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Are today's grads too picky about jobs?

Should they take anything they can get, or will future bosses hold a stint at Starbucks against them?

By Teresa Mears Jun 14, 2010 5:43PM

In a wry "Lament for the Class of 2010," Wall Street Journal writer Joe Queenan tells us the sad story of his son's friend, graduate of an Ivy League university with a degree in drama and music, who is working as an intern at a New York street fair for $250 a week.


Far from seeing this as a problem, we think Ivy League graduates SHOULD work at street fairs, Starbucks, McDonald's, etc., to learn something about the world from which they have been insulated all these years. Queenan warns these young graduates they'll have to work with people who believe in UFOs and play in REO Speedwagon tribute bands. We think they need that experience.

But stories about the difficulty 2010 graduates are having finding jobs raise an interesting question:


When should new graduates take a job, any job, rather than keep looking for the right job?


Those who don't have financial support from parents, of course, have no choice. They have to take any job they can get to pay their bills. Those whose parents will support them are freer to pick and choose. And that's just what they're doing, Judith Warner reported in The New York Times Magazine:

Yet despite the fact that the new graduates are in no position to pose conditions for employers, many are increasingly declaring themselves unwilling to work more than 40 hours a week. Graduates are turning down job offers in high numbers -- essentially opting to move back home with their parents if the work offered doesn’t match their self-assessed market value.

In this economy, should young people be so picky?


The New York Times Room for Debate blog asked eight experts to answer that very question. The experts disagreed.


Young people can learn a lot from the jobs they're turning their noses up at, says Hara Estroff Marano, author of "A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting."

First of all, many of the young people entering the job market have a great many workplace-related skills to learn -- from when to show up and when to leave, to how to dress and present themselves, to how to approach a job, to knowing how to work with others, to setting and working toward goals incrementally. These involve deeper values that cannot be taught theoretically. And although there may be some rude awakenings in the workplace, on-the-job learning is likely the fastest and most indelible way to acquire the values and skills and work ethic that will carry them to their ultimate goals.

But Katherin S. Newman, a sociology professor at Princeton and author of "The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America," disagrees. She thinks taking the wrong first job could hurt a young person's career prospects.

Just as the long-term unemployed will find it difficult to compete against the freshly minted jobseeker, so, too, will the sales clerk who hopes to be a Wall Street maven face an uphill climb to persuade Morgan Stanley that she has the "right stuff." If her biography doesn't match her aspirations, it can be a tough sell when newer, less "scarred" job seekers flood the pool from which the boss is choosing.

The standard fallback, of course, has been going to law school or graduate school. But the last thing graduates who can't pay their student loans need is more debt.


Dare we suggest a little adventure?

How about the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or Teach for America (which we hear has gotten pretty competitive)? How about volunteering at a local nonprofit, particularly if you can find one that dovetails with your career goals? What about a job halfway across the country in a city with better job prospects?


It's hard to afford a backpacking trip to Europe when you're not working, but how about combining work and seeing the world, as young people from other nations often do? You can always teach English in China.

There's always entrepreneurship. How about creating your own job? We can't help wondering why that young man with the degree in music and drama isn't teaching music lessons, which has always paid far better than minimum wage. (We did quite well teaching piano lessons as a teenager.) Pet sitting, lawn mowing, working as a party DJ, tutoring children, building websites, installing computer programs -- all pay far more than working at Starbucks -- not that there is anything wrong with working at Starbucks.


Commenters to the Times were split on whether new graduates should take just any job. Many warned against rushing to judgment, noting that it wasn't a question to which one answer will fit all.


A reader named "ilona67" from Denver noted that few people today follow a traditional straight career-ladder trajectory or stay in the same career throughout their working lives. She wrote:

There are lots of amazing people who worked at ho-hum jobs in their 20s before figuring out what they wanted to do later on. These are often highly creative people who took the time to explore their interests.

What would be your advice to a 2010 graduate who can't find a job in his or her field? Work in fast food? Start your own business? Travel around the world? Take whatever job you can get and be grateful?


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