During the last post I mentioned that degrees do not equal employment. This post will outline two other things to keep in mind if you're a recent graduate.
2. Potential does not equal production
Knowing that you can handle a particular position or task is good. That being said, knowing or thinking you can do something and having experience doing it are two different things. Employers want to know that the time and money they're investing in you is going to worth it. Depending on the kind of work you're applying for you might want to make a portfolio of your work (even if you have to create items to showcase what you can do). Alternatively, internships, if available, are an excellent way for potential employers to get to know you, how you work, and what you're capable of. Internships also give you the chance to get to know a potential employer.
3. Graduation does not mean the end of work
Those entering the workforce in the last 10 years or so have an unfortunate reputation at times. Many relatively recent graduates seem to think they're entitled to things like raises, promotions, extra perks, etc. when they haven't put the time or effort required to get those. To avoid this particular pitfall, be particularly professional and have discussions with your supervisor about what is expected of you. Make certain they give you concrete items that can be gauged. In other words, your boss telling you to "be professional" is not particularly helpful. Instead they should tell you particular behaviors or actions that you can take and can be witnessed: "wear a tie," "arrive at meetings before it is time to start" - these are things that can be witnessed and later can be resurrected by you to say, "I've met and exceeded your expectations of me." Another way to avoid the stereotype that a boss may have towards recent graduates is having realistic expectations. You will most likely start at the bottom (or near it) and you probably won't be the Vice President of anything in two or three years. I had a coworker introduce me to a new employee as the "Vice President of Coffee" once as a joke, so there are exceptions (after that, every time I saw the new employee with coffee I would say, "Let me know how that is . . .").
The truth is, wherever and whatever you are called to, even if it's just a temporary position until something in your field comes along, do it with the same hard work and attitude that you would if God himself was your boss (Col. 3:23).
During this time of year, most universities are preparing for their graduation ceremonies. This is usually an exciting time for everyone. For the student, it is a time of great transition (especially for undergrads) and also a time to reflect on what's next. As faculty, it is (at least to me) equally as exciting to watch your students complete their undergraduate career and move into the next stage of their life. That being said, for many it is a scary time. The world economy isn't like it was 10 years ago, many people are unemployed or underemployed, and some are beginning to question the need for undergraduate education in light of our current circumstances.
Here are three basic things to keep in mind:
1. Degrees do not equal employment
If you've just completed an undergraduate degree or even a graduate degree, it doesn't mean that folks are going to be begging for you to join them in whatever occupation you're applying for. More likely, you will fit into one of a several categories.
You may be you become one of the many that find themselves in a sort of professional limbo where you learn the ropes at some menial job that has little or nothing to do with what you studied. I worked for the government for a while during college, but also at bed and breakfast. For the year after my undergrad Commencement I continued to work in the hotel industry until I "broke out" of it.
For others it may be that you do actually get to work in your field, although perhaps not at the level you were hoping. One complaint I've heard during this last decade about recent grads is that they expect to be running the place within a year. Usually what this means is that many expect to get significant raises or high level promotions without a proven track record with that company or ministry. Even if you're sure of what you can accomplish, you can't expect others to see the same potential if you haven't really done anything yet. My first non-hotel job after college had me surrounded by people that had been at that company since before I was born. It took me a while to get it through my head that I wasn't entitled a promotion or a significant bonus just because I thought I could do something great. I hadn't proven myself and even if I performed above average I still would have had to acknowledge that some of my colleagues had been doing the same job for a lot longer with equal (or was often the case) superior results.
All that being said, statistically, college graduates have a better chance at getting a job. I recently read that the "unemployment rate for college graduates is 8.9 percent; nearly three times lower than the unemployment rate for workers with only a high school degree, which is 22.9 percent, according to a new report" (Puget Sound Business Journal, Jan. 6 2012).
In the next post we'll be discussing the other two points, including "Graduation does not mean the end of work."
Mark Stevens is a former seminary student himself and currently researches and teaches in the area of theological studies.