Get a job, any job

You’ve graduated from a good college with a humanities or social sciences degree. You can’t find a good job, so you’re living at home and letting your parents pay your bills. What should you do?  Take any job you can find, writes Jason Fertig, assistant professor of management at Southern Indiana University, on the National Association of Scholars blog.

In American Dream is Elusive for New Generation, the New York Times told the story of a 2008 Colgate graduate, Scott Nicholson, who turned down a $40,000-a-year job as an insurance claim adjuster because it wasn’t a management trainee position.

Fertig shares his own experience as a college graduate in Management Information Systems. Hired in the boom as a technical consultant, he found himself preparing PowerPoint slides and other menial work, then laid off when the project ended. He found another job, ended up doing clerical work and let his discontent affect his job performance. When the company merged, he was considered expendable.

Unemployed for the second time in two years, he moved back in with his family.  After six months holding out for a “good job” in line with his training, he realized that college hadn’t trained him for a job.

Higher education is designed to develop the mind, which in turn allows the graduate to bring that developed mind to the workforce.  It does not, nor should it allow one to bypass the lower rungs of the corporate ladder.

. . . Knowing what I know now, I need to ask why you think a political science major with minimal job experience qualifies you for a mid-level management position at a large corporation.

Fertig worked at a gym for $10 per hour. “I learned that a career was about learning a business – it was about doing the work that others will not.”

Trust me, if you worked anywhere for these last two years, and you showed a work ethic that conveyed that you are not afraid to get your hands dirty, your stock would be exponentially higher than it is now.  Even if you worked in fast food, you would be able to show experience in dealing with pressure, working with difficult people, and learning a business from the ground floor.

. . . The longer you hold out, the longer you convey an entitled mentality and a high maintenance attitude to those organizations where you seek employment.

. . . Don’t leave the bat on your shoulder – swing it!  Just get out there and work, and you never know how your career will twist and turn.

Don’t expect to love your job, Fertig adds. Love your spouse. Lead a balanced life.

In my second job, as associate editor of a filmmaking magazine, I was responsible for taking out the garbage, which meant carrying the can down the steep steps of our Victorian, then retrieving it when it was emptied. When an advertising manager was placed in an office overlooking the street, I persuaded the publisher to put her in charge of bringing up the can as soon as it was emptied so the restaurant below us, the Noble Frankfurter, wouldn’t take it with their can. As a Stanford graduate in English and Creative Writing, I learned a lot in that job.

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  1. Personally, I have found public service fellowships a great way to get experience while getting support to transition from college to career. Money isnt always high but the benefits can be great, they tend to be a bit more flexible, and emphasize learning and network building. I may not have had a high powered job but I certainly wasnt responsible for taking out trash (yikes!).

    Also, instead of avoiding these jobs and holding out for something better, why not look at these jobs as basics that allow you to do other things. For example, friends of mine who work in retail use their schedule flexibility to volunteer/intern at organizations they admire or run side projects that develop both skill and visibility.

  2. I believe it was Peter Drucker who observed that when you’re in the education system, it’s all about *you* and your potential. It’s only when you transition to an actual *job* that it becomes a matter of getting something done that actually really matters to someone else.

    And even then, some people interviewing for a job seem mainly interested in finding out about the training programs.

  3. Cardinal Fang says:

    There are five applicants per job opening (on average) in the United States right now. At some point, the advice to “get a job, any job” starts sounding like jobhunter escalation.

    That being said, new graduates are better placed to go after jobs. They can move to areas where the jobs are, whereas older unemployed people might have spouses with jobs and/or an unsaleable house preventing them from relocating.

  4. I like how you learned to make sure someone else got the experience of bringing the trash can back up the stairs. Brava, you clever lady!

  5. There’s a terrible expectation “out there” that newly minted college grads should be job-ready. It’s rarely the case, even for those who major in vocational disciplines (engineering, business). I say that as someone who hired entry-level programmers for many years. They never knew enough coming out of school to be productive right away.

    Humanities and social sciences students face a similar problem, but I believe they’re better prepared to take on the challenges ahead. Here’s a related blog post, from “For English Majors,” that may be helpful for students in this quandary:

  6. Soapbox0916 says:

    OK, I got to be nit-picky, but as a graduate of the University of Southern Indiana (USI), I don’t think I have ever admitted that before here, but University comes first in the title. I have not met Jason Fertig, but I think I want to meet him now since he is local for me. We may cross paths.

    I actually see most graduates locally willing to take any job they can get and still getting turned down. This includes science majors too. My workplace is crawling with free interns, which has never happened until recently.

    The Scott Nicholson example seems to be a more upper income kind of family, and I think that Nicholson article has more to do with class issues in hard economic times rather than generational issues in hard economic times.

  7. SuperSub says:

    Part of the problem is due to the economic growth of the 80’s and 90’s, which I like to call the paperwork era. Profits and corporate stock value increased without much increase in actual production-level jobs, and a lot of the extra funds went to building a large class of middle management, who mostly just had to fill out paperwork and communicate messages between the higher-ups and rank-and-file.
    In effect, these new middle-management types were just glorified secretaries who only needed paper-based job skills and the ability to manage multiple assignments simultaneously, which are largely the same as the requirements for various liberal arts college programs. Hence, a college degree became the entry ticket for a middle-management job that bypassed the rank-and-file.
    In all of the “pity me” stories I have seen on the news about individuals who were laid off from six figure salary jobs and can’t find work, the individuals were part of that middle management class.

  8. >>The Scott Nicholson example seems to be a more upper income kind of family, and I think that Nicholson article has more to do with class issues in hard economic times rather than generational issues in hard economic times.<<

    That's basically right. What Scott is looking for is a corporate management/executive trainee position. These positions both pay well and are generally the key to unlocking the $100,000-$200,000 executive positions down the road…along with the possibility of even higher salaries as a CEO or other senior executive.

    Being a claims adjuster is a decent job. But taking that job will mean basically given up forever the management track. So (assuming that Scott's belief that he could be put on the management track is not completely unrealistic), Scott is not wrong to turn down the claims adjuster position.

    However, Scott *is* wrong to sit on his butt doing nothing; assuming management track positions eventually open up, employers are going to want to know what he did in the 2-3 years since he graduated…and "I lived in my parent's basement isn't going to convince them that he's the kind of aggressive go-getter they need.

    What he needs to do is something productive that doesn't pigeonhole him as someone not cut out for management. Do TFA. Work at a nonprofit, or as an intern at an interesting place. *Start* a nonprofit. Or even spend a year in India or Tibet or somewhere like that.

    Any of that would be much better than just camping out at home. (And if you are camping out at home, it might be best not to advertise this in the NY Times…)

  9. Respectfully disagree, PeterW. Accepting a claims adjuster job should not disqualify anyone for a more lucrative job later on. Not in this economy. And, it will show perceptive recruiters and management types that he has the ability to roll with the punches. At least being a claims adjuster allows you to show you can deliver on objectives that have concrete metrics attached to them, unlike some of the options you listed.

  10. Cardinal Fang says:

    “Accepting a claims adjuster job should not disqualify anyone for a more lucrative job later on.”

    It shouldn’t, but it would. PeterW is right.

  11. SuperSub says:

    The old tried-and-true still works… entry level positions can lead to promotions to management if you’re skilled and a good worker.
    Where do they find the management that supervises the claims adjusters?

  12. Maybe in your world, Fang and PeterW. There are others.


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