Left Behind

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.

Interview Panel

Don’t they just make you feel even more anxious?

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.

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8 thoughts on “Left Behind

  1. I suggest to everyone to work for themselves whenever possible – or collaborate with other like minded individuals on mutually beneficial projects – You’re turned away because of experience, I’m turned away from jobs I can do, because I don’t have a degree and turned away from others, because I’m “over-qualified” – that’s what 25 years of working making others rich and paying for your own courses/seminars gets ya! 🙂

    Although we are from different ends of the spectrum – the simple fact is as long as the economy is sluggish and unemployment high – employers will make you jump through hoops to get (and expect you to be grateful for) some under-paid position –

    I truly believe we can save ourselves and our country’s economy by becoming, once again, the land of small business owners!

    Best of luck to you in your endeavors! Judging from your last paragraph, maybe you could help other small businesses in building their websites or helping non-computer literates in getting their publications e-published….

    1. And I fully intend on doing that. I’m already helping a local not-for-profit youth organization get underway with funding/grant proposal writing.

      Thank you for your comments! And best of luck to you as well.

  2. Hello Renee,
    I am a PR student in my final year of University, and have found that I can really relate to your post! I have been told throughout our whole University career how important work experience and internships are, building contacts are vital for your career. Unfortunately the old phrase, ‘Its who you know not what you know’ comes into play, which doesn’t always seem fair. I have written a blog on how to negotiate pay once in a job and spoke to a recent graduate who has success using the steps! I think this will be very relevant to you and would love to hear your thoughts on it! http://prbloggergirl.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/negotiation-in-the-work-place/

    Gabriella x

    1. Will do – I’m glad that I’m not the only one!

      I recall being told to build work experience from my Journalism sequence, but my double-major (and my constant music rehearsals/recitals/gigs) made that somewhat of an impossibility. Not to mention that my advisors were hands-off. I suppose since I didn’t do it then, I get to do it now.

      I’ll definitely give your blog a look! It sounds very applicable to those of our generation.

  3. A few thoughts from someone who regularly hires college grads:

    Gabriella mentioned that ‘Its who you know not what you know’ … which doesn’t always seem fair. This is what that looks like from the employer side and why it’s sometimes necessary.

    It’s always a bit of gamble to hire someone out of college. They don’t have work experience, project samples, work references, or other things you would typically use to evaluate a potential employee. School transcripts are useless as they are evaluating something completely different by standards that are not relevant to me. As most people can manage to create a good impression for an hour or two I don’t put a lot of faith in interviews either. All the standard procedures for hiring employees are too risky for college grads.

    It’s much safer to hire college grads that you know. You have a better idea of what they are really like over a longer period of time. How do college students get to know me? They ask questions when I teach or lecture. They give me a business card or email address and stay in touch. They read the book I mentioned and told me what they thought about it. Joined the professional society as a student and went to the meetings. Downloaded the trial software and learned to use it. Did an internship and spent their time wisely–not just working, but learning and networking. You would be surprised how few people actually follow through on those kind of things.

    I never really have a job rec for “no experience.” Why would I? But when I need a less experienced employee and can’t find what I need I am more willing to make a case to hire that college grad that was smart, enthusiastic, driven and followed through as I have a pretty good sense that they will learn fast and care about their work.

    How do you do that if you’re going to UNL? Unless you are going into agriculture or insurance I’m not sure. When I graduated from UNL I had to move to big city and start making those connections from scratch. Email and social networking (particularly LinkedIn) can help get started but professional groups, conferences and internships are better.

    Hope this helps. Best of luck.

    1. You provide some great insights and tips – thanks for that! I understand, moreso now than before, what it’s like on the employer’s side of the table; because of that, I’m getting better at gaining much-needed experience and selling myself.

      And while I stayed in Nebraska, instead of heading straight for the big city in college… I managed to get two degrees with no debt whatsoever. I wish I had closer access through professors & local businesses to do what I love doing, but getting to the other side of higher education without signing a 20-year contract of debt payments was pretty important to me.

      Is it conservative? Yes. Is it the career fast-track? No. But, perhaps that fits me better. I’m just dealing with growing pains right now.

      Thanks again for your comments and suggestions; it was very uplifting to hear.

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