College Grads Get Creative in Job Search

With the market downturn, some students cast a wide net to find work.

ByDominick Tao
November 26, 2008, 2:38 PM

GAINESVILLE, Fla., Dec. 2, 2008 -- The job market for recent college graduates isn't the best. Rather than bothering with the rat race, spamming resumes and hoping to come out with at least an entry-level grunt job, some recent alumni are forging their own paths -- for better, worse or simply an adventure.

Danny Djeljosevic is an Internet-era bohemian. No "real" job, just whatever work he can scour from the annals of Craigslist, the classified ads of the 21st Century.

His resume now includes ghostwriter, reality TV blogger and one-time extra on a TV show. The way he now makes a living isn't what he pictured life would be like six months out of college, but -- que será, será. Besides, what else would he be doing?

As an student approaching graduation at the University of Florida earlier this year, the 23-year-old was socked with apprehension about his future. He didn't think anyone would hire him at a TV writing job with just an English degree and little experience, and he knew he couldn't stay with his family in Fort Lauderdale. He feared he'd get stuck.

So Djeljosevic and three friends piled into a Honda Civic and drove from Florida to San Diego, Calif., where they now rent a house together.

"I realized I couldn't get a real job right away," Djeljosevic said. "San Diego, it seemed sort of a fun, romantic, interesting thing to do."

But eschewing the process of finding a company, a boss and a steady paycheck has led to a new fear: literally becoming that starving artist.

"Living on your own with a dwindling supply of money leads you to get cracking and find a job before it's too late," Djeljosevic said.

And some of the jobs he has come across have bordered on the bizarre.

"I found one site that wanted people to blog about colons," Djeljosevic said. "It's a matter of finding something that interest you and pays well but won't be embarrassing. It's not easy."

Despite the quirky writing jobs and low pay (some blogging assignments net only $15 per week), Djeljosevic said he's hoping the hands-on experience he's getting could sometime soon land him a steadier writing post. In the meantime, he'll continue to start his days with coffee while refreshing the Craigslist page.

"Being productive is rewarding in and of itself. It makes me feel like I'm a legitimate writer," Djeljosevic said. "It's a matter of sticking it out."

Recent Florida State University graduate Stephanie Mellini has plenty of friends who are just hanging out, waiting to hear back on dozens of job applications. Others have jobs, just not the ones they truly desired. And still others are contemplating going back to school.

Mellini wanted something different for her post-grad life.

"It just kind of hits you. Everyone's so wrapped up in this world on campus, this microcosm of society -- and then you get out, and no one really cares," Mellini said. "You have to kind of start over from scratch."

For the 22-year-old international affairs and theater major, starting over was all the reason she needed to satisfy an itch she's had since studying abroad as an undergrad.

"I'm really interested in just traveling and seeing the world a little more," she said.

So now, she's about to fly to London -- but not as just another scruffy backpacker. She was accepted into an international work-exchange program, allowing her to stay abroad for up to six months.

"I figured if I worked there, I could stay longer," she said.

She just hopes that after she touches down, she'll get a job that satisfied her urge to meet new people and covers the bills at the same time.

"A lot of people in the program work at bars or in pubs. I'm happy with anywhere I'm going to meet cool people," Mellini said.

Wanderlust and exploration may be all the satisfaction Mellini wants after college, but on the home front, there were tough decisions and parental opinions to weigh before she eventually made the plunge.

"At the same time I'm getting this other stuff from my parents. They're all about me having adventures, however I think if it was their choice, they would definitely have me go to law school or something," Mellini said. "You know, something sensible."

From a bedroom-office he shares with his girlfriend, Victor Amin runs his one-man IT startup, a company called rSapient. He's developing a new spin on the spam-prevention tools Websites use to verify whether users are human, or a computer programmed to act like one.

While some of the classmates who graduated along with Amin from Princeton University this spring went on to $80,000-a-year jobs fresh out of college, the 22-year-old chemistry major decided to go into business for himself. He had an idea and the know-how -- he just needed to give it a shot.

But that's a tough thing to do when student loan statements are arriving.

"My mom tried to tell me, 'just get a job for a couple years.' It was tempting. There's always that twinge of doubt. It's money, security," Amin said. "You have to be willing to throw that away."

Amin said a large portion of Princeton grads go on to lucrative careers in finance with big banks, and that senior year, he felt as if everyone was getting interviews with large firms. But when the trouble on Wall Street peaked this fall, many job prospects dwindled -- and many were forced to settle.

He'd rather try and fail on his own than settle.

"A friend in aerospace engineering went to work at a sub-optimal job outside his field, 'just for a while'. People tend to think like that and then they get stuck," Amin said.

The young entrepreneur said his drive to take the riskier path started after he spoke with the president of an online company who quit a cushy corporate job to launch his own venture.

"I asked him: 'What made you quit your job?' He said, 'If I quit and it succeeds, then great. If it fails, well, I'll still have experience running my own company,'" Amin said.

Despite the poverty and uncertainty his post-college choices have brought him, Amin said he's at least doing something he loves and of course, he hopes rSapient will eventually yield a product that will bring home the bacon.

"If you're losing sleep over an idea, you've got to go do it," he said.

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