What’s your backup job?

Not everyone scores their dream job right out of school. Here are some options to consider as a backup.


College is like practice for the real world. If you’re about to graduate, you’ve essentially been working toward entering the workforce — and getting that dream job — for two decades.

But there is a chance you will need to work before you get said job. For the 2016–2017 academic year, roughly 1.9 million Americans are expected to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and dream jobs are hard to find, let alone land right after graduation. Even if you can’t score the perfect job, there are other options that can give you valuable insight about different jobs and career paths.

If you can’t land the job you thought you would right out of school, here are a few ideas for backup plans — that may end up being a great main plan.

Go wide

In sports, sometimes the best route isn’t directly toward the goal post; it takes a few more passes and steps to get there. Same for the workplace. Not everyone follows a linear path to their lifelong calling.

What skills and experience does your dream career require? Consider taking a seemingly unrelated position that develops those aspects of your end goal. For example, if you want to be an entrepreneur someday, a sales role can teach you how to connect with people and sell your ideas. If you want to be a graphic designer, take a marketing position and request design assignments to build your portfolio.

Apply the flexible, experimental mind you honed in college to your career. There are many different ways to end up in the same place, and plan B may require getting creative.

Find a (side) hustle

Don’t underestimate the power of chipping away at a larger goal. The Compound Effect, popularized by author Darren Hardy, explains how little, repeated actions add up to life-altering, defining differences. Just like saving for retirement — putting a few dollars away at a time for a long time — compounded effort can pay big dividends. View your side hustle as an investment in plan A.

For my first job out of college, I was a receptionist. I wallowed for the first seven months, but then I applied to a marketing internship at a company I admired. I did this on the side for a few months while I still had my full-time receptionist job. Eventually, the marketing gig turned into a paid, full-time position. I later decided marketing wasn’t for me, so I again took an unpaid internship — this time with an online magazine — and that turned into a full-time editor role. Both allowed me to hone my writing skills, which I now do full time as a freelancer.

Take a time out

When you’re poised at the starting line of the real world after graduation, taking a break is sometimes a frustrating or even embarrassing move. But time out isn’t for losers — it’s for strategists — and learning to stay put until you have a plan is a skill.

One of my friends lived with his parents, not working, for six months after graduating before landing a great job at a major sports retailer. Maybe you’ll do the same, or maybe you’ll travel for a month to shake up your perspective. Sometimes taking a time out means simultaneously taking whatever job you can get so you have the peace of mind and funding you need to build a larger strategy. There are many ways to pause.