Categorized | Advice

Go West, Young Grad

Posted on 09 March 2009

A practical guide to living and working in the City of Angels.

Native Californians are perplexed by the phrase back East. Back to what? Humidity? Hurricanes? Sub-zero temperatures and slushy, grimy snow? Los Angeles has its share of problems–smog, earthquakes, floods, forest fires–but it also has bikini-clad babes blading down the boardwalk, a bright white sun that never quits, and palm trees swaying in the sea breeze. Who would ever want to go back East?

Los Angeles is unique in its ever-growing young adult population, expanding job market, and high quality of life. Many people spend their time outdoors, enjoying the glorious weather year round. Believe it or not, there are enough cultural attractions here to impress any diehard Yankee. And, most importantly, the cost of living here is lower than in other big cities, so recent grads can afford larger apartments and even save some dough.

Finding an Apartment
To give yourself an edge while apartment hunting, sign up for a rental list. Most lists require a membership fee, giving you access for up to three months. Without a rental list, you are relegated to the classifieds. Many still find success with the tried and true “drive-till-you-drop” method, searching up and down residential neighborhoods for vacancy signs.

You must make a conscious effort to have the social life you want.

“You will be frustrated at times,” says Elizabeth Koenig, who recently landed a job as a project manager for a women’s rights organization. “You may stumble upon a hidden treasure without that palm tree motel feel.” If you do, give the landlord a check immediately. Landlords will often require that recent college graduates have a parent co-sign on apartment leases. Without proof of current, paid employment, a guarantor will almost always be required. From four to six weeks of rent and a security deposit will usually be required when the deal is done, so save up and be prepared. Once you sign a lease, make sure you “walk through” the apartment with your landlord. Write down any noticeable flaws so that, when you move out, you can get all of that security deposit back.

Where to Live
Where you live is really dependent upon three things: price, neighborhood feel, and commute. Many East Coasters prefer living in centralized, congested areas like Hollywood and West Hollywood–because it reminds them of home. Suburbanites like the laid-back vibe of the West Side. As far as living close to your job, it’s a coin toss. Most of the movie studios are in the valley, so if you’re in the industry and you live in Brentwood, you may have to deal with a heavy commute. The automobile is central to life in LA, and most people drive 30 minutes or more to work.

Rent control was recently eliminated, so landlords jacked up the rent in many areas. This seems to have affected the trendier spots like Santa Monica, Venice, Brentwood, West Los Angeles, and West Hollywood more than anywhere else. Rents in the Valley (Studio City, Burbank and Glendale) are lower and you will get more for your money. Hollywood, Los Feliz, and Silverlake are also worth a look. These areas are now teeming with would-be ingenues and leading men, thanks to the indie film Swingers.

Finding a Job
Whether or not you’re pursuing Hollywood fame and fortune, LA is teeming with jobs. Waiting tables and working temp jobs can free up time and provide starry-eyed actors with the flexibility to run from audition to audition. Other entertainment-related jobs include production, public relations, management, and video game development. Internet companies abound here: Many of these companies directly interact with the entertainment community, while others develop new businesses. Web-based programming and online media content are also red-hot job areas.

If you’re willing to secure a few credentials, you can teach in the public schools. Josh Chefitz, for example, teaches word processing at a Los Angeles public high school and writes in his free time. “A friend of mine recommended working in education,” he recalls, “so I researched online, found the Los Angeles Unified School District Web site, registered for emergency teaching credentials, and started as a substitute teacher.”

There are several ways to make your job search easier. Take full advantage of campus job fairs before graduation. Many companies travel to colleges, offering career information and interviews. The Internet is another vital tool. Online job searches provide quick, accurate, and current insights into the city’s workforce. You should also contact your local alumni headquarters and network, network, network! The more people you know, the more open doors you’ll find.

Making Friends
Living in Los Angeles can be lonely at first, but stick it out. Since the city is spread out, you may initially feel more alienated here than in, say, New York City. You must make a conscious effort to have the social life you want. An easy way to make friends is to answer a roommate ad. A new roommate provides instant friendship and helps share your costs. Look to live with other recent graduates who share your political or social vantage point. If you know anyone with a friend or relative in the area, ask for his or her number. This is Hollywood and schmoozing is part of the deal, for better or worse.

Make an effort with your co-workers. You will spend most of your day in the office, so this is a good place to start. Angelenos try to live healthy, so turn your workout into a social gathering. Clubs and bars can be intimidating, but young people flock to them on the weekends to hear live music, get a bite to eat, and talk about the latest flicks. Bring a friend and mingle. People will not look at you like you are crazy. That only happens back East.

Sarah Cohen, a Masters candidate in Jewish Communal Service and Social Work, came to LA from Birmingham, AL. “Once you know one person,” she says, “they’ll introduce you to their group. I’ve met people in bars who were from the same region as me, and others through college friends. It was easier than I thought it would be.”

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