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Ask Rene: Out Of School, Out Of Work


Dear Rene,

My 25-year-old son has been out of college for 3 years now and can’t seem to find a job.

Mark has an Engineering Degree but there are no jobs in his chosen field. For every position he applies to there are 500 other applicants, many of whom have previous experience.

He’s currently working as a waiter at a local Olive Garden and barely making ends meet. What money Mark makes barely keeps him afloat (we take a small amount as rent) and he still has a lot of college debt to pay off.

He’s getting more and more depressed and barely leaves the house now aside from work.

Can you offer any advice or solutions Rene?

Yours truly,

Worried Mom in Washington

Dear Worried:


Oh, that stinks! I can only imagine how frustrated Mark must be. Here he invested all this time and you, all this money in a degree and the two of you probably fear it is not going to pay off. Before I give you my advice it’s important to remember that in all things, in all situations, nothing stays the same forever. So here goes.

TAME THE FEAR: Fear is paralyzing and can rob you of the ability to think clearly which is critical. So first and foremost, put a leash on that beast! The way I do that is to lay out all the potential ways it could turn out, including the hairiest, scariest, most apocalyptic scenario. As it turns out, it doesn’t look so bad when you shine a bright light on it.

THROW OUT THE TIMETABLE: Remember when Mark was a baby and you took him to Gymboree? All the mothers were comparing notes on when their kids sat up, crawled, walked, were potty trained and so on. We do it initially to assure ourselves that our kid is developing normally but then it takes a sinister turn and though no one will admit it, the mom whose kid walked first struts around like he just cured cancer. That comparing notes doesn’t end once they get out of Pampers either. You and Mark both need to understand that everything happens when it is supposed to. That doesn’t mean you sit back and wait, but it does mean that you don’t put unnecessary stress on yourselves because he’s the only kid from the original Gymboree group still working for an hourly wage. Who cares?

BE REALISTIC: You say in your letter “there are no jobs in his chosen field.” I think what you mean to say is “there are no jobs in his chosen field THAT MEET HIS CRITERIA.”  Mark may have his choices too narrowly defined at a time he can’t afford to. He needs to be realistic about the type of job he can get. If he was hoping to land a management position with a starting salary of $65,000 a year plus benefits, stock options and a company car, well that’s just not going to happen, not right out of the gate anyway. You said for every job he applies to there are 500 applicants. You know what I would do if I were him? I’d be applying for engineering jobs in the most remote places, areas where no one else wants to go. Not only are his odds better, they might be so happy to see someone of his caliber that he could name his own price or at the very least have a bit more leverage.

TAKE ACTION: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, you can’t steer a still ship. As a local news reporter there were times I was incredibly frustrated with my situation. What I found was that when I mapped out a strategy and did something everyday to further that goal, I felt more in control. Some days it was working on my resume, other days I would be sending out tapes or making calls. Mark needs to approach looking for a job as if it WERE a job. He should “clock in” everyday and spend a certain amount of time working toward his goal. Mark also needs to think outside the box by harnessing the power of social media and using it to his advantage. I would also join professional organizations and attend their events because so much of life is about contacts and connections. Instead of being a sterile piece of paper among 500 applicants Mark just might be “that nice young man I met at the mixer.” Believe me, it makes a difference.

Those are but a few ideas and I would go over this list with Mark as he might have a few of his own. The key is for you to continue to support him and help him take ownership of the situation which will empower him and make him feel like he has a say in his own destiny

Good luck, mommy!

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  1. Auntie Lisa

    March 4, 2011 at 9:50 am

    I don’t know anything about the engineering field specifically, but are there any temporary or short-term types of jobs he could find… that would boost his experience level? Independent contracting or something…

  2. Leslie

    March 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    When I was unemployed, I worked with a career counselor who gave me a few excellent pieces of advice. First, he said that 80% of all jobs today are landed because of a connection. The days of a cold call application just don’t work. As you state, using social media designed for the job hunt, such as LinkedIn is a start. Joining his school’s alumni association is also an avenue. For every person you know, you should connect with them and make them aware that you are job hunting. Like the six degrees of separation, every person you know has people that may be able to help.
    He also recommended that you have personal business cards. You can get them cheap at It should contain your name, address, phone contacts and email address. Whenever you meet someone new, give them a card. You never know who they will pass it along to.
    Create a 60 second “who am i” monologue. You never know when someone is going to ask you what you are looking for and why they should help you. Having a well rehearsed shpiel that talks about education, experience and job goal is critical to appear confident and well focused.
    And finally, don’t define yourself by a job title, but rather the experience you have. Saying that you are looking for an “engineering” job means you eliminate all other careers that use engineering in non traditional ways. From personal experience, one avenue you might want to pursue is the insurance industry. They hire engineers all the time for various corporate insurance roles. Don’t think personal lines, think property insurance. Remember, every hospital, factory, hotel and school is insured and someone with an engineering degree has probably done a risk assessment of it.
    Good luck!

  3. Rene Syler

    March 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    @Leslie GREAT ADVICE! Thanks so much!

  4. Eddie Griffin

    March 4, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Rene, I read your advice to see how close you would come to my thinking. I’m surprised. When I trained welfare-to-work mothers in MOS (Microsoft Office), I required them to apply for 5 jobs per day, while equaled 100 per week. The sure volume of applications netted a certain percentage of responses. Before long, they would be interviewing every day. Also, a key was the cover letter. Writing a good cover letter is like psychological warfare: The applicant (writer) must envision the mind of the reader, and then get inside his or her head to make an initial impression. This must be done in the first sentence or two. LASTLY, throw everything you got at it (the job market). Work whatever you can, whenever you can… two or three small-paying jobs… saving whatever you can in order to make the next step. Working at Olive Gardens is not so bad if, in due time, you are made a regional manager of several locations.

  5. Ron

    March 6, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    After being self employed for more then 23 years and this past August closing my latest business venture after only 2.5 years due to the economy, I found myself looking for a job for the first time since I was 19.

    I had to really think outside of the box after being told over and over I was over qualified or they did not think I would be happy working for someone else.

    We hear every day that there are no jobs to be had. The job he may want is out there but he will have to do his time in order to get that job.

    I agree with you 100% he needs to be looking in area’s that not all would want to live or work in until he gets a few years under his belt then he would have a better chance of finding the job and pay he really would like to have.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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