Robert and I went to a salmon hatchery recently to watch the salmon jumping the fish ladders on their way to spawn.  To refresh your high school biology lessons; salmon start their lives in freshwater, move to the saltwater of the sea, and then return home to the freshwater to lay their eggs and start the next generation off.  To get back to their birthplace the salmon must swim upstream and battle the elements going against the flow of natural water ways.  At salmon hatcheries, fish ladders are set up imitate the upstream battle.  To quote Wikipedia, “Most fishways enable fish to pass around the barriers by swimming and leaping up a series of relatively low steps (hence the term ladder) into the waters on the other side.”

Watching the salmon force their way up the ladder and sometimes failing was a challenging lesson for me when thinking about the job market in this economy.  But what showed the salmons’ strength best was their persistence.  These salmon jump and jump and jump, and at best make it up one “relatively low step” at a time slowly, very slowly.  How similar is that to a recent grad (be it high school, college, grad school, etc.) who is on their way to success and showing persistence, even if it’s slow growth at low steps, one by one?

Even if the recent grad feels like their failing since they’re not getting their dream job straight out of school or even 2-5 years later, in the eyes of outsiders their persistence shows they’re never failing.  Instead, they’re moving up their own sort of fish ladder one step at a time and well on their way to their goal!

The economy hasn’t made it easy.  Since finishing graduate school, I have spent what totals to one full year without work, and was on unemployment for five of those months.  I have worked temporary jobs, contract jobs, part-time jobs, seasonal work, and been without insurance most of the time.  My longest job since graduate school was only 14 months so far.  I’m still on the lookout for great internships, even unpaid. But still I am working or at least trying to work towards my own personal goals.  I am still climbing my own fish ladder slowly but surely.

Two of my favorite bloggers recently detailed all the jobs they have worked and now that one is a therapist and one is a professional financial blogger, the old jobs seem funny.  And yet, each job slowly taught them new skills that led to them meeting their career goals.  Check out their personal career stories and foibles here at  and

To Keep Climbing Your Fish Ladder

  1. Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for work. Use Facebook, email, LinkedIn, etc to stay connected, up to date, and on the lookout.  For example, my mother-in-law connected me with my last job.
  2. Work hard at whatever job you have for that season.
  3. Stay up to date and always be learning.  Your resume and cover letter are only the first step. Put more work into developing yourself than developing papers/email that usually only screeners view.  If you’ve been unemployed for a while or even underemployed take time to develop yourself.  Interviewers want to know how you learned customer service skills at Party City seasonal work, not that you finished every video game in your house.
  4. Watch your bitterness.  It’s okay to complain to friends privately, but those offering jobs don’t want to hear it.  You’re not the only person affected by the economy.  And if they can find bitterness even on your social media outlets, they don’t see a willing, confident, and able worker.
  5. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming as Dory of Finding Nemo would say.  You’re in the fish ladder, keep jumping and swimming and moving forward!