Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You choose...you lose?

It's graduation season yet again which means thousands upon thousands of newly degree-enhanced young people are bursting out of their Ivory Towers in bloodythirsty search for gainful employment. Despite their best attempts at optimism, they are well aware of the abysmal job climate that, while a small improvement from last year, will leave either they or their friends unemployed and even more likely, underemployed. Amid the scores of paralyzing statistics, horror stories of triple degree-holders holed up at Starbucks, and mixed messages from educators and parents alike, our nation's newest graduates are caught somewhere between paying their dues and simply getting short-changed. And as a result, some are refusing to take the sorts of jobs that lie outside their fields of interest and have no forseeable opportunities for advancing into a desired career, in order to hold out for something that will. 
It's difficult to take these statements at face value - but after all, isn't the purpose of higher education to promote personal and professional advancement and worker specialization? If it was 1998, I hardly think we would scoff at this idea of new grads turning down a job bagging groceries. But, it is 2010, when apparently any old job is, by default, a good job. Even those in which your skills, education, and background are underutilized or even irrelevant, even those in which you are overworked and underpaid due to severe downsizings and reorganizations. Well, the mantra seems to be, at least you have a job.
The New York Times shared a running commentary on the topic earlier this week, with psychologists, sociologists, economists, and journalists from across the country weighing in. Considering the poor economic situation, they asked, should new graduates take the jobs they may have rejected a few years back? The consensus, if you could even call it one, was that it depends. Some noted that for those fortunate enough to have  the financial support of parents, it may prove beneficial to forgo the barista job and take on unpaid work in their fields in order to gain more valuable work experience; but this of course, presents a serious disadvantage for those graduates who cannot rely on their family and will need to find paid work sooner, not later. Thus, those who don't have the luxury of saying 'no' to a job may find themselves behind their more affluent peers in terms of related work experience even just months after receiving their diplomas, a situation one expert accurately described as a 'national emergency'.
It's easy to brush off this privileged form of fastidiousness as another example of Generation Y entitlement: those selfish slackers who want the job without putting in the work to get there. But it's not the "working their way up" part that these young people are trying to avoid, because the jobs in actual question are not anywhere near their professional field of interest. Often, there is no 'up' to work toward, at least, not one that would lead into an area for which their education was intended. There is actually something to be said about choosing your first - and second - jobs out of college wisely. Katherine Newman, a sociologist at Princeton, notes, "Where you start has serious consequences for where you end up, which is one reason — besides blind optimism — why some young (and not so young) people might not jump at the first thing offered." 
For all my graduating peers and my friends, of who I am an especially fierce believer in, be courageous in the decisions you'll be making now and hold fast to your optimism, however blind it may seem. It's been my experience that the world always looks better through rose-colored glasses, anyway. 


Lisa Rosenberg said...

I'll agree you shouldn't take a job too quickly in that you may get stuck in something unsuitable. However, working at McDonalds as a manager (assuming you qualify as a grad) can be spun. Heck, working as a cashier can simply be left off the resume if needed and volunteer activities listed. I think part of the point is actually putting in time towards a goal and not letting any support make it too comfortable to get motivated and do something.

I have seen some good post about utilizing free work to your advantage, and not even in the path of internships.

Anyway, there are many choices, unfortunately not always clear. Coming right out of college unfortunately means people usually don't have a financial buffer to draw against unless said buffer is their family.

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