Sunday, March 25, 2012

in response to the request: 'just get a job.'

"Just get a job."

I'm sure every twentysomething is familiar with those four words, and I'm sure most of them hear it from their parents. I know I have.

Let's be real: it is hard these days to be a college graduate. I would argue this fact is undeniable, but when you're up against an older, stubborn generation who insists it's not hard, arguing is exhausting. Jobs are rare to come by. Paid internships are hard to obtain. You could sit in front of your computer and send out three applications a day for a month, and sometimes you won't hear anything in response. And the more you try to tell you parents this, the more they don't understand. "I don't understand why you can't just get a job," they cry.

The most recent New York Times Magazine had an interesting feature about this subject. They followed a group from the class of 2011 at Drew University to see what they were doing. The sample size is fairly accurate of the people I know myself: there are those who are working their asses off and still not even getting a rejection letter; they're just being ignored. There are those who are just hanging out, and barely trying...just being "comfortable" with reliving college. There are those who refuse to apply for anything but a job in their field. There are those who've lucked out and found jobs or paid internships in their field.

I recognize that I am one of the very, very, very, very lucky ones. The path was not easy, and it definitely was not met with understanding from my parents--as well-intentioned and supportive as they may have been. I finished a quarter early before walking at commencement with the intention of job searching and finding something so I wouldn't have a hiatus in the summer. I wanted to go straight into an internship, a job, something. I had Mengfei as a model for the path I should consider taking. Between March and May, I sent out cover letters and resumes regularly, while still working at the School of the Arts and New U, and freelancing on the side. I gave myself some breaks, looked at it as my own summer vacation since I didn't intend to have a "summer" come June.

I got two potential interviews out of my efforts--one I didn't get offered, but had counted on, and one I got offered, but turned it down because it was unpaid. Both were in D.C. and both strung me along for nearly a month.

I ended up heading back to Sacramento for about a month, and forced myself to apply for at least one job a day. I sent out multiple cover letters to everywhere I could find--internships, jobs, temporary work. I looked in San Francisco, Sacramento, D.C., New York. I got two interviews in San Francisco for internships that had nothing to do with my major. I got rejected from one, and the other never even responded after my interview and follow-up emails.

When I finally got a phone interview with Education Week, I was starting to give up. I got the internship offer on Fourth of July while up in Portland, and nearly fainted. It was a step in the "right" direction--to the east coast, in a field I was interested in. But moving was a headache and stressful, particularly with the questions and the "Are you sure you really thought this through?" probing from my parents. "Why can't you just get a job here?" they asked. Take a look in my "sent" folder in my inbox! Tell the dozens of employers who never even responded to me to tell me something!

Me and Jenny at the NPR News Desk hub.
After a month at Education Week, I ended up at NPR and it was a dream come true. I worked with amazing interns and gained the experience I was dying for in the "real world." But as my time at NPR began ticking to an end, I went back to sending out cover letters and resumes twice a day, and praying somebody would throw me a line.

Like before, of the dozens and dozens, I only heard from three places: one rejected me, two wanted me.  I looked at my fellow NPR interns--they were all so much more talented than me, and so many of them are still left hanging. What does it take for someone to offer us a position...anywhere? I told everyone who asked me that it was 90% luck, and 10% who you know. I'm sure my NPR application wouldn't have been looked at if the woman who interviewed me (who actually wasn't my supervisor) hadn't known one of my references personally. With Education Week and MSNBC, I feel like I really lucked out and just happened to apply at the right time. But I worked damn hard, and sometimes it's as if the older generations don't see that in the youth.

It's not uncommon to jump from internship to internship these days, which is impossible to explain as well. And it's also not uncommon to not be hired after an internship. "Why can't they just hire you?" my parents have asked on multiple occasions. Well, it doesn't work that way anymore.

Also...enough with the "unpaid internships" already, would-be employers! You could at least offer something...or call it what it really is: a volunteer position. Oh, and "entry level" doesn't mean "3-5 years of experience"...c'mon. And the least you could do is send a generic rejection letter to people who've applied or that you've interviewed. And you could do it in a timely fashion--not a month later, which is how long some people I know have waited to hear back after an interview.

"There are plenty of jobs!" some will say, pointing to coffee shops and restaurants. I don't want to disparage those industries. Yes, "someone needs to work those jobs," but it's so discouraging to go through four years of competitive undergraduate courses, and work toward one field, one career, and then be told you're not good enough for it. Also, most service industries won't hire you if they look at your resume and see you've been training for something else. Why would they want to hire someone who will just leave as soon as they get the opportunity they're "really" looking for?



(Above: Charlie expresses his thoughts on "getting a job" on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.)

To answer that, I know plenty of people who have various versions of their resume: one for those coffee shop and restaurant jobs, one for secretary work, and one for the career they really want.

So...this is my really long way of answering that all-too-familiar request of "just getting a job."

Postscript: Sorry for the rambling. You're lucky I didn't go off on a tangent about debts and loans...yet. Also, I know that I'm lucky to have the work experience I've had, and I'm not brushing any of it off as unimportant for the future. Just ask my friends and family how many NPR postcards I sent them, and ask anyone I Gchat with regularly how much I talk about MSNBC. 

4 comments:

  1. Accurate reporting from a soldier in the field! Keep persevering Traci; I am 100% confident you will continue to rise in your career, given your talent, intelligence, and drive. It will not be on anyone's timetable, but it will happen. And network, network, network...but you already know that! Cheers from a fan, Ana H

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  2. Nice photo! I miss you!

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  3. OH MY GOD. YES. ENTRY LEVEL IS NOT 3-5 YEARS EXPERIENCE.

    As an intern in DC right now, I strongly identify with everything you're saying here. Like... HOLY WOW. I hate trying to find a job, and my parents pressuring me doesn't make it easier.

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  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. This process drives me mad, and I'm always too flustered to communicate articulately exactly *what's* bothersome about it. But you've hit the nail on the head!

    Best of luck with your quest for suitable, satisfying employment.

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