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Monday, June 7, 2010

Jobs: Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em

This New York Times opinion forum on whether or not recent graduates should be choosy in their initial job offers struck a familiar chord. It seems like the old cliche about the pressure to find an ideal first job is now so ubiquitous that experts from all fields are now questioning whether, in this economy, it's a smart idea to wait out the job search for the best offer, or to simply accept any job in the interim.

I understand the first job out of college to be an anticlimactic precedent; as if, upon graduating with a bachelor's degree, one has an obligation to find the kind of job that aligns perfectly with their degree requirements. That might be all well and good for an engineer or computer scientist, but what does that mean for those of us who devoted most of our college days to deconstructing literary theory or writing plays? I've always understood that the pursuit of a creative lifestyle meant accepting the financial and societal uncertainties that sometimes accompany it. With that in mind, I've often been placed in the odd social moment of talking myself into a corner when someone asks me how I put my degree in creative writing to good use. By being creative. By writing. By being a creative writer in basically everything I do. And one can write creatively about anything: other writers, current events, scientific studies, socks, commercial products...the weather.

One thing I'm trying to do less is justify my interests and passions as an extension of my academic plans. I've applied the skills I learned in college in various jobs around the world, and to date, they've served me fine. I started working as a junior in college, and have worked either half or full time ever since. Secretly I'm glad that I already had a degree when the housing market crashed in 2008.



Edwin Hoc, the director of strategic and foundation research at the National Association of Colleges and Employers, describes a situation that hits close to home: that of recent grads who gain experience in a non-profit field in hopes that it will make them a more attractive candidate for jobs in the long run. Hoc says that for these students, "turning down a job offer with a minimal starting salary and few prospects for advancement can be preferable to accepting the job, especially from a 'long-run' career perspective. However, not everyone, not every new graduate, can afford to make this kind of choice. Those that can, count on a safety net of support (generally parents) that allows them to survive and thrive while avoiding initiating a career path with a minimal early return."

As someone who has worked as everything from barista to international student advisor, in radio, web and in print, I wonder, too, about that "minimal early return," and at what point it's smart to start prioritizing that over my delicate and sometimes bleeding creative heart.

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