You slump at your desk. It’s five-fifteen on a Friday and, once again, you’ve found yourself staring down an endless to-do pile. No matter how much you work at it, it never seems to end. Every task seems agonizing, mediocre, even pain-staking. With a resigned sigh, you wonder:
How the hell did I end up here?
This crisis happens to many of us in our careers; endless efforts drain into a dark hole, fueling none of our true goals and aspirations. The promises of success from hard work, tenacity and determination all flies back in your face. What was the point of studying hard, scoring high on tests and finishing first of your class? Surely your hard work will be recognized, lifting you out of the quagmire in which you stand.
Oh, how incredibly naïve.
A year into my own career search, I have found hard work and success doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand. It’s more about what you work hard at. The test scores, the extra-curriculars, the AP classes, the grades – they don’t count for anything.
Wait, what? The ACT/SAT doesn’t matter? Getting into college doesn’t matter? A degree doesn’t matter? Most job applications require at least a Bachelor’s, right?
Okay, you’ve got me there. But let’s look at it from a different angle:
The applicant’s degree institution and GPA means absolute nil to a potential employer. Nada. It’s just a piece of paper. It’s just $120,000+ you threw at an institution to entertain you with classes and activities long enough to prove you learned something.
That means it costs big bucks to get a job nowadays. Isn’t that something?
Even stranger: companies are getting so competitive; they expect new employees to hit the ground running. No training, no introductions, no professional development.
Well, more often than not. Companies that employ “trainees” are few and far in between. Thus, employers want recruits to have a robust portfolio and experience in their field before applying.
Philip Gardner, Director of Collegiate Employment Research at Michigan State University, knows this trend all too well.
“Once upon a time, ‘trainee’ used to be a common job title. Now companies expect everyone, recent graduates included, to be ready to go on day one.”
In addition, as stated by Maguire Associates, “an internship is the single most important credential for a recent college graduate to have on their resumé.”
But what does that mean for those of us who just worked hard? Who just sat down and cranked out the As?
As I recently experienced, your interviewer will sit you down, give you a long, hard look, and ask:
“Just what can you do?”
It didn’t matter that I had two class-based internships. It didn’t matter that I earned two degrees within five years with a stellar grade point average. All that mattered is that I had not already done the work that the job required.
The Chronicle for Higher Education has some great insight in this new trend. College students have to train themselves with “extra-curricular” internships, work studies and field work just to be employable. Meanwhile, many institutions of higher education leave these students to fend for themselves. College isn’t about actually getting a job; it’s about cultural and intellectual enrichment.
Don’t get me wrong. I love that about education. If I could, I would stay in college for the rest of my life, just taking more and more classes and keep on learning.
Unfortunately, higher education is a service. And services cost money.
Some universities, like the University of Evansville, are broadening its career support to penetrate its student population down to the individual. As part of its prospective student fairs, instead of advertising its majors, each student sits down with career advisors in order to help them discover where their interests really lie – and what programs would best fit their interests. It’s hard to tell as a high school graduate what a degree in engineering or literature can do for you – career advising bridges the gap by enabling kids to make those connections from personal interest, to career, to major.
Quite a few universities are beefing up their internship programs and opportunities, too. In fact, I am currently working with the Global Studies program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and we’re looking to greatly expand our internship resources for students. It’s not easy to find those connections – and we want to make them for our Global Studies majors.
These changes in student’s mindsets will also greatly effect what programs of study they choose to engage in. Students want to find robust programs that enable them to find employers, make industry contacts and give them on-the-job skills for a wide array of work. Many university programs would benefit from taking heed – otherwise they will find themselves irrelevant and without enough funding to stand.
Now the big question: what do people like me do now? Who have a flawless transcript and no solid work experience? I must admit it seems like the walls close in some days. But currently, I’m taking my advice from intuition: work hard, make contacts, and see where your efforts take you. Already I’ve managed to find a position allowing me to do more of what I love: working with publications and managing websites. I meet more and more people every day who love what they do and am learning to say: I can do that, do. I can find what I love to do.