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In My Own Words

Welcome to the real world 

Nick Pane

(10/2012) Earlier this year, starting probably around March, it became undeniably clear that things were changing. The Class of 2012 began receiving emails from the school about preparation for Commencement, and all of the activities leading up to it. The workload had intensified slightly, but I felt far less stressed about it than semesters prior to this one. Many of my fellow classmates seemed to share a similar mindset, in that we had no desire whatsoever to embrace this new unfamiliarity that we were facing; in short, I was graduating college.

I had mixed emotions about the end of four unforgettable years, but the scariest thing about the process was how quickly it was moving along. In what felt like a seamless transition, I went from attempting to answer complex questions about what it meant to be human, to suddenly attempting to explain my post-graduate plans. Professors, coworkers, family members, and friends, all of which play four vastly different but crucial roles in shaping you right down to your most meticulous personality trait, were bombarding me with the same question: So what's next? After four years of studying subjects involving one's purpose in the universe, languages that read right to left, and theory-based debates regarding Gerbner's Cultivation Theory and Mill's Utilitarianism, the time had come for me to focus on a different set of goals.

Even in today's world, when jobs are tough to come by, I'm now supposed to exchange my dorm room for an apartment, my course load for an occupation, and my GPA for a salary. I'm also competing with tens of thousands of unemployed people and other recent grads to boot, so I'm tasked with setting myself apart in a way that makes my application look as appealing as possible. Of course, this all goes without saying that I graduated from a private school with an annual tuition around $50,000 during a time of economic disparity. Welcome to the life of the recent college graduate.

A friend of mine that is still in school asked me back in August what, if anything, was different about not returning to school. In the only comparable situation I could think of, I told him that sending out job applications felt a lot like meeting a girl's parents for the first time. You put in all of this effort to get her to like you and go out with you, things seem to be going well after a number of dates, and before you know it, you're sitting at her dining room table as her father transforms into a CIA operative, chewing you up and spitting you out with countless questions about what you have been/plan on doing with your life. He'll look for any reason not to like you and when he finds one, he'll urge his daughter to find someone better. Both scenarios can basically leave you feeling as if you didn't do enough to garner more interest or respect from the people that you desperately want to impress. The difference, however, is the current economic situation. Many qualified college grads remain unemployed or underemployed because the opportunities that would be available in a more copious economy simply aren't there.

Recently, the overall unemployment rate has hovered just above 8%. The economy is on the upswing, but the outlook remains especially grim for people looking for work that are under the age of 25. In many instances, employees are either taking pay cuts or returning to jobs where their roles are reduced, just to stay employed. These are the members of the work force that have experience and familiarity on their side, so the logical assumption is that employers are comfortable hiring them because they can pay less money to someone that already knows how to do the job. The result is an unemployment rate of 16% for people 25 years of age or younger, which means that recent college grads are stuck with an exorbitant amount of loans to pay off without the resources sufficient enough to do so. This leads to people seeking jobs that have little to nothing to do with their field(s) of study or career interests, contributing to high levels of underemployment.

For anyone that may be unfamiliar with the term underemployment, it basically indicates that an employer is overqualified for a position they are holding. The problem with underemployment is that it means more people are settling for temporary positions that they might only accept because they need the money. That's not to say that there is anything wrong with this approach, but when underemployment levels have been consistently close to 19%, it means that a lot of people are accepting positions that don't fit their education background. As long as you are careful not to stray far from your career goals, there is nothing wrong with picking up a job that pays minimum wage and puts a little extra cash in your wallet, but as the newest additions to the labor force, recent college grads must do their best to look for positions close to their field of study. If you can get that "foot in the door" position that may pay less than a job as a waiter, take the former every time, because there simply aren't any guarantees when that opportunity will come again.

The beauty of an entry level position involving something that you want to do down the road is that you can sacrifice short-term income for potential long-term success. Entry level positions don't pay much in the form of money, however they can set you up quite nicely to enjoy a fulfilling career doing something that you genuinely believe that you want to do. Again, some of these positions might not exist because of experienced employees taking lower-end jobs to maintain a salary. Bad economical times and high underemployment rates don't exactly bode well for workers trying to break in to a business. The only thing that recent grads can do, is simply be persistent and not pass anything up.

As recent graduates, our best move would be to take a job because we want to take it, not because we feel like we need to take it. During my free time, it's not uncommon for me to go to a job board, search media or journalism positions, and apply to each job that I feel I have a realistic chance of landing. If the position does not prefer/require multiple years of experience, it's likely that I will send in an application. I've repeated this process more times than I can remember, and I'm a little more than four months removed from cleaning out my dorm. That should tell you all you need to know about the job market as it stands right now: apply to a lot of places, and the odds of you hearing back from someone can only go up. In the event that I do not hear back from anyone, which has been the case for most of my applications, I move on to the next company looking to hire.

It's a frustrating process, but that's what happens when you are a member of a graduating class during the latter parts of a recession. The opportunities are going to be few and far between, which basically means that you have to be your own best spokesperson. If your resume is strong and you can present a legitimate case for yourself in a cover letter, you'll have a fighting chance, but you have to stay on top of your job search. An employer only needs to see one application that they like, and in this economy, that's probably all they want to see anyway.

Read other articles by Nick Pane