well as ny best girl friend. The experiences, benefits, the small community (as compared to other military communities) are so great. My husband’s undergraduate and almost all of his graduate school was paid for (and he had the least generous benefit than is now available). Your children benefit when they go to college. Please tell me what company will pay you HALF OF YOUR SALARU day one of your retirement?? It has allowed some of my friends to stay home with their children.

    Remember, the Coast Guard is all about saving lives not taking lives.

  79. Sunny says 20 August 2010 at 19:46

    I know this is hindsight but for others still in college, work whenever you can and SAVE your money. I have a daughter that graduated college a year ago and still hasn’t found a job in her field. However, she saved money out of her paychecks from age 16 on and built up a nest egg. She’s currently working two crappy jobs to make ends meet while continuing her job search. She shares an apartment with one roommate and we help by paying for phone and car insurance. Life can be very tough when your starting out but it really does build character and resourcefulness.

  80. Azher says 20 August 2010 at 21:16

    I would like to tell you to approach your friend for borrow money or try to use their car i mean if they can drop you at your office. This is wat people doing in india rather to go for loan.

  81. Isaac says 20 August 2010 at 21:43

    Azher – depending on the location of my job I may not know anyone at all nearby at first. I’m planning on biking if the distance isn’t too far.

  82. Tony V says 21 August 2010 at 00:43

    I’m about to be in Isaac’s position later this year. Right now I have a job at my school but I can only work there while taking classes. To prepare for this transition I’ve been shooting my resume at any open opportunity, still no luck. When I graduate I’ll probably have enough money to survive for a couple months without work. That’s when I’ll be giving a major push to finding a job or something temporary to get some cash coming in. This article was very useful. I was about to make some purchases but had doubts. I know now to hold back. Thanks.

  83. Azher says 21 August 2010 at 02:22

    Thats great idea. I wish you will have job nearby.

  84. Funny about Money says 21 August 2010 at 03:46

    Get a job to keep the wolf from the door. Two instances in which doing this led to better things, both former students of mine:

    One young woman took temp jobs during the summers while she was in graduate school. She planned an academic career. However, one of her temp employers liked her so much they gave her an offer she couldn’t refuse. This led to a great job with the company, in which she earns far more than she would have on the career path she had planned.

    Another one, recently divorced with a small child and a deadbeat ex-, waited tables and tended bar through graduate school. She’s very good at it, and the work generates a surprising amount per hour, much of it under the table. She now has an excellent day job that not only gives her a decent salary but pays twice-yearly bonuses. She continues to tend bar a few hours a week, because it creates a healthy side income; meanwhile, she’s on track for a bright future in her chosen career.

    An employer who holds hard work against you is not a desirable employer. In both cases, the people who hired my former students were impressed by their industry and willingness to take on temp or blue-collar work to support their long-term plans.

    BTW, the Coast Guard is still the military, any way you look at it. My father was in the Coast
    Guard, and so was my best friend’s husband. The latter was sent to captain a boat in Viet Nam. As a result of his experiences in the Mekong Delta, he became a lifelong pacifist. This should tell one something.

  85. David/moneycrashers says 21 August 2010 at 04:13

    Take whatever job you can get.

    Restaurant are always hiring–maybe consider waiting tables

    Its fast cash

    Sell unuse /unwanted items on Ebay, Craig’s List, or Amazon

  86. Serena says 21 August 2010 at 07:44

    Great to know that Isaac is getting back on track. I’m writing a blog right now about my adventures in the job market/paying down my debt right out of grad school.

    And guess what? I’m working 4 part-time jobs and still living paycheck-to-paycheck. Only one of my jobs is in my chosen field, and it pays below the poverty line. One of my other jobs is at a pet store, and I tutor at two different places. So the beggars-can’t-be-choosers line is like preaching to the choir here.

    It’s tough out there, whether you’re a freshly-minted college graduate or a 30-year workforce vet just laid off. Or parents having to suddenly take in their recently-graduated son. Best of luck to everyone all around!

  87. H Lee D says 21 August 2010 at 07:57

    What a great advantage, to have neither a place to live nor a full-time job! (I am not at all being sarcastic!)

    Once you have a job, you can strategically choose where to live. If that job is in most cities, you won’t need a car, so the stress of buying and insuring one becomes moot. Then, not only is it not a financial burden when you’re getting started, it continues not to be a financial burden for years to come.

  88. Jessica says 21 August 2010 at 08:36

    David is right, I always see NOW HIRING signs at fast food places. It’s a job with income. Good Luck to you!

  89. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog says 21 August 2010 at 10:51

    leave flyers on your street, subdivision, etc. and solicit work around the house in the neighborhood. everyone needs some work done – offer to go shopping for them, do some admin work, tutor their kids, baby sit or pet sit, cut the grass etc. this does not require a car/fuel expense etc. you can also work at a nearby fast food joint as others have suggested. those are typically all within walking distance. as for vehicles, you can save up for a few months and quickly save up for a car. craigslist has cars selling dirt cheap these days.

  90. Andy says 21 August 2010 at 14:16

    You should rent a room from someone rather than get your own place. You can spring for your own place after a year of working once you’ve saved money for the mattress you’ll need to sleep on, a recliner, futon, Tv, microwave, towels, dishes, etc, etc (you’ll need $5,000 or so to set up your own place later on). The craigslist website has rooms for rent in every big city. That way you won’t have to buy much for your first place, and you may even get by without having to be on more than a month to month lease. If you get your own place as soon as you get a job – then you’ll probably rack up $3000 in credit card debt getting what you need to live in it and then have to slowly pay it off – it’s much better to just rent from someone cool (someone like you who won’t be bothered by how you live). If public transportation isn’t available when you get your “real job”, yes get a car. One possibility is to buy one of your parent’s cars from them – on payments. That way you will owe them and not a bank. If that’s not an option, buy a very economical car. I recommend a Honda Civic, or Mazda3. At $15 grand, they aren’t cheap, but get 30 miles per gallon and need little repairs – and last for 15 years. You’ll have a lot of stress and hard work at your job. You don’t need the added stress of an old “beater” or “hoopty” car that breaks down a lot. Also repairs can cost $700 each on old cars. You could end up putting $7,000 in repairs into a used car you just bought over the first two years you own it – that a wiser person just sold to avoid paying for. Also the Nissan Versa at $10,900 (with air contitioning – a must in the heat waves we have) is a good buy if you can stand a subcompact. When you’re just starting out is the one time I recommend buying a new car on credit – just nothing fancy. Don’t live without a roommate when you’re just starting out – it’s way way too expensive.

  91. sam says 22 August 2010 at 20:05

    regarding the housing issue and the clothing issue:

    1) often you can move into someone’s room, for as little as $300 per month. live there for a little while and then get a modest apartment after you’ve been able to feel things out without committing to something. this option also makes it easier to move back home if an out of town job doesn’t pan out for whatever reason; you won’t have a lease to break.

    2) today i went to a local Detroit chain of second hand stores (value world, whoop whoop!!!) and spent $70 on clothing. i bought 7 pairs of pants and 14 shirts. all of the clothing was in great condition. it’s not that expensive to outfit yourself with business casual gear as is expected in most offices; i’m a social worker and all i’m expected to do is shower weekly. it’s doubtful that you’ll be in a suit right away out of college going to meetings with head honchos, you’ll probably get an entry level job and you’ll be fine with two pair of khaki slacks, and a pair each of brown, blue, black, and gray. many shirts are easily paired with different pants, add in a couple sweater vests and you have plenty of clothes to last you for a few months before you get a couple paychecks under your belt. shoes are important and i’d say buy a good looking pair of brown and black dress shoes with leather soles that can be repaired for the next 20 years (florsheim or the like).

    don’t get too worried about anything right now; you got to get the job first. from my read on things you could drive to an out of town job (a couple thousand miles, even) with a couple suitcases, laptop, etc. and get a room to rent, and buy the clothes necessary to start a new job and spend no more than $1000 in total “new job start up costs.”

  92. Isaac says 22 August 2010 at 20:15

    Sam: Great points. I shop at thrift store all the time but for some reason hadn’t considered getting business casual clothes at one. I do certainly plan on getting a roommate thanks largely to the advice ITT.

    Thanks all!

  93. Annie says 23 August 2010 at 16:27

    I graduated in August 1984 – a degree in environmental biology – a week later I was working for a tile company grouting tile in new houses, I made dozens of applications in my field had a bit of help with housing with friends, I was hired in a government job in September 1984, not much of a wait and I have been at it since – I agree, find any kind of job to hold you over – I did have student loans, they did not begin for 6 months which helped – it took 11 years to pay off – Friends gave me shelter, but a loan, I could not ask, I value my friends way to much!! Good Luck

  94. Isaac says 24 August 2010 at 14:01
    Hey all,
    Just wanted to say that my job lead panned out and I accepted an offer today. If you’ve got a room to rent or a cheap car for sale in the Hartford, CT area, lemme know at isaac at!

    Thanks for the great tips everyone!

  95. Lisa says 09 September 2010 at 09:41

    I think this is all great advice which I wish I had when I was 24. Isaac, so glad you asked the question, and now have a job. Congratulations!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*