SURVEY SAYS: How Long Did it Take You to Land That First Job?

July 15, 2010 ( - We’ve got a newly minted college graduate in my household – and yes, the job search is on.   

This week I asked readers how long it took you to get your first job – and how long it took you to get that first “real” job – and we got some great career advice/insights as well. 

On the subject of job markets, one reader observed, “…and I thought the legal job market was “tight” in the early 80s!”  Another noted, “I graduated in May, 1976–also not a great time to be a new grad. That fall I was a substitute teacher for 5th graders–thank goodness I wasn’t an Ed major!”   

This week’s reader experiences were varied – and as more than one reader reminded me, how long it takes is generally a function of the economy into which we graduate as much as anything else.  That said, the most common response – 26.3% – said they were able to find employment right after graduation, while 22.2% had that first job even before that.  Another 12.1% were hired within a month, and 24.2% found placement within three months – all of which – taken together – would suggest that there might be hope even with the current rate of unemployment. 

Among the rest, 10.1% found something within six months, 4% within a year, and the remaining minority took longer than a year.  

Comments about those first jobs were interesting and informative: 

I think I was a lucky one - I accepted the job offer the December before I graduated and then started two weeks after graduation. 

Worked for a temp agency for several months; then went to UPS. 

The economy wasn't so hot in 1985, either.  After graduation I went back to my previous summer job at the "mall" while I continued my "real" job search. 

My first job after college was as a secretary in an outpatient mental health center! I had my 4-year degree in psychology and was a fast typist, so that's why I was qualified 🙂 

I had the offer prior to graduation, but started afterwards. 

I landed my first job in February of my senior year and worked it out so that I could start on July 5th. 

True Story: I did a phone interview on a payphone WHILE wearing my cap and gown, waiting outside with the rest of the graduates to enter the ceremony hall. I think I was offered the job right after my walk on stage. 

Hired well before graduation and started work about 2 weeks after graduation. 

Accepted offer, but didn't start, first real job 3 months before graduation. 

Believe it or not, it was a temporary clerical job working on annuity applications. 

This question would be more interesting if tied to WHEN you graduated. I graduated in the mid-80s, when the economy was much better than it is today. 

I worked thru temporary agencies until I landed a job at a small machine shop in my hometown, roughly 6 months after graduation, as purchasing agent, not at all what I had in mind as a career. Back in the mid 70s, jobs were scarce. 


More comments  

Was already employed but moved to another profession in  under 3 months 

I worked at my real job all day and took night classes towards my degree.  It took me forever but it's done! 

I took the first thing to come along in order to stay in my college town.  Turns out a finance major who works as a cameraman filming legal depositions isn't a good fit. 

I was extremely naive.  After graduating with a degree in Philosophy, I did not have a clue what I was going to do with my life.  Luckily a friend of friend hired me to do data entry and I worked my way up to Accounts Payable clerk before deciding it would be a good idea to go to graduate school.  With an MBA in sight, the second job search was much easier. 

I started bartending the day before graduation. 

I was hired as a teaching fellow while working on my master's degree.  So it was a job, but not a "real" job, I guess. 

After graduation, went to Europe for 3 months and within 3 weeks of returning, landed my first real job at Crown Zellerbach as an Executive Assistant in 1982. 

The job market when I graduated (late 1991) was so bad that I took a temporary position at the local IRS data processing center, and then went to graduate school. 

Does waitressing count? 

Well...since I still haven't graduated from college (just a few classes to go), the question doesn't quite apply.  But let's just say that I landed my first "real" full-time, professional job 26 years ago within 2 weeks of starting to look for one.  Not too shabby for a wet-behind-the-ears 19-year old new single mom! 

Right out of college I started as a temp, 3 months later they hired me full time. 

I'm still trying to get into it - I have a great HR position ( a "real job"), but am changing fields, so it's been a challenge to make the switch 

The “Real” Job Search 

Now, I also asked readers how long it took them to find their first “real” job – and though I didn’t define it then, I would describe it as either that first job that matched the kind of stuff you studied in school, or maybe the stuff that turned out to be your career/profession (for example, no way did I study pensions or anything like them in college, but look how that’s turned out!). 

In this group, it was interesting that the vote split – 21.4% each – between those who found it right after graduation and those for whom it took longer than a year.  Nearly as many, 17.5%, said they started that job right after graduation, while the rest broke out as follows: 

12.6% - within 3 months of graduation 

11.7% - within a year of graduation 

10.7% - within 6 months of graduation 

4.9% - within a month of graduation 

Now, as I said earlier, there were some great stories and recollections – and you’ll find some on the pages that follow.   

I also very much appreciate the words of encouragement and support extended on behalf of my daughter! 

But my favorites this week are: 

I am tall and at the time, was quite shy but sure of myself. If I walked into an interview with a shorter man wearing a large belt buckle, the interview was over before it started.  I ended up getting a real job working for a man that was a good 3 inches shorter than me in stocking feet that took a great interest in the talent I would be bringing to the company (what a concept) and had no issues with height.  Later I met his 6 foot 3 inch wife. 

I have a real job. Maybe the next question should be - does anyone (besides you, Nevin!) have their dream job? 

I'm now 59 and still thinking about what I want to do when I grow up. 

My daughter, who graduated college in May 2009 with a degree in Sociology, was working for her aunt till now, but just got her first "real job" working in a human resources department of a large company. She starts at the end of this month! 

I actually got my first job in pensions before I graduated.  Kind of the way Larry Bird was drafted while he was still in school.  Not that I'm the Larry Bird of pensions or anything... 

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said, “Having worked in benefits and consulting for over 30 years, I'm not sure I've ever had a "real" job.” 

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!  Enjoy the insights and recollections on the following pages! 


I answered an ad in the newspaper and was interviewed by just one person and only for an hour. Nowadays, we seem to interview people endlessly before making an offer. That one hour interview with just one person led to the job I still have more than 35 years later. 

Part of my graduation requirement was to do an internship relating to my major. That internship turned into a full time job for three years after graduation. Iinternships should be a requirement for all graduates so that they get their "feet wet" in the real world. 

Received an interview about 9 months after graduation and started the job a month later.  That was over 12 years ago. 

Hot diggity dog! Straight from graduation to the real world. I had one suit (reversible vest w/two pair of pants), one new dress shirt and one real tie. The first paycheck went to the discount clothing store. Flying high and loving it. Within a year the bottom dropped out and I was "right-sized", though, in 1979, we hadn't yet perfected the art of 'pc-speak'. It took nearly a year to get back into my field and a few more years to realize it wasn't for me. In the mid-80's I took a shot at a benefits/pension position that no one else seemed to want and the light went on. Been in this field ever since and have never looked back. 

In the end, it was all about who you know.  I knew someone who knew someone in the HR office, and that landed me an interview appointment.  Once at the appointment, though, it was all up to me to land the job. 

I feel I need to tell you that I 'landed' a job 42 years ago at a healthcare organization and have held several position with the company over the years.  The job market was a little different then! 

I was so desperate to get out of the secretary position I landed after college and get into my desired career field - human resources ("Personnel", at the time) - that I paid a fee for the job! 10% of my starting annual salary to be a Personnel Administrator. I paid $1,200 - so yes, you can do the math and figure out I started my career in the mid-1980's, and was quite pleased with my starting salary that, by today's standards, looks ridiculously low! 

Contract work for recent college grads is a pure example of the devil's work. Nothing says "on the right path for your career" like being more disposable than the chair you're sitting in. 

I graduated from college in 1991 and my first job had the grand title of “Assistant to the Controller” and paid $5.00 per hour.  I lasted 6 months before I found a “job” that paid a little more. 

It was a long 4 years after my college graduation before I got out of the rural area I grew up in and moved to a big city and by divine intervention landed a job in the defined benefit field with a well known company -- been in this industry now for 26 years! 

"The first job w/ benefits took about 3 months to get.  Of course they had layoffs within 6 months, then hired me back after a week....and then closed the company a few months took another 6 months to get a job w/ benefits and I realized, within 2 weeks, it wasn't a match. I stayed for 9 months while looking for another job, and finally found something I could stay with for almost 5 years.  It took over two years after graduation from grad school to find the ""real"" job that, in retrospect, was the beginning of my ""career"".  Wow--I never thought about it that way.  

And the early 80's were a terrible time to find a job--but I wasn't very aware of the problems others were having at the time, so I just kept at it and kept getting some kind of jobs til the right one came along." 

You probably should have asked for the year of graduation. 

I had the "real" job offer prior to graduation. 

I landed my first "real" job in February of my senior year and started at Merrill Lynch on July 5th, roughly one month after graduation. 

I started looking for my first post-college job in February of 1998.  I graduated in May of that year, and I started my first full time job post college in June of 1998.  So all in all about 4 months.  That first job was by no means a career job.  I was an hourly paid worker supervised by a boss who didn't have a college degree and felt threatened by me.  He always reminded me that my degree didn't mean nothing around there, that it was experience.  I stayed there about 2 years, and then worked with my Dad for 2 years until the recession in 2001/2002 hit, and then I finally moved into my career job.  I've been with my current employer 8 years and have really enjoyed it, and yes my college degree did matter to them when I was hired. 

I worked for 1 1/5 years, then went to grad school for 2 years, then looked for a "real" job for about 2 years. I'm 4 years into my "real" job. Yikes, that's a lot of years! I guess that's what being 30 looks like when you add it all up. 

Please remember, though, that I graduated back in the '60's, so things were a little bit different.  I wore a hat, white gloves, matching purse & shoes to complete my ensemble on most days reporting to work;  and, I was called Miss So & So by a "Mr." So & So.  Manners were still strongly in evidence at the workplace along with CONFIDENTIALITY and PROFESSIONALISM!  You know what, I sorely miss some of those scenarios, especially the manners-in-the-workplace part.  Yep, sure do. 

Got the offer and accepted before graduation.  Took a month off and started at the beginning of the summer.  Of course that was 33 years ago and student actuaries had their pick of jobs with the passage of the new pension law, ERISA! 

I actually got my first job in pensions before I graduated.  Kind of the way Larry Bird was drafted while he was still in school.  Not that I'm the Larry Bird of pensions or anything... 

My first year out of college I was a consultant for my college fraternity traveling from campus to campus. After that I ended up in Houston in 1981 where you could quit one job in the morning and find another job by that afternoon. That was where I entered the banking field. 

Met with job recruiters on campus in senior year. 

I got my first job about 4 months after graduation (this was in 2002) but was brought on as a temp. I had to work for another 9 months before being hired as a full-time employee (and getting to enjoy perks like paid time off, health insurance, etc.). 

See above.  It was a different world back in the mid 1960s especially for newly minted MBAs. 

I had an internship with a company for two summers prior to graduation and they hired me when I graduated. 

While it took 5 months to land that "real" job I was fortunate enough to travel through Europe for 3 months right after college.  Once I came back to the US I started the job search, within weeks September 11th hit.  Employers backed off hiring for a bit so I was happy to land that first (still working there) job within such a short period of time. 

I have been working for the same employer since February 1974, 3 months before I graduated from college. Things were different back then. 


In 1982 I earned $10,000 in my first year of teaching at a private school and had no retirement plan option.  3 years later, my salary had progressed to $11,300, at which time I made the switch to Human Resources and advanced my salary to $15,000 in an entry level clerical job (no college degree required) and went back for my masters degree.  Go figure.  I was happy to be working at a full time job in 1982, but dismayed when my salary qualified me for assistance to pay my utility bill.  I guess you'd call it starting at the bottom and working my way up.  What's changed today?  I think it's significantly harder to even find that first job so that you can work your way up.  What's different?  At least new grads aren't being hired in at rates greater than incumbents (as was the case in high tech in the go-go late 90's). 

Glad I am not looking for a job right now! 

I started my real job in June of the following year, 13 months after graduation.  The trick is to keep trying.  Don't take rejections personally.  The temporary jobs gave me exposure to various office activities and routines; the 1st job taught me to be open minded and learn as much as I could about a job, to make it my own.  The real job showed me how to use my talents to enjoy what I do for a living.  I've worked at 5 other companies since my 1st real job, and the firm I am with now is a keeper.  But each company I joined had something of value to offer me, if I was willing to keep exploring and learning.  That is the key. 

Personally, I wanted to take some time off after college.  So I didn't start looking until a month after graduation (when the gift money ran out). 

Having worked in benefits and consulting for over 30 years, I'm not sure I've ever had a "real" job. 

Everything fell in to place for me.  Saw an ad on Monster and replied.  Two days later I got a phone call to set up an interview.  Interviewed the next week and got an offer.  Started working two weeks after responding to the job listing.  Have been here doing Health & Welfare benefit consulting for 3.5 years now. 

Does taking the summer after graduation on Martha's Vineyard, washing cars and working at a bar, count as "looking" for that "real" job??? 

Well, that summer job (various restaurant jobs) lasted fourteen years before the "real" job happened. 

I graduated with a BA with emphasis in Human Resources. For four years I worked in estimating until I took my first HR job. Looking back, it was worth the wait. 

Graduated...travelled overseas for 2 months...took a few months to relax after getting back home...found a job a couple months later. 

I got a junior high teaching job which started in the fall after finishing school in the spring.  It wasn't at the school district or the level I wanted, but it was still a job.  I filled in the summer with odd jobs to pay the bills. 

My first job out of school was great - I was helping a friend open a Jewelry store - was going to work there 6 to 7 months or until I found a real job.  7 years later and the economy went south I was out of work and looking for something different.  Two years later I fell into a job with an Actuarial Firm (as a computer support person).  Within a year I had my first 401(k) Clients and now 23 years later I have more than a few under my watch.  The friend with the Jewelry store spends his first quarter of each year in Hawaii or South America with his family.  I spend mine worrying about the March 15th deadline.... 

My college had a placement program, so I had my first "real" job lined up before I actually graduated and I started the following week after graduation! 

I worked in the restaurant industry through college, as waiting tables brought in good money and was flexible around college hours; when I graduated I was already a restaurant manager.  About two years (and a cross-country move) later, I landed in the financial industry and am going strong after more than a decade in a "career".  One constant throughout my working life: it's all about customer service. 

I started a part time job a few months before graduation because I didn't yet have a "real" accounting job lined up for the fall.  Back then it was normal for most accounting graduates to have their job offer months before graduation. 

I am sure you've already told you daughter this, but she should exploit her network (professors, friends, professional organizations, sorority sisters, etc.).  Also, don't be afraid to list even a menial job on your resume.  If you waited tables for two years, what would you tell a prospective employer about the value of that job?  Customer service is one answer. Plus, I do think employers like to see people who have a lot of work experience and haven't been afraid to roll up their sleeves and get dirty.  If you were financed by the bank of mom and dad and haven't worked at all, I think you're in a tough spot in this market. 

My decision about landing the first job was based on who would pay my meager moving expenses!  This wasn't the norm for an entry level job but I figured if they were this flexible, they might be willing to take the extra step in other areas.  Been here now for 30+ years! 


-Do your homework and research the company 

-Act confident but not cocky 

-Dress appropriately for the industry 

-Ensure your expectations match your skills" 

Didn't really look for a real job right after graduation but one ended up finding me four months after I graduated through a referral from a family friend. This was five years ago and the job market was very different, but never underestimate networking and referrals from friends/family. 

We had our own newly minted college grad last year, and I'm thrilled to say that despite a down economy, he found a "real" job nearly effortlessly.  Even though he wasn't a stellar student, he presents well and has a great personality, which made it easy for him to find a sales job that he's been very successful at.  Some of his friends with stronger GPAs haven't fared as well and are working in restaurants or retail while waiting to land a "real" job.  You have to be able to sell yourself -- grads need to focus as much on their interpersonal skills and ability to exude confidence as building solid work skills. 

Right out of college I started as a temp, 3 months later they hired me full time. 

It helps to keep in mind that your first job after college is rarely something you'll want to do for the rest of your career--but every job can teach you something about professionalism, goal-setting, and personal development. 

I was plucked out of mediocrity into the high echelon by my pension and profit sharing prof at law school: "best exam I've read in 10 yrs teaching!".  That changed the trajectory of my life (in a great way!) 

I found my first "real" job that December. My nephew graduated this past May and doesn't yet have a job. I've told him my story, told him to not get discouraged--it will happen. Somehow I hate this turmoil so much more for him than I did for myself.