STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're going next to South Dakota, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. And even there, it is tough for new college graduates to find a dream job.
In the next part of our series on new graduates, "Setting Out," Charles Michael Ray of South Dakota Public Broadcasting profiles an Air Force veteran who feels stuck in first gear.
(Soundbite of semi truck starting up)
CHARLES MICHAEL RAY: Christopher Self just turned the key on a semi truck, as he does at the start of every shift.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER SELF: The usual start time is anywhere between midnight and about 4 a.m.
RAY: Self has spent the last six years working long days as a truck driver. But this is not his career choice; it's a fallback job. Self hoped it would be a steppingstone towards something better. Since he was a little kid, he's always wanted to be in business.
Mr. SELF: I had my first business when I was about 4 years old, running a flea market in my grandma's front yard, selling her stuff - low-overhead costs, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RAY: He's on his way to achieving his childhood dream. Self recently completed a degree in business administration at the for-profit National American University, here in Rapid City. He's a 28-year-old Air Force veteran. He worked his way through college in just under four years with this truck-driving job, and with help from the military. So with no student debt, he's in better condition than most graduates. But Self is still struggling to find work in his new field.
Mr. SELF: The military helped me out with this degree so essentially, the money is coming from taxpayers and everything. I really don't want to let it go to waste. This isn't my ultimate career. I want to be more in the corporate setting.
RAY: Since graduating in March, Self has applied for about 75 jobs, and he's had 75 rejections.
Mr. SELF: I have the degree, and I can't do anything with it yet because the opportunities just - I'm not sure if it's there. And so, yeah, I've finally reached a point where I'm really questioning.
RAY: Self is doing his best not let it get him down, but it's hard when the perfect opportunity passes him by.
Mr. SELF: There was one for a very large firm that would be my ultimate dream job. I applied to it Thursday, I believe. Monday morning, before 8 a.m., I already had the rejection letter - and that one was the biggest crush.
Ms. PEGGY SCHLECHTER (Dean of Students, National American University): Usually, a job search is demeaning anyway because you are going to face some rejection. I mean, it's a pretty rare person that goes out and gets a job offer their first interview.
RAY: Peggy Schlechter's job is to help students like Self find work. She is dean of students at National American University. She says it's imperative for graduates to keep a positive outlook in this job market. But she recognizes this is easier said than done.
Ms. SCHLECHTER: It is hard to stay up, I think, when you're looking at this economy and thinking, gosh, it might even be longer now before I find something. You know, boy, that really makes it tough.
RAY: Self's been struggling to keep a positive attitude lately, but he says he's not looking for handouts. And he's resolved to do whatever it takes to land a job in this labor market.
Mr. SELF: And it's just a bigger hill to climb. Not a victim, not sitting on my laurels, just waiting for somebody to find it for me.
RAY: Self may need to keep this attitude for the long term. Economists say, while the recession is turning around, it could still take years for the labor market to fully recover. The average job-search time used to be three months. Now, its closer to a year.
(Soundbite of semi truck)
RAY: With this in mind, recent college graduates might have to get used to that fallback job.
For NPR News, I'm Charles Michael Ray in Rapid City, South Dakota.
INSKEEP: And tomorrow in our series, a history major plans his escape.
Unidentified Man: Evading the real world for a little bit is not a bad idea, especially with the current economic climate. Law school is a great way to kill time.
INSKEEP: That's tomorrow on MORNING EDITION.
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