Workzone: College graduates settle for unexpected jobs
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MIAMI -- Maria Hernandez never thought she would be managing a clothing store. She felt confident that when she graduated from Florida International University's School of Hospitality and Tourism in May, she would land her dream job of working for an event-planning firm.
But for Ms. Hernandez, one of the 1.5 million undergraduates who are colliding with 1.85 million more experienced job seekers, balancing expectations with reality has become a necessity.
"It's good to have something no matter what it is," Ms. Hernandez, 22, said of her part-time position at White House/Black Market. "At least I'm getting management experience."
Ms. Hernandez and other new college graduates who make up Generation Jobless are finding that the way to compete in the worst job market in 25 years is to take work they otherwise would have dismissed -- part-time positions, tutoring gigs, secretarial posts -- anything to have some income.
Employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer grads in 2009 than a year ago, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
"They are discovering they have to be open to any opportunity," said Diann Newman, director of student services with FIU's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Ms. Newman said that when an on-campus recruiter arrives, students interview, even those who previously might have been uninterested. "They no longer rule anything out."
For some, shifting expectations means looking for jobs where other people are not -- and staying open to jobs most people would avoid. It also means considering different industries, lower pay or relocation.
Christopher Torres, 21, likens his experience to tolerating the appetizer until getting to the main course. Torres just graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor's degree in political science. He works four afternoons a week for a tutoring company and spends much of his time interviewing again and again for sales jobs at Best Buy and Blockbuster that pay just above minimum wage.
"It's going to be difficult to pay my bills unless I get two or three paying opportunities," Mr. Torres said. His dream job is working for a small, entrepreneurial organization, maybe in Washington, D.C., that makes a difference through its work. But for now, he says, he has accepted reality like most of his peers. "If we can't land our dream job," he said, "we at least want to find something we can stand until we can find our dream job."
Meanwhile, the elusiveness of the 9-to-5 job is triggering fresh thinking about career goals.
Ask today's college graduates their goals, and many say they want the private jet but not the corner office. They want to own their own business, pioneer new industries, market new inventions or work for a startup. For these graduates, an upward climb in Corporate America is no longer the path to success, but merely a stepping stone to entrepreneurialism.
As FIU graduate Stephanie Bennett puts it: "I want to make my own schedule, go to lunch when I want, take vacation when I want. ... I want to have control."
Ms. Bennett, 28, wants her own promotions and marketing firm one day. For now, she's going to graduate school and consulting for nonprofit organizations.
Not surprisingly, Christian Garcia, associate director of Toppel Career Center at the University of Miami, hears the entrepreneurial buzz on his campus. He says students read and hear about corporate layoffs and lack of loyalty, and believe no one is looking out for them in the workplace. Mr. Garcia said the 2009 graduates figure, "if they are not out there for me, what can I do to get my own thing going. Starting a company is a risk but I might as well do it."
First Published July 27, 2009 12:00 am