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Seeking Employment: Generation Me

News & Features | December 10, 2012

It is a universal truth acknowledged and reluctantly accepted by our generation that overpriced degrees in the liberal arts don’t guarantee success in the job market. Graduates from the millennial generation often enter the professional world with high hopes, only to retreat to their parents’ houses after facing the challenges of life after college. As the economy continues to stagnate and the number of college graduates increases, the disparity between the number of qualified candidates and available job openings is clear. This is especially true for those coming out of college with a degree in the liberal arts, while students with degrees in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics—STEM students—tend to secure higher-paying jobs earlier in the race. The future for liberal arts graduates does not look bright. As this issue has gained standing in the public eye, a number of experts have stepped forward to try to help recent and soon-to-be graduates find their footing in an unwelcoming job market. There is much more to employment success than an impressive GPA and a liberal arts degree; equally important is the balance between tenacity, resilience, patience, and modesty, all while never selling your qualifications short.

While the current state of the job market is discouraging on its own, the bigger problem that plagues our generation is the self-entitled nature of our professional expectations. According to D.A. Hayden and Michael Wilder, authors of From B.A. To Payday, today’s college students are part of what is known as the “Entitlement Generation.” Hayden and Wilder claim that graduates from this generation, more so than previous ones, are products of habitual positive reinforcement and feel too assured that our summer internships and college educations provide immunity from failure in the job market. New York Times’ Judith Warner labels these kids part of “Generation Me”—“entitled whiners who have been spoiled by parents who overstocked their self-esteem [and] teachers who granted undeserved As.” This cushy treatment is partly responsible for making Generation Me blind to the demanding realities of the professional world. According to Hayden, “Parents are calling Human Relations professionals to negotiate their salary packages for their kids.” Another factor that Hayden and Wilder attribute to Generation Me’s foundering in the real world is the mindset that constant hard work and the dynamic learning process decelerate after college graduation. This is a deadly combination of naïveté and entitlement that pushes our expectations to unrealistic heights.

Combined with the weak economy, these high expectations often set up college graduates for failure. The “Entitlement Generation” searches for the perfect job that provides them with the intellectual stimulation and salary they feel they deserve. Hayden mentions that, “The key to landing a job is to think about how to package yourself, make yourself relevant, and distinguish yourself from your competition.” Students should think of their first post-undergraduate jobs as an instructive “sampling opportunity that will prepare and refine their marketable skills.” However, Hayden also argues that the millennial generation’s sheltered nature and entitled attitude often prevent this type of reasoning.

As graduation draws closer, the obvious question arises: if our generation’s millennial reputation is valid, how can we break free of the self-inflicted trauma caused by our apparent entitlement? The most obvious—and arguably most difficult—solution is to bring our standards down and understand that these costly college degrees do not guarantee professional success and affluence. According to a recent Georgetown University analysis, recent liberal arts school graduates face a 9.6% unemployment rate, while more experienced college graduates who spend about five years working for various decent but low-paying jobs face a much lower 6% unemployment rate. Through developing and refining our idea of patience, perhaps more liberal arts graduates will understand that it is acceptable and in fact necessary to begin with lower-paying, sometimes tedious jobs. Experience and persistence are essential footholds for climbing up the job-market ladder.

Fox Business’s Emily Driscoll writes that liberal arts graduates should “cast a wide net” and broaden their horizons when applying for jobs. They should feel comfortable falling outside the boundaries of their college degrees. Hayden and Wilder agree with this strategy, noting that the most successful graduates are often those who avoid focusing on only one type of job fixed to the constraints of their college degrees. Limiting professional opportunities will only serve to limit the potential for success, a fact that many college graduates fail to recognize in their pursuit for the dream job. Even if it means stepping outside one’s comfort zone or pursuing a career in a field unrelated to one’s studies, any job can help a graduate gain important work experience and, for those with the burden of student loans, to slowly chisel away at their debt.

It’s important to recognize that this entitlement is frequently combined with fear. Hayden notes that this generation is “scared to death when reality comes along and puts them in ambiguous and unanticipated situations.” The current job market seems to reaffirm these trepidations of failure. Fortunately there is reason to be hopeful. College graduates from the Class of 2013 will see a 13% increase in the hiring rate from last year. “Equally encouraging,” Hayden tells us, “is that large corporations are broadening their aperture and are becoming appreciative of the liberal arts dynamic.” As December rolls around, winter graduates are either locking up future jobs or scrambling for potential ones. With less competing peers, these early graduates have a slightly better chance at securing more desirable jobs than their May-graduating classmates, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Although these prospects seem reassuring for all graduates, a refined attitude of resilience, patience, tenacity, and a wider scope will continue to be a critical factor in helping college graduates distinguish themselves in their search for careers.