Postgraduate Paralysis

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Postgraduate Paralysis
BY MARY SHERRY
Thousands of college graduates took their diplomas this year in fear or even embarrassment. They were not proud of themselves, nor eager to take on the real
world. Instead, they thought of themselves as failures. These are the graduates who have not been offered fat salaries and generous benefits. They are the ones who
won't be going to work as lawyers, investment bankers and engineers. They have taken the right courses, gotten good grades and gone through some on campus job
interviews. But because they weren't offered the perfect job-no, that exciting career-seemingly guaranteed to all those who make the right moves, they are sitting at
home, victims of postgraduate paralysis.
This may come as a surprise to anyone who has read about the fabulous job offers tendered to recent graduates. However, those of us who are parents of
children in this age group know that such offers are relatively rare and that many liberal-arts students graduate with the belief that the work world may not have a place
for them.
Consider my daughter: she graduated from college with a degree in economics two years ago. She was offered a job by a recruiter who came to her
campus-but it was with a trucking firm in South Carolina, as a dispatch-management trainee. She turned it down. It was her parents' first clue that she had a problem.
It seems economists don't work for trucking firms. Nor do Midwestern children want to live in the South before they become arthritic. Yet even at home in
Minneapolis, our daughter couldn't seem to find anything to apply for. Her father told her to make the rounds of the personnel agencies. But she was so horrified by the
demeaning atmosphere at one that she refused to visit any others.
Then one day, when she was looking at the Sunday paper and complaining that there was nothing in it, I told her there had to be something. "Look at this," I
commanded. "And this! And this!" I circled a number of jobs in the first two columns I skimmed. But Maureen protested: "I don't want to be an administrative
assistant."
It was then that her father and I realized that she had been looking in the paper for a career, not a job. And ever since, we have watched the children of
friends suffer from this same delusion. No one, it seems, has told them that a career is an evolutionary process.
When I graduated from college 25 years ago, I never expected to find a job that was in itself a, career. In those days, we were told we knew nothing, but that
upon graduation we would have the tools to learn. And learn we did, on the job. I began by doing grunt work in the customer service department at National Geographic
magazine. In due time, I wound up with a career; indeed, owning and running a firm that publishes research reports for architects and real-estate developers.
Apparently, schools have changed their approach. Today's students are told they know everything in order to succeed in a career. Career talk often begins in
seventh grade or earlier, and the career is offered as the reward one receives upon graduation. No one is satisfied with this system. Businesses complain that they get
new graduates who are unhappy with anything less than high-level, decision-making jobs as their first assignments. And parents are shocked that the child without a job
can graduate traumatized by the fear of rejection.
As I see it, parents are a principal cause of the problem. Who among us hasn't thought, "What's wrong with that kid?" when we hear that a recent college
graduate is a checker at a grocery store because "he can't find a job." At the same time, how many of us can put the screws on a recruiter's reject and convince him that
he must abandon his idea of a career and take up the idea of finding work?
This is a distasteful task, especially when we have shipped our children off to expensive colleges, believing that simply by footing the tuition bill we are
making them economically secure. The kids believe this, too, but the reality is that when they graduate, they are no more prepared for careers than we were.
Entry-level positions: It is not a disgrace to go out and pound the pavement. I used just this expression the other day with a friend of my son who; though he had
graduated in December with a degree in philosophy, has not yet found a job. He had never heard the saying before. He is bright, personable and would do well in almost
any kind of business. But he complains that he can't find work in the want ads-he has not visited any personnel agencies-and so he talks about going to law school,
instead. He was crushed by not having been recruited before graduation.
Which brings me back to my daughter. After some yelling and screaming by her parents, she did make the rounds of headhunters and found one who
specialized in entry-level positions. This gentleman was wonderful; he helped her assess her skills and prepared her for interviews. She also read the newspapers and
answered different types of ads. Not surprisingly, she got many responses. After a few weeks she had the exhilarating experience of having three job offers at once.
Two were the products of answering newspaper ads and one came through the headhunter's efforts. She landed an excellent position as an insurance underwriter-a job
she didn't even know existed when she graduated.
Happy in her job, Maureen also fell in love; and when she began to look for employment in Chicago where she and her husband will live, she needed no help
from her parents. She was confident and aggressive. She used headhunters, the want ads, her friends and ours. She had a new resource-business contacts. Yet as she was
typing letters one day, I offered some sympathy about how hard it is to hunt for a job.
"It's OK, Mom," she said. "This isn't like the first time. Now I know how to look for a job!"
And she found one as a senior underwriter. She'll make more money and more decisions.
It's beginning to look like a career.
Sherry lives near Minneapolis, Minn.
6 NEWSWEEK: JULY 11, 1988
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