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Weekly Reader 11.14.11

The Wall Street Journal

Last week, an undergraduate student asked me what  my college major was and how long it took to find my first job. An English major, I was hired by a Oxford University Press about a month after graduating, and yes it was decades ago! “That’s how much things have changed,” the student said. “No one gets a job in his major and it takes a long time to find a job. And we have to move back home with our parents.”

That young man was concisely describing the dilemma of “Generation Jobless,” a labeled bestowed by the Wall Street Journal last week in a series that paints a grim picture: “Americans 25 and under face one of the toughest job markets in modern history.”

Two telling statistics from the series:

  • About 59 percent of parents provide financial assistance to children aged 18 to 39 who weren’t students.
  • 5.9 million Americans between 25 and 34 years of age—nearly a quarter of whom have bachelor’s degrees—live with their parents, a significant increase from 4.7 million before the recession.

Many parents are taking a financial hit of $300 and upwards a month to help support their offspring living at home, which leads to domino effect. The parents delay retirement to help pay the extra expenses and to continue building their own savings.  But by not retiring, they clog the job pipeline so young workers can’t get promotions that free up entry-level positions.

The series includes a number of articles about college majors and the surprising demand in some blue collar fields.  Most instructive for the job coach parents among us was a “How I Found My First Big Job.”

Those new grads who landed  paid positions used several approaches.  First, some took any job to at least start making money and build an employment history.  One young Texan worked at Starbucks for several months before one of  100 resumes he sent out finally got him a job as a marketing coordinator, almost a year after graduating.   A young New Yorker who works in public relations took two unpaid internships after college. Eventually those positions turned paid and helped her make the connections that led to a staff job.

These experiences reflected the path taken by the Gen Y professionals who my undergraduates interviewed for a class assignment.  Almost to a person, the new college graduates had found jobs by taking post-college internships, sometimes paid, sometimes unpaid. Often just getting the internship required creative self promotion like visiting an office without an appointment or calling on the phone, in addition to email. A few got jobs related to their major; many didn’t.  Most spent  upwards of six months in the transition phase before actually getting a steady paycheck.  For Gen Y one thing is certain: It’s not your parents’ job search anymore.

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