Thursday, February 21, 2013

Job Seeking for a College Graduate in 1980 versus Today ~ Triggered by Millennial Angst on the Diane Rehm Show.

Job Seeking for a College Graduate in 1980 versus Today ~ Triggered by Millennial Angst on the Diane Rehm Show.

During my commute I often have the radio tuned to WAMU / NPR. Monday morning the Diane Rehm Show had assembled a panel of Millennials to discuss their views on life, which as usual resulted in complaints about their student loan debts and inability to find a good job. The panelists asserted the US Economy was at its worst for recent grads since the Great Depression. Apparently, many Millennials missed classes on 20th Century History and Economics.

The economy has always been cyclical with the job outlook for recent college graduates ebbing and flowing and ever changing. When I was graduated from my small Midwestern university in 1980, the world was in crisis, Jimmy Carter was president and had put a freeze on federal hiring, the hostages were still held by student radicals in Iran, there was a recession, an oil shortage, and it was a white man’s world. But returning to the parental nest was not an option for me. My siblings and I were raised to be independent and make it or not on our own.

I was fortunate in that I did not graduate with the burden of huge student loans.
For one thing, lending institutions were more cautious and would not have loaned that much money to a student borrower without any collateral. A parent had to co-sign. But there was never any question I would attend college for at least one year. Unlike many students today who stretch what should be a 4 year degree into 5 or more, I made the conscious decision to take extra credits (at one point 20 credits per quarter), worked at a radio station and a pizza parlor, and graduated in 3 years with the ever-so-useful liberal arts degree in French. But I believed and still do today that a liberal arts background prepares one to be a well- rounded person who can exhibit the skills necessary to compete in any job environment.

With the job outlook quite challenging and the understanding that I needed employment, I decided to apply for any job that would consider a female liberal arts graduate a viable candidate. When I applied for the job as a claims adjuster for the now defunct Commercial Union Assurance Companies, I did not even know what the job entailed. I’d never heard the term before. Before I was offered the job, I was required to take series of personality tests, which were purported to gauge whether I was suited to the particular job. Either I passed the tests or the company was under significant pressure to diversify its work force. I was offered the job for $12,500 per year and a company car – a 1980 green Ford Fairmont with a cream landau top.  I was the first woman field adjuster hired in the Indianapolis office.  When I accepted the job, I still didn’t know precisely what it was. But, it was a job. My foot was in the door.  And I made it a career.

So the lesson for young people entering the job market today is this~be open to any opportunity. You won’t have to earn a fortune to pay loans if you attend a state university in the state in which you live to keep tuition costs down. One shouldn’t expect to start at the top, or even the middle, or even make a decent income at first.  But the best way to get a better job is to have work experience. And it is easier to find a job when you have a job. So take a job, try it, and if you don’t like it, keep looking. And finding a work/life balance is not always possible at first. But you can get there after earning it through hard work.

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