Six years ago, I graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. And then, nothing happened. Like…nothing.

I couldn’t get a job to save my life. Here I was, with an expensive degree in my hand from the best “J-School” in the country and solid work experience behind me, but no one seemed to care. It probably didn’t help my cause that unlike many of my classmates who left NYC to accept jobs in smaller markets, I chose to stay and brave NYC and an extremely competitive job market with seasoned journalists. Again, nothing happened. Here’s what I didn’t do: panic.

I’m lying, I did some, but then I got focused.

That situation of mine reminds me of what many new graduates are experiencing –- a crazy job market. The outlook is super bleak for college graduates and many are now living at home with their parents. As you may assume, the job market for people who didn’t graduate from college is markedly worse.

For many, and like me six years ago, this type of news is simply frustrating. You bust your butt for four to five years, accumulate loads of debt in the hope of bettering your life, and then, nothing.

If you find yourself in this position, here are a few recommendations to get through this patch — and thrive when you come out of it:

  1. Do what you got to do. Here’s the deal. Unless you have a trust fund or substantial savings, you may have to take a short-term job that you don’t necessarily love. Why? To pay the bills and get by until the job you do want arrives. During rough patches early in my career, I worked temp jobs, retail, catering gigs, bartending gigs and more. What I didn’t do was take a staff job that was “good enough.” Those are the jobs you can get stuck in, and before you know it, two years have passed and you realize you’re not doing what you want to do. In the interim, do what you got to do.
  2. Get focused. This down time without a job is a great time to get focused and really identify exactly what type of career that you want to pursue. This also includes defining your goals and vision for the life you want to lead, starting now. This is also a good time to identify what you don’t want.
  3. Networking 101. Like OutKast rhymed, “You got to get up/get out and do something/don’t let the days of your life pass you by.” Do all you can to network, meet new people, conduct informational interviews and get your face out there. The key is not to seem desperate. People can smell desperation from a mile away. It’s all about exposure and creating value. Also, make sure your personal brand is in order with your website, resume and more.
  4. Work for free. If paid work is hard to come by, one thing that isn’t is volunteer work. I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve worked on for free, and the payoff has been pretty awesome. These gigs led to paid gigs and the expanding of my network and influence. Plus, it helps to add current projects to your resume. For those of you with a solid professional background, check out pro bono opportunities with Catchafire. Craving meaningful work? Check out ReWork.
  5. Grab a team of supporters. When you’re not working, it can be tough, so it’s important to have a good supporting cast around you. This is your team that support you and vice versa. If you find yourself down, reach out for encouragement and return the favor. A solid team will get you though a rough patch and by the way, they’re also good when the sun is shining.

So stay optimistic, stay focused and most importantly, be proactive. Lastly, do your best to have enjoy yourself during your job search. When you do land that job and are working like crazy, you’ll wish you enjoyed this downtime more.

Antonio Neves is a career coach, speaker and award-winning business journalist. He is the founder of THINQACTION where he works with young professionals to produce exceptional results in their careers.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.

photo by: Will Folsom