3 Ways to Make the Most of a Jobless Summer

Another summer weekend, another article about the tough job market for recent college grads. This week’s installment appeared in The New York Times Style section in the form of “Say Hello to Underachieving” by Alex Williams.

I’m very glad this topic is still on the radar screens of major media reporters. I just wish the articles would include some helpful suggestions for young people who find themselves in the tough position of facing the longest recession period since the 1930s. The Comments section of the Times article certainly included a lot of — ahem — suggestions, but I’m not a big fan of snark. So, I thought I’d share my three cents on how college students and recent grads can still improve their resumes without a traditionally “good” summer job or internship.

Volunteer. In fairness, in addition to the snarky remarks, the Comments section of the Times piece was filled with the suggestion to volunteer, and that advice is spot-on. I’ve written many times about the value of volunteering and it’s even more important this summer.

Although future employers will understand why you might not have a superstar internship on your resume for the infamous summer of 2009, they won’t understand why you don’t have any volunteer experience during that time period. Volunteer for Meals on Wheels, a political candidate, a soup kitchen, a Little League team, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, an animal shelter, anything. Search for thousands of opportunities at Idealist.org.

Take on a Project. I just finished reading the memoir Julie and Julia, which has been made into an upcoming movie starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The book is about a young woman with a boring temp job and dreams of becoming an actress who decides on a whim to spend a year cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and writing a blog about it. A little weird? Check. A challenging, unique project that takes commitment, determination, creativity and confidence? Also check. If I were a recruiter for a cookbook publisher, restaurant chain or the Food Network, I’d call Julie in for an interview.

Can you spend the summer taking on a project related to your area of career interest? A business major could read through every book on the summer’s Wall Street Journal business best seller list and review each book on Amazon.com. An aspiring film industry worker could watch every film on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 best films of all time. An aspiring curator could tour every museum in a 200 mile radius. If you choose a worthwhile, valuable project, it could lead to a job (or a book deal).

Start a Small Business. My friends over at Gradspot.com just featured a great post outlining four businesses that are easy to start and manage, including dog walking, tutoring, computer programming and babysitting/nannying. These are all resume-worthy summer pursuits and can lead to great opportunities for networking, skill building and, of course, moneymaking. I’d add to this list jewelry making, graphic design, lawn mowing, gardening, house painting, social media consulting (you would not believe the number of people who ask me if I know of a college student who would teach them how to use Facebook or Twitter) and bartending (if you’re of legal age). Employers are often impressed by the hard work and leadership it takes to launch and run a business on your own, especially in hard times.

Do you have more suggestions for making the most of an jobless summer? Please share in the comments!

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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