Guest post written by Abigail Johnson and Tammy Nicastro
Abigail Johnson is president of Roeder-Johnson, a Silicon Valley strategic communications and PR firm. Tammy Nicastro is Executive Director of Development at UCSF Medical Center and Benioff Children’s Hospital. This article represents their personal opinions and not those of their employers.
In recent weeks, there have been a slew of articles that reported how difficult things will be for this year’s college graduates because they can expect to be unemployed or “underemployed”. When did we start thinking that someone who is gainfully employed is “underemployed”? Whenever someone gets a job, it’s great news! We are each our own product and the opportunities are in front of us.
It’s just plain arrogant for anyone to consider their job underemployment. We have two concerns about this idea of “underemployment”:
First, when people get a job, there is nothing stopping them from making their own luck.
Second, reinforcing this idea of “underemployment” contributes to a culture of “entitlement”.
Let’s talk about making your own luck:
One woman we know was a graduate of one of the finest universities in the U.S. with a very high GPA. When she graduated, she wanted to live in Los Angeles. And the only way she could live there was to get a job. It was hard to get a job, so she took a clerical position. And over the next few years, she watched, listened and got a bunch of accreditations. Eventually, she evolved in her career and is today one of the top people in her field and very comfortable.
A young man we know got a joint dance and business degree. What, exactly, do you do with that? No worries. He got a job selling ladies shoes on a commission-only basis; today, he is the top sales person for a leading retail chain and well on the way to success.
Another woman we know had a baby during her senior year at a prestigious research institution. She knew she had to get a job immediately upon graduation and that the job market was tough; her degree in Animal Science guaranteed her nothing. So she created a position supporting a research lab. Nonetheless, she distinguished herself as a go-getter with unique ideas. She became highly sought-after in her original field and, ultimately, created several new opportunities and grew them. She now makes more money and more important decisions than most people she knows with twice as much education.
And then there’s the man who graduated from an engineering school in his home country. But when he came to this country, the only job he could get was serving food in one of the ethnic restaurants of his upbringing. Over time, he leveraged this and became the president of a company that consults to small businesses and restaurants. Clearly, he has done quite well.
We all know stories like these. They are not just the occasional “Horatio Alger” tale. They are all around us.
Now let’s look at this issue of reinforcing the idea of entitlement.
We are all surrounded by mass media about the rare few who live glamorous lives and, seemingly, have anything they want. This, along with other things, have led to an increasing sense that anyone is entitled to that life, without working for it.
But if a person with a 4-year degree can only get a job at Starbucks, McDonalds or a relatively low-level clerical job, they should take it. Where on a college diploma does it provide a guarantee of a certain caliber job? University is not trade school. Although for anyone who believes they are underemployed upon graduation, perhaps trade school would have been a better choice. Should any of the people described above have passed on their opportunities because they were entitled to more?
And that’s the point: None of these people spent any energy worrying about whether the job they could get was “good enough” for them; they just took one step at a time and seized opportunities that were presented to them.
It’s not clear where the concept of being “underemployed” came from. But it’s damaging and counterproductive. Today’s college-bound students should not think of getting into and graduating from university as the end-game. They should review their tuition bill closely if they think the contract they are entering into entitles them to something other than the opportunity to create their own futures. Telling recent college graduates that they are underemployed may confuse them into believing that they should look to anyone but themselves for success.