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Note: This is an update of my popular 11/09 post (where new data were available). Since last year, it is important to note that Sunbelt cities, especially in Texas, have peppered the top ten lists in greater numbers. Austin, Dallas, Houston, Denver and Atlanta are well worth considering.

Graduating from college in this economy! Finding a job in your field, in a stimulating city where you can survive the cost of living and have a social life.  What a complicated equation! So many “best cities” rankings! San Francisco is a cool place to live, but how can you can afford it right out of college? You can afford Omaha, and hey, Warren Buffet lives there, but what will you do on Saturday night?

For direction, I turned to Florida. Not the state. I mean the urban economist Richard Florida, best-selling author of The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life and the amazing Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where You Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.

Florida posits that metro areas with high concentrations of high-tech knowledge workers, artists, musicians, LGBT, and “high bohemians” correlate with high economic development. Florida believes this “creative class” fosters an open, dynamic personal and professional atmosphere, which attracts more creative people, as well as businesses and capital.

Florida says living in the right place significantly affects happiness, as much as choosing a career or a spouse. All three choices are very individual. When choosing a city, Florida suggests matching one’s lifestage and personality with a city’s physical aesthetics, social networks, career opportunities and basic services. Before choosing your location, explore Florida’s “Who’s Your City?” website.  The maps are  particularly intriguing: Singles Map, Creative Class Map, Personality Maps, New Geography of Work, Real Estate Map, and Mega Regions of North America.

Gallup-Healthways’ Happiness-Stress Index emphasizes the role of time spent with friends/family for emotional well-being. “Happiness scores” for US Congressional districts were developed based on this index, which Florida presents on his post “Happy (and not so happy) places”.  Five “happiest districts”:  Silicon Valley, Atlanta’s Northern Suburbs, Orange County CA, Denver’s Southern Suburbs, Morris County NJ (where we live–now I know why I’m so happy!).

Next Generation Consulting has studied relocation of 20-40 years olds since 1998. Its indexing system evaluates a city based on priorities of “next gen” workers. NCG’s 7 indices of a “Next City”:  Earning, Learning, Vitality, Around Town, After Hours, Cost of Lifestyle, Social Capital. Top five hotspots by population category:

“Mighty Micros” (Pop. < 200K): Fort Collins CO, Charleston SC, Eugene OR, Cedar Rapids IA, Springfield IL. “Midsized Magnets”(200-500K): Madison WS, Minneapolis MN, Colorado Springs CO, Atlanta GA, St. Paul MN. “Super Cities” (Pop. > 500K):  San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Washington DC, Denver.

Forbes.com developed a list of “America’s Best Cities for Young Adults (2010)”, based on young adult salaries, unemployment rates, cost of living, median ages, the nightlife scenes and Harris Interactive’s ranking of the “coolest” metropolitan areas. Top Ten cities: Austin, Houston, NYC, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Seattle, Atlanta, San Antonio, Minneapolis-St. Paul.

SingleMindedWomen.com analyzed US cities’ job opportunities, cost of living, access to travel, entertainment options, social opportunities, ratio of women to men, singles population, and healthy lifestyle. The result: “2010: Top 10 Cities for Single Women”. And the winners were: Boston, Washington DC, NYC, Seattle, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Denver, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Austin. Gradspot.com, a website dedicated to life after college, identified its “Top Ten Best Cities for Recent Grads (2010)”: Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, NYC, Boston, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta.

These same cities keep popping up, despite varied selection criteria. Paradigms described in this post explain why young professionals are drawn to these cities. These cities offer: ntellectual stimulation, prevalence of  young single professionals, social networking, knowledge  jobs, physical aesthetics, basic services, all attributes deemed important by Florida or NGC.

NYC, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC or Chicago are not surprising for careers or coolness. Why didn’t cost of living knock them out of the top spots? I would guess it is because: knowledge workers make good incomes, twenty-somethings rent vs. own, often do not own cars, and have few expenses besides food, rent, wardrobe and entertainment.

When the focus is on jobs and cost of living, the rankings shift. Apartments.com and CareerRookie.com recently released “Top 10 Best Cities for Recent College Graduates (2010)”, ranking US cities with the highest concentration of young adults, inventory of jobs requiring less than one year of experience, and one bedroom apartment average rental cost. It turns up some Flordia or NGC cities, but less obvious ones pop up as well: Atlanta, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cinncinnati, Los Angeles.

Businessweek.com‘s recent ranking, “Top Cities for College Grads (2010)“, based on AfterCollege.com’s entry level job postings, turns up similar cities: Houston, Washington DC, Dallas, Atlanta, Austin, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Ft. Worth. It is worth noting that four of the top ten are Texas cities. Could it be time to move to the Lone Star State?

The repeated appearance of Houston, Dallas, Denver, Austin, and Atlanta throughout many “best cities for young professionals” lists is worth noting. The Sunbelt, especially Texas, should be on new college grads’ radar screen. Minneapolis is another city worth considering. Checking beyond the top 5-10 will also uncover hidden gems. Worth studying for such an important life decision!

Relevant reading: Live First, Work Second by Rebecca Ryan,  How to Survive the Real World: Life After College Graduation: Advice from 774 Graduates Who Did by HOH Books, The Quarterlifer’s Companion: How to Get On the Right Career Path, Control Your Finances, and Find the Support Network You Need To Thrive by Abby Wilner, Ramen Noodles, Rent & Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life by Kirsten Fischer.

Related posts:  Finding a Job in a Tough Economy, From College…To the Real World, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart,Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?, and Best Wesbites for Careers in Finance.

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Richard N. Bolles, author of  What Color Is Your Parachute? first coined the term Informational Interviewing.   Wikipedia defines it as “a meeting in which a job seeker asks for advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview because the job seeker asks the questions. There may or may not be employment opportunities available.”

This is a great approach for college students in the early stage of exploring careers. It is  low pressure for both parties. The student has to demonstrate interest, ask good questions, be a receptive listener, and exhibit a professional, respectful demeanor. An in-depth background is not required to simply explore a career alternative. The professional is not “on the spot” to identify a job opening for the student. He simply has to offer insights about his career path, biographical perspective, and answer the student’s questions about the field.

How do you identify professionals to interview? Unless you grew up under a rock, you know adults in careers that hold interest for you. Your parents, extended family,  historical friends from high school, church/synagogue/mosque or camp, college roommates, fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, professors, coaches, doctors: and people they know. Remember 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Whether they are young professionals or high-powered veterans, they’re likely to agree, since you are not asking for a job. Ask about rewards and frustrations,  career path, and lifestyle. Remember, people love to share their bio and give advice, so let them! You’d  be surprised how many people out there are really nice, and find it rewarding to give helpful perspective to a young person. Consider asking to “shadow” an individual for a day and find out what “life in the trenches” is really like.


QuintCareers.com offers a comprehensive tutorial on informational interviewing that is well worth your time. A NY Times blog post by Marci Alboher called “Mastering the Informational Interview” also gives some great tips.

It is never too early to explore careers this way. You will not only gain knowledge of career paths within your major field, but you will gain confidence, polish one-to-one interviewing skills, expand your professional network, and make an impression that could potentially translate into a job later on.

I have been surprised at how many college students are unaware of this approach to career exploration and job search. But it is the perfect first step! On campus, you are primarily exposed to academic professionals, rather than adults who are using a background similar to yours in a business, medical or government setting. Expand your circle of advisors beyond professors to all kinds of practitioners in your field. You may discover an application of your training that you never knew existed!


File away everything you learn! Some career paths may not make sense right out of college, but may work for you later on. A new area you discover may inspire you to focus on getting an internship or job in that specialty immediately. Or you may hear cautionary tales about a career path you were previously excited about–such an interview may be disillusioning, but may prevent career disaster.

Relevant reading:You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, The Career Chronicles: An Insider’s Guide to What Careers Are Really Like–The Good, the Bad & the Ugly from Over 750 Professionals by Michael Gregory, How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?.

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