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Despite Strong Job Market, Many Grads Plan to Test Entrepreneurship Waters

Written by Amanda Maher

A wave of positive economic news has hit headlines recently. Employers added 280,000 jobs in May, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, well above the 225,000 that economists had predicted. What’s more, wages also ticked up. While unemployment is slightly higher (5.5 percent in May, up from 5.4 percent in April), this bump is largely attributed to the flood of graduates hitting the market and looking for employment.

For recent graduates, there’s been no better time to be entering the job market.

“Students who are graduating in 2015, they started college four years ago when the economic was not good,” said Janice Morand, a career advisory at the UC Davis Internship and Career Center. “[Now], students are coming in to meet with me to discuss multiple offers and decide what will be the best for for them,” she said. “That’s a real change from some previous years.”

Despite the positive employment outlook for new graduates, some remain wary of leaving their fate to an employer. There’s reason to believe—perhaps because of the stronger economy, perhaps for fear of accepting a job only to be laid off down the road—that many of this year’s graduates will launch their own businesses.

“I’ve seen all these people go to Wall Street, and those were supposed to be the good jobs. Now they’re out of work,” Windsor Hanger told the New York Times in 2010. Hanger, who turned down a marketing position at Bloomingdale’s to launch HerCampus.com, an online magazine, reasoned, “It’s not a pure dichotomy anymore that entrepreneurship is risky and other jobs are safe, so why not do what I love?”

This year’s graduating class is technologically savvy—and technology has made it easier than ever to design, market and sell products or services to consumers. Many students even start businesses in college, thanks to the growing number of innovation and entrepreneurship programs at colleges and universities.

However, starting a business with no money or experience is one thing; bringing that business to a stage of profitability is another. While many recent graduates may wish to start their own businesses, they do not always have the skills needed to help those businesses succeed. And not every young entrepreneur wants to jump from four years of college into two years of business school, along with the debt that typically entails. A number of business plan competitions and startup accelerators have emerged in recent years to impart these skills more rapidly, though these programs are often extremely competitive.

For recent grads looking to test the entrepreneurial waters without taking on (perhaps even more) debt, freelancing provides an avenue to start a low-risk side business. This provides a foot-in-the-door to becoming an entrepreneur, but allows a person to test their product, marketing strategy and growth plans—often while drawing a salary from a more traditional full-time job. Freelancing also provides an opportunity for the entrepreneur to determine whether he or she is truly passionate about the business, and whether there’s equivalent demand. The skilled baker, for instance, may begin by making macarons in their kitchen and selling locally, or among friends and family. If demand grows, the baker may then consider moving from producing custom orders to opening a small retail outlet. Scaling up slowly helps to build a portfolio of work and loyal customer base, critical factors in launching a full-time business.

Launching a business out of college may seem intimidating, especially when seasoned alumni warn that startup companies often fail. But many entrepreneurs also say that failure prepares the young entrepreneur, who has plenty of time to learn from these mistakes and succeed down the line. Regardless of age, success rarely happens overnight, and there has been a recent surge of articles and talks on the benefits of failing.

For those who test their hand at starting a business, only to later change their mind? They return to the traditional job market with a newfound set of skills. And with both the underemployment rate and the number of graduates moving back in with their parents at the lowest levels since the recession, the economic future looks promising for these graduates – whether they are starting a new business or beginning a traditional career.

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