How can recent college graduates navigate today’s job market? Fortune interviewed people who had entered the workforce after the economic crash and the invention of Twitter in order to find out. Here’s what they had to say:
While internships have become a necessary inconvenience on the path to full-time, paid employment, before you accept an unpaid internship, ask the employer whether they’ve ever hired an intern. If not, it might be best to walk away. “Try to work for a place that wants you to really grow from the experience of working for them, not just use you as expendable cheap labor,” says 2010 graduate and multiple-internship veteran Justine Dowden, who is now pursuing a master’s degree in public health.
Sometimes bigger, more established companies are better. A creative startup with only a few employees or a scrappy nonprofit might seem cool, but once you’ve been hired, “all of the lines are blurred so it’s harder to know your position,” says Meg, a first-year associate at a law firm in Chicago. Beware of companies that lack an HR department or won’t provide a concrete job description.
Remember that you don’t have to move to New York — there are good jobs everywhere — or wait to put your ideas out into the world. “When I was a junior in college, I had some ideas I thought Google should work on, and I wrote this blog post,” says Ted Power, who graduated in 2007. The post led to an internship and later a full-time job at Google.
Meet as many people as you can, and keep in touch, even with employers who’ve said they’re not hiring. Use Google and social media to keep track of what hiring managers are looking for. Don’t write off an entry-level position because it’s imperfect — and as Meg says, even as you try to get ahead, remember to enjoy your 20s. — Greg Beaubien