One of the first questions asked of me when I studied abroad in college was, "Are you American?"
After answering "yes," more than usually the next comment was “one day I hope to study in America, too.” No doubt, the United States is the land of opportunity for many foreign students, but to many of their American counterparts, the U.S. has become a nightmare to find a decent job post-graduation. Due to a struggling economy, college graduates are learning the hard way that BA degrees and an impressive collection of internships does not necessarily ease the transition of a student into the "real world."
I graduated in May 2010 with a BA Cum Laude in Political Science. My résumé showcases relevant internships, leadership roles, and community service projects that were all completed during my academic career. Upon graduation, I had full confidence that I had the credentials to be hired for an entry-level position. I quickly learned that was not the case. My résumé and high GPA were valued at nothing, and even expecting to be hired for an entry-level job without any professional experience or further study was impossible. The only question that came to mind was, "Why?!"
Today, the term “professional experience” seems to have a new meaning. Besides the degree qualifications, many companies offering entry-level jobs expect a minimum 6-12 months of professional experience. No longer can one define professional experience as unpaid hours spent interning. Many employers now ask how much experience you have excluding past internships.
In our generation, the term "intern" has become cliché. The New York Times reported that “three-quarters of the 10 million students enrolled in America’s four-year colleges and universities will work as interns at least once before graduating,” according to the College Employment Research Institute. Originally, most college students interned at some point during their academic career in hopes of attracting potential employers. Internships have become a necessary evil all college students must face.
Sadly, the frustration of a post-grad does not end at the job market. Going back to school also seems to be a gamble. Tuition costs are rising, and even an advanced degree no longer guarantees a high paying job.
With such sad prospects, what is a post-grad to do? My best advice is to be persistent and remain open-minded until you find the right opportunity. Do not close yourself off and think that you should avoid internships after graduation – sometimes companies hire interns. Also, do not forget to network! Tap into your past job or intern networks and catch up with old friends and colleagues to see what they are up to. Often times, opportunities present themselves through old connections.
Another option that most post-grads overlook (or shudder at the thought of) is to move back home. Not only is this option cost-effective, it helps ease the pressure of the "real world." Recent studies suggest that the safety net parents provide promotes independence and self-reliance in 20-somethings as they pursue a degree or save money.
Since graduation, I have spent time abroad, worked through two internships, taken on writing projects and volunteered at a number of events. I am currently in the process of preparing to apply to law school and have just landed my first job with an NGO where I have been an intern. It has been a difficult year, but I stayed on the beaten old path and am just beginning to see the fruits of my labor.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons