Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

This week has been one of perspective shifts and overcoming obstacles. Last week I talked about potential new jobs, and I decided to accept a retail job that starts next month. I’m happy that I will have some money coming in again for bills and to make moving on towards bigger and better things possible. However, I have had some trouble staying positive about the fact that this is another retail job, and one that I am overqualified for.

As a recent college graduate with two degrees, I can’t help but feel that I should be doing something more fulfilling and challenging in terms of a job (and hopefully a career). Unfortunately the opportunity for such a job hasn’t been an option for me yet, not for a lack of trying though. I’m lucky enough to have had one incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling internship already at WGN Radio, and now to have another great experience at Reach Out and Read Illinois. This most recent internship will potentially turn into a paid position in the near future, but the exact date is undetermined.

I have a tendency to not look at the positive side of situations, and have struggled with this bad habit this week as the start date for my new retail job approaches. I am glad I have a job, but can’t help but worry that my co-workers will be like the coworkers at my last job: nice enough but not people that I can look forward to having intellectually stimulating conversations with. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I’m sure my new coworkers will be nice, I just find myself wishing for a work environment that is a bit more challenging.

Thanks to my boyfriend, who reminds me to not worry so much and to look at situations like this in a positive way, I am reminded that there is room for creativity in this position even if it’s not exactly what I want to do. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and nerves and of course experience some of each when I think about starting this new job; but then I’m reminded that because this is a brand new store, all the employees are in the same position: starting fresh.

With these reminders and help shifting my perspective, I’m able to focus on the positive aspects of my currently unemployed situation. I can do what I want with my own time, like read Sherlock Holmes (my favorite), work out (a great way to feel good about myself and relieve some of those nerves), blog and sleep in. When I start my new job, I know I will be tired and will bitter-sweetly think back to this time where I have little to no obligations.

 

Does it Matter?

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Even chipmunks contemplate.

I spent some time catching up with a good friend this week, who is starting a new adventure in her life.  She told me that she was considering starting a blog to document this new chapter, but wasn’t sure if she should.  This conversation got me thinking about how people seem to gravitate towards starting blogs primarily when they are doing some new, exciting, different or temporary thing with their lives.

When friends in college studied abroad, they documented their time in blogs.  When Facebook friends moved to another part of the country—or another country entirely—they blogged about their “new life”.  Even in considering writing this blog post, I wondered if anything I might have to say might be “novel” or “new”.  What it is about people that make us think that documenting our lives is only an option if we are doing something out of the norm?

In thinking further about my conversation with my friend, I thought about how it has been a while since I’ve posted anything on my blog.  There seems to be a constant battle that I fight with myself about whether or not what I have to say is worth posting online.  Not because I don’t feel confident in my thoughts, but I question if others want to read what I have to say.

I lost my job back in December, and have been searching rather unsuccessfully for a full-time, fulfilling job since I graduated college back in May.  I was offered another retail job that I wasn’t very excited about around Christmas time, and didn’t start training until last week.  Then, this week I was offered another retail job with better pay and a nicer work environment.  THEN I was told that the internship site I’ve been working at since October is going to seek additional funding to pay me for the work I do!

Here I am, a TERRIBLE decision maker, faced with the choice between two jobs that I don’t love the idea of (but prefer one over the other), and the possibility of part-time employment at the nonprofit I intern with and love.  Plus I had a first round phone interview with another nonprofit earlier this week.  How is that for almost a year I have had no employment options, and now I have multiple options?  For some, this may not be something that is of any interest.  But to me this is a huge deal.

I debated using my blog as a place to talk about these decisions I have to make now; like I said, to me these choices are a big deal, even if I’m not going to another country or starting some grand new adventure.  If something matters to you though, don’t discount its relevance or worth based on what you think others want to hear.  So, like I encouraged my friend to do, blog about what’s going on in your life, even if you don’t think everyone will find it interesting.  While it’s true that not everyone might not find what you have to say relatable; at the end of the day or end of each “chapter” of your life, believe enough in yourself to talk about what matters to you.

Do What You Love?

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The world of employment seems to be riddled with downsides.  As a recent graduate who has been searching for a full-time job for about a year, I’m finding that “entry level” no longer means fresh out of college.  The positions I’ve searched for using the words “entry level” have produced results of positions that require or suggest a minimum of two to five years experience.  According to dictionary.com, an entry level position means: “of, or pertaining to, or filling a low-level job in which an employee may gain experience or skills”.  Based on the definition, why are these entry level jobs so difficult to qualify for with a college degree and the experiences that accompany it?

Some argue that in order to gain experience to qualify for these now “entry level” jobs, one should apply for internships.  I personally loved my internship experience last summer, but it (and many other internships) are not paid.  The exchange would be receiving college credit for your internship.  I myself am not lucky enough to be able to work an unpaid internship and also pay for a place to live and groceries to eat.

Some internships I’ve seen posted are available to recent college graduates, provided you are no more than six months out of college.  Now that I’m reaching the end of that window of opportunity, the struggle to qualify for an entry level position is that much more real.  So, I’m looking for jobs that I might be considered overqualified for, or positions that may have nothing to do with my degrees or what I might want to pursue as a career.  In need of money to pay my bills, especially with loan repayments looming, I feel it is better to take a job that may not be what I want to do with my life in order to support myself.

On May 20th Brad Plumer wrote an article for the Washington Post entitled: “Only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major”.  In this article, Plumer discussed underemployment and location.  Underemployment seems to mean that there are more qualified individuals for positions than there are positions available.  Because there are so many individuals applying for the limited positions, what can we do to help set ourselves apart?

The next most significant aspect of the article to me was, according to a 2010 American Community Survey by the U.S Bureau of the Census, “the chances of finding a job related to your degree or major go up…if you move to a big city”.  The author of the U.S Bureau of the Census study argues that “big cities have more job openings and offer a wider variety of job opportunities that can potentially fit the skills of different workers.”  The plus side about the city of Chicago is that there are more opportunities, but you have to know how to find them.  Unless you have a connection, there seems to be no hurry to hire recent college graduates, at least from my experience.  At least the chances of me finding work are a bit higher here.

The Atlantics April 4th article (which could have used another spell check), “How Bad Is the Job Market for College Grads? Your Definitive Guide” points out that Bachelor’s degree holders have about half the unemployment rate of those with only high school degrees.  However, when college grads have to work at a level they are overqualified for, they are taking away jobs that would normally be available to those with only a high school education, says article author Jordan Weissmann.  Since the recession of 2007-2009, the economy will need to be rebuilt with room for college grads, says Weissmann.

In April the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Casselman reported the figure for 2012 of 284,000 Americans who have a BA or higher but are working in jobs that pay minimum wage or less (less than minimum wage meaning working for tips).  With so many individuals working below their qualifications level, I at least feel better that I’m not the only one snatching up any job offer that I can.  One of the benefits of a college education is the opportunity to make more money in a lifetime of working than one would with only a high school diploma.  These articles also discuss the possibility that even though one might have to work a job they are overqualified for, in the long run the likelihood of staying at this level is lower because eventually an opportunity to utilize one’s college education will come along.  So, what do we do in the mean time while we wait for bigger and better things to work out?

Last week CNBC’s Kelli B. Grant took the ideas of underemployment and unemployment a step further, saying in “Six college courses that help grads land jobs” that the lack of hiring of college graduates could come down to their lack of skills and interest reflected by not taking courses beyond the core college curriculum.  Chad Oakley, president and chief operating officer of executive search firm Charles Aris Inc. says course work that makes you stand out from someone else with the same major should be listed in the skills section of a resume.  This is new advice to me, and I have not yet seen an application that asks for a college transcript, even if you are self-reporting it.  I always figured that a college degree would be enough to qualify me for a job.  Because of underemployment though, a degree doesn’t seem to be enough.

Grant also cites Russ Hovendick, president of the recruiting and placement firm Client Staffing Solutions, who says that skills can also be discussed in cover letters or interviews.  My reservation in listing the courses I’ve taken in a cover letter would be that it would feel like applying to college again.  I remember working hard to get the good grades needed and have the extra curricular activities accumulated to impress a college.  I think grades are important but a cover letter should primarily show off my writing skills, ability to express myself, and showcase how my experiences make me even more qualified than someone without them.  If you actually get the chance to interview with a company, definitely do what you can to set yourself apart without being too over the top.

The advice “do what you love” because you will be doing it for the rest of your life (theoretically) is something I’ve heard for a long time and is a philosophy I agree with.  If you don’t enjoy what you do, then why spend so much of your time doing it?  However, if you don’t have the opportunity to do what you love, how can you make yourself happy?  Is it better to take a job simply for the money, or should you wait until you can get a job you will love?  I hope that you have the opportunity to do what you love.  As for myself, I’m going to keep trying to move forward and try to make the opportunity to do what I love happen.  Hopefully there will be a place for us recent grads and underemployed grads in the economy soon.

“The Waiting Game”

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I recently graduated from college, and that’s where the inspiration for this post comes from. “The waiting game” seems to be something we all play, whether it is post-college or later on in life.  I wonder though how many people are simply content to play the game or feel like they have no choice.  When did waiting become an inevitability of life though?  I know that there is waiting involved in all aspects of life, but I am referring more specifically to the professional aspects of life. 

I decided to try and avoid the waiting game this year by applying for jobs starting in December, knowing I would be in need of a job come May when I graduated.  “There’s no way I won’t have something lined up after I graduate by applying this early” I said.  Yet, here I am in June, waiting for replies on those same applications I submitted in December.  Of course I check on them regularly, but I also know that no one wants to hire the nag.  Waiting is expected in the employment game.  But why?  I’m sure there are applications received by companies on a daily basis that they can rule out after one look.  It seems like there is no hurry to even say no to an applicant though.  I got my first “no” yesterday—for a job I applied for in early January.  I’m sure they interviewed people they considered to be desirable candidates, and if I wasn’t in that group, wouldn’t it have been just as easy to say, “thanks but no thanks—you’re not what we’re looking for”?  Then I could have ruled out that job as a possibility. 

I’m looking to get into journalism after interning at WGN last summer and, of course, you need experience to be considered for the positions I’m interested in.  Most jobs I’ve thought looked interesting require a MINIMUM of 5 years of experience.  I just graduated college, where will I get 5 years of experience if I can’t even be hired without already having the experience?  Sure, internships are a great place to learn, but few pay.  I’d be happy to immerse myself in a plethora of internship experiences if I could pay the bills simultaneously.  How am I supposed to afford a place to live when I’m not getting paid?

Thus, the minimum wage job seems the only option.  I graduated with a double major but can’t get hired in the field that is supposed to hire people with the kinds of degrees I earned.  Thankfully I have a menial job at the university for the summer but what comes after that?  Apply to the local coffee shop or grocery store while I hope that one day one of my applications to a journalistic job where I actually want to work is picked up by the right person?  So the waiting game continues.

It wasn’t until I recently listened to a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace that I realized no one told me what to expect AFTER graduation.  I can honestly say I didn’t think I would be one of the people stuck playing the waiting game.  I was proactive, put myself out there, and continue to network.  Yet, here I am, waiting.  What I thank David Foster Wallace for pointing out though is that within in the tedium of the waiting game and the mundane every day I can choose how to FEEL about the game I am being forced to play.  I can think about other careers I might be interested in, that random person I met the other day that mentioned they know someone in broadcasting and that I should email them, what I want for myself and my life, or simply choosing to be happy instead of frustrated.  So for that I can be thankful.  I don’t have to like the game; but I can like my situation with the right attitude.