In 2010, I received my bachelor’s degree from Cornell University. I was a triple major (in English, History, and Italian) and was on the Dean’s List for four semesters. I was also involved in extracurricular activities: I wrote articles for two student magazines, campaigned in the 2008 presidential election, and created a comedic webseries that I organized, wrote, directed, and acted in.
Since graduating college four years ago, I have sold watches at Macy’s, answered e-mails from digital newspaper subscribers, and entered hospital patients’ contact information into billing software: all honest and respectable work, but nothing that required a college education that took four years to complete and thousands of dollars to afford.
Starting a career in this economy has been the most frustrating and demoralizing thing I have ever attempted. I’ve applied to entry-level positions in writing, editing, social media, public relations, publishing, and marketing, yet I was lucky if I even got a response to any of my applications. And when I did get a reason for being rejected, it always came down to one thing: experience.
A year ago, I was interviewed for an editing position. My interviewer and I had a fantastic rapport, and I left the interview feeling confident and hopeful. Around two weeks later, though, my interviewer notified me that he and his company had chosen a candidate with a more suitable background for the position. But he added that with my impressive background, he was confident I’d succeed in my job search.
I know my interviewer was trying to be supportive, but his words felt like a punch in the gut. How would I ever succeed in my job search when all these companies I had applied to were turning me down for candidates with more suitable backgrounds?
I recognize that experience is important. You want your company to be the best, and you want your employees to give you the best results with the least training. But what about dedication, persistence, and creativity? What about hiring somebody who’s passionate and hungry, who’s eager to learn and has everything to prove?
If an employer hired me for a position I wasn’t completely qualified for, I would do everything I could to be the best employee possible. I might be overwhelmed at first, but I would work that much harder to learn what I needed to know and prove to my employer that hiring me was the right decision. And no matter how far my career took me, I would always be grateful to that employer for taking a chance on me when no one else would.
This fall, I’ll be attending the New School for a master’s degree in Media Studies. I’m excited for all the doors my new school (pun intended) will open: all the classes I’ll take, all the people I’ll meet, and all the skills I’ll learn. And I’m thrilled to be attending school in New York, a city with so many people and so many opportunities.
I know a master’s degree won’t guarantee me employment. So as a graduate student, I’ll do whatever I can to improve my career prospects: I’ll be an intern, attend networking events, make the career services center my second home — and that’s in addition to all the exams I’ll need to take, papers I’ll need to write, and lectures I’ll need to attend as a full-time student.
But I worry that no matter what I do to ensure I have a career post-graduation, it’ll never be enough. After all, my Ivy League degree, 3.7 GPA, and extracurricular activities in writing and media didn’t suffice. I keep asking myself: when will it be enough? What will it take for an employer to see past my lack of experience and recognize me for the hardworking, creative, and passionate individual that I am?
It angers me to my core that young adults who are so gifted, so educated, and so full of potential are either unemployed or stuck in jobs where they can’t use their talents and educations to better the world around them. They don’t have the income to pay their debts, buy a house, or start a family. They’re becoming bitter, angry, and cynical when they should be the most passionate and idealistic of us all.
And that’s everyone’s loss.