Jobless Graduate in the Shitty Economy? Hello, Cruel World: Productive Things to do Instead of Submitting that 25th Resume

by Alexander Heyne · 7 comments

“The economy blows” is becoming the “nice weather, huh?” small-talk line of the century.

Everywhere you talk to people, you get the same conversation cycling over and over again.  The convenient scapegoat, the economy excuse, the safe fall back small-talk discussion topic.

Oh, your 20 something has no reason to wake up the morning too?  He’s been unemployed for 6 months straight? She’s submitted 100+ job applications and has had 2 interviews, neither of which went through?  He’s watching re-runs of tv series all day?’

These cliches are becoming almost insanely predicative of what people are going through in the “tough times.”

And 20 somethings are now, more than ever, feeling entitled to the whole goddamn world and are notoriously unwilling to settle for jobs they think “are beneath them.”

I, too, have been there, done that. I moved back into the United States in July 2011, and since then I’ve spent more than 50% (!) of my time in this country unemployed.

That means zero income streams.

Okay. We get it.  It’s hard to get a job, the economy is bad, blah blah blah.  The same is happening all over the world.

The problem with most of us is that we are going for ordinary solutions to the whole “get a job” thing.

Can’t find a job?

Ordinary solutions: Submit resumes to job networks, go to a local temp agency, ask friends and family, see who you know.

The problem is everyone else is also thinking of those ridiculously ordinary strategies.. and they’re way over saturated.

This isn’t about how to get a job. It’s about finding productive shit to do instead of wasting your time on flawed job-search strategies and checking your email 435 times a day.

I’ve done that, and it sucks.

Worst of all, it doesn’t work.

Here are some things that do.


 Hello, Cruel World 

A recent NYTimes article entitled Hello, Cruel World tracked 226 graduates of Drew University to try and see what they were up to and what their views on the job market were.

Some of these are pretty funny, some are pretty sad – but they’re all pretty accurate of the current situation that myself and many of my friends are going through.

 One of my favorites:

You’ve also got the “I was an honor student / cheerleader / generally awesome human being but still can’t get a job” student:

The “I thought I would become a finance bigwig like my daddy, but it turns out I’m better at making Bacon, Egg & Cheese’s” dude.

The Dreamer *Tear* *sniff sniff* (Note: It says “Now traveling in Spain” haha, at least he is doing something right) 


Side note: Incase you’re a coffee fetching umpa lumpa (Also known as: Unpaid Intern)

There is this nasty trend of using unpaid interns these days to fill the spot of normal employees, expect obviously not paying them.

Some interns fool themselves into thinking “Well, at least I’m using my time wisely and I’m learning some new skills.”

Okay, that’s fine.

If it’s true.

A while back I talked about formal education, called Getting Shafted by the College Education.

I’m a huge proponent of learning skills on your own via books, classes, seminars, or just self-study.  It goes without saying that people who invest the most into their education (formally or informally) have much more to work with, and many more options for the future.

Now: regarding unpaid internships. The 51% rule is one of my favorite business “rules” in existence:

” The 51% rule. Write down the hours you work, dividing them into two categories: hours you spend learning something new, and hours you spend doing something you already know how to do.  For example on day 1 100% is probably new stuff.  But over time, that will fall. Maybe 30% of what you do is repetition and 70% is new.  But once you spend ½ your time doing what you already know, it’s time to quit.”

-Paul Zane Pilzer in The Next Millionaires

So if you’re saying “my internship sucks, I’m not even getting paid, and I’m only learning new stuff 2 days out of the week,” It’s probably time to reconsider.

Here’s where I introduce worth-your-time alternatives.

Worthwhile (And actually productive) things to do instead of (continuing to) waste time job searching

There are so many free venues for learning these days that “I don’t know how” is more of an excuse of laziness than know-how.

A — Attend a Skillshare Class (or ten) 

Skillshare is a startup where people can teach and attend classes, usually for $5-$60 paid by the attendees.  I have attended several of them in NYC and can say you can get some pretty sweet information for insanely cheap. I’ve been to $10 lectures where you are furiously scribbling notes down with your brain on fire

There are 6 main categories of classes:  Creative Arts, Culinary Arts, Entrepreneurships, Lifestyle & Technology.

A lot of the classes are even small (<10 people) so you get a chance to directly ask questions to successful startup CEOs, branding coaches, etc.

B — Learn a new skill for 30 days

Try something new for 30 days is the title of a lecture given on TED by Matt Cutts.

In my experience it’s pretty much the easiest, most effective way to re-introduce adventure in your life and destroy routine. It’s fun, and you’ll be learning a new skill.

And it’s much more worthwhile than submitting your 10,000th job application or watching your 456th family guy re-run.


 C – Selectively cultivate a new skill and enter a new field

I’m not gonna lie, Tim Ferris’ guest post on 8 Steps to Getting What You Want Without Formal Credentials is the best thing I’ve seen posted on the internet regarding developing a new skill and the informal network surrounding it to fully capitalize on your new skills.

It revolves around three things:

  1. Choosing a new skill to learn
  2. Documenting your progress
  3. Cultivating relationships
  4. Selling yourself (and your services)
  5. Become a perceived expert

I don’t really need to go anymore in depth because the post is crazy fat with information.  The only other thing I’d recommend is reading Book Yourself Solid because it’s an incredibly robust, well developed system for getting clients.

New skill you’ve learned + new clients = get money get paid.

D – Start a Blog

Sorry kids. Blogging and internet businesses aren’t nerdy anymore.  Unless you consider making awesome connections, unleashing your creative beast and potentially making a BAZILLION dollars… all at once… nerdy.

Regarding the “why” start a blog option, lemme refer you to Benny’s recent post called 10 Reasons to Start a Blog Today, he mentions:

  1. You will meet some freaking awesome people
  2. Blogging is a great creative outlet
  3. It can lead to publishing a book
  4. It can make you money
  5. You can make a difference
  6. It can give you a voice (start your revolution)
  7. You can help people
  8. It can lead to some unexpected opportunities (like landing a movie deal)
  9. You can become a sought-after authority even offline (enjoy fame, victoria’s secret models, and cristal sippin’ ? Me too.)
  10. You’ll improve your writing and become more persuasive (your high school English teacher will thank you)

Nowadays there are so many bloody readers of everything – from trolls to pokemon to purple colored thong lovers, that no matter what you love you can find readers to join you.

And people who are willing to pay you.


What next?

We are, as Seth Godin says, entering a forever recession:

“There are actually two recessions:

The first is the cyclical one, the one that inevitably comes and then inevitably goes. There’s plenty of evidence that intervention can shorten it, and also indications that overdoing a response to it is a waste or even harmful.

The other recession, though, the one with the loss of “good factory jobs” and systemic unemployment–I fear that this recession is here forever.

Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created.

There’s a race to the bottom, one where communities fight to suspend labor and environmental rules in order to become the world’s cheapest supplier. The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win…

Factories were at the center of the industrial age. Buildings where workers came together to efficiently craft cars, pottery, insurance policies and organ transplants–these are job-centric activities, places where local inefficiencies are trumped by the gains from mass production and interchangeable parts. If local labor costs the industrialist more, he has to pay it, because what choice does he have?

No longer. If it can be systemized, it will be. If the pressured middleman can find a cheaper source, she will. If the unaffiliated consumer can save a nickel by clicking over here or over there, then that’s what’s going to happen.

It was the inefficiency caused by geography that permitted local workers to earn a better wage, and it was the inefficiency of imperfect communication that allowed companies to charge higher prices.

The industrial age, the one that started with the industrial revolution, is fading away. It is no longer the growth engine of the economy and it seems absurd to imagine that great pay for replaceable work is on the horizon.

This represents a significant discontinuity, a life-changing disappointment for hard-working people who are hoping for stability but are unlikely to get it. It’s a recession, the recession of a hundred years of the growth of the industrial complex.

I’m not a pessimist, though, because the new revolution, the revolution of connection, creates all sorts of new productivity and new opportunities. Not for repetitive factory work, though, not for the sort of thing ADP measures. Most of the wealth created by this revolution doesn’t look like a job, not a full time one anyway.

When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.

Stressful? Of course it is. No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver. Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a ‘real’ job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level playing field in which owning a factory isn’t a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do.

Gears are going to be shifted regardless. In one direction is lowered expectations and plenty of burger flipping… in the other is a race to the top, in which individuals who are awaiting instructions begin to give them instead.

The future feels a lot more like marketing–it’s impromptu, it’s based on innovation and inspiration, and it involves connections between and among people–and a lot less like factory work, in which you do what you did yesterday, but faster and cheaper.

This means we may need to change our expectations, change our training and change how we engage with the future. Still, it’s better than fighting for a status quo that is no longer. The good news is clear: every forever recession is followed by a lifetime of growth from the next thing…

Job creation is a false idol. The future is about gigs and assets and art and an ever-shifting series of partnerships and projects. It will change the fabric of our society along the way. No one is demanding that we like the change, but the sooner we see it and set out to become an irreplaceable linchpin, the faster the pain will fade, as we get down to the work that needs to be (and now can be) done.

This revolution is at least as big as the last one, and the last one changed everything.”

The bottom line is this: Maybe things won’t get easier. Maybe we’re not temporarily in a slump, in a tough economy and a tough job market.

With that in mind, does it change how you’ll go about the job search? What if you’re kids are going to have to deal with what we’re dealing with – but 10x worse. Does that change how you’re going to use your time, instead of submitting that 13th resume for the day?

Maybe I’m just a babbling wantrapreneur, or maybe i’m just another 20 something who claims to be “screwed by the economy.”

But tomorrow morning when you wake up to check your  email and you start browsing job sites, ask yourself this, “Are there better things I could be doing than submit that next resume?”

Oh, and no – family guy re-runs don’t count.


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Brasilicana March 28, 2012 at 8:22 pm

I’m a huge proponent of learning skills on your own via books, classes, seminars, or just self-study.

What’s interesting is that some colleges (at least here in Brazil) are actually kinda leaning towards more independent, self-directed learning. I teach an accelerated English course at a local university, and only 33% of the course is actually in class… the other 67% of the hours, the students are supposed to do by themselves by studying in the online system. The idea is that it makes the students more directly responsible for their own learning; they have to be more proactive than just “showing up” to class.

I love your four practical suggestions, almost makes me wish I was back in the U.S. so I could take advantage of those Skillshare classes! Another awesome benefit of these four outside-the-box skill development strategies is that they help break the “inertia of apathy” – you know when you’ve been unemployed for a long time and you just can’t even work up the momentum and energy to even try anymore.


Laura Kimball March 29, 2012 at 12:59 am

Thanks for mentioning the Drew article, my sister went there, so it’s interesting to see her alma mater profiled in the Times.

Tragically, that survey is a great sample of what college graduates look like all over the place. Going to college does not guarantee you a job. Going to college does teach you how to think and (if you chose correctly) helps you build a network that will help you out in the ‘real’ world. That’s it. If you want to get a job, you have to be creative in other ways.

Great post, Alexander!


afheyne March 30, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Laura —

Yeah the thing about college is that it’s typical of pre-college school.

In grade school we’re taught to follow directions and just do your work. Kids without ADD Who can focus and follow rules and be told what to do are successful. I’m one of those.

But once you get out the path is way more convoluted and just makes so many of us go “WTF?”


Laura Kimball April 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm

When you’re in school and college you view the world in 10- or 12-week increments. When you’re halfway through one, you plan for the other. Then you have the vast openness called “summer” and go a little crazy knowing that fall is around the corner.

The real world is endless, cyclical and there’s no “final” to let you know you can breathe a little bit. It’s quite scary.

Melanie April 3, 2012 at 11:28 am

I’m a huge fan of taking the time to learn something new. It breaks me out of repetitive cycles and gets my brain thinking.


afheyne April 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm


Yeah, me too! It’s also great to fend off boredom and complacency and make your life more interesting.


afheyne April 2, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Yeah, that IS really scary and a lot of people don’t think about it.

I went to school at Clemson in the south, and 2 years after I graduated I had 30-40 Facebook friends married or engaged, some already divorced, and some with babies.

I don’t think this is the case all the time – but I think getting married young is an attempt at putting structure into a life that suddenly has graduates saying “WTF do I do now?”


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