Being a recent graduate is tough no matter what. Competition for well-paying and degree-relevant jobs that offer real career development opportunities is strong, especially for college graduates who are often no older than 21 or 22 years of age and may not have a wealth of experience compared to their older counterparts. Also taking into consideration the fact that a number of university degrees, particularly Arts and Humanities, don’t always have the most obvious career paths to follow, seeking employment as a graduate is an unenviable task.
In more recent years, a new challenge for recent graduates has emerged. Young people in the first five or so years after graduating from college tend to be associated with the painfully overused word “millennial”, a term which seems to label young adults as entitled and self-centred. Some people from an older generation assert that young people need to start from the bottom and work hard to get to where they want to be, and that today’s graduates should not expect to be handed their dream career on a silver platter. This is a sentiment I absolutely agree with; everyone should pay their dues and work their way up to the top. However, there is a difference between paying your dues and being taken advantage of.
“Working for free” as a method of gaining experience is advice that many young people hear as they embark on their career paths. Sure, all experience is valuable, paid or otherwise, but it seems that in an effort to combat the alleged entitlement of millennials, encouraging them to offer their services for free despite the time and money that may have gone into studying and practicing these services is becoming commonplace. Twitter and the blogosphere are full of stories about freelance journalists, illustrators, etc. being offered wonderful career opportunities only to be laughed at when they expect payment and told that the exposure and experience are just as valuable. Unfortunately, exposure and experience don’t pay the bills.
I studied psychology, and a classmate of mine recently posted to Facebook a link to a job vacancy for an assistant psychologist role that offered a stipend of €50 a week. One of the requirements for the role was a Masters’ degree in Psychology. Conversely, psychology graduates who wish to apply for a spot on a Masters’ programme are advised to seek assistant psychologist roles as experience. For many recent graduates, it seems like you just can’t win.
When it comes to your career, no one is entitled to anything. Working hard and constantly striving to improve are key elements of progressing your career and all the university degrees in the world don’t mean you should walk into your dream job the second you graduate. However, there comes a point where your services and experience have value to an employer or organisation and this is when you should know your worth.