Taking Root: Finding a Career after Graduating



The transition from student living to professional life is one faced by most every graduating college senior and while graduates today are entering a hectic labor market where employment is not promised, there are those able to dive headfirst into their first careers.


With one point of the floor director’s finger, Cynthia Michaels goes from college grad to professional broadcaster. All the countless hours spent reading news scripts in front of her bathroom mirror, meticulous resume revisions and the minor panic attack caused by the early morning crisis of choosing what to wear for her first time on air are all forgotten when the man holding the clipboard points to camera one. Sure, she is nervous, but who wouldn’t be? One ill-timed Freudian slip could mean the difference between being a newly hired college graduate and unemployed.


This is the reality that degree-touting grads are finding after they toss their caps at graduation. There is an enormous amount of pressure on students to get a job as soon as possible. That is proving harder in an economy oversaturated with laborers with current job market conditions limiting the opportunities available to unemployed workers. A report from McKinsey consulting firm found that 48% of employed college grads are in jobs that require less than a four-year degree.


Lloyd Hall is a part of the fortunate 52%. He just finished his first year of teaching at Harlem Success Academy II where he showed first to fourth graders the wonders of science through Teach for America, a non-profit organization focused on “eliminating educational inequality” in low-income communities.


“At first it was really overwhelming,” Hall says. “A lot of my growth has been because of my mistakes.”


This is coming from a man who did not make many mistakes during his college career. What his students don’t know is that before he moved to the Big Apple, Hall graduated from the University of Oregon with honors after maintaining a 4.0 GPA throughout his four years and was selected to be one of the 4,500 college graduates chosen from the record 46,000 who applied to Teach for America. 


He is thankful for the opportunity to be part of such a noble cause right out of college. “I think this job is incredibly rewarding. I don’t think there is a job that I could find that is as rewarding as this.”


He is right to be grateful. 15% of this year’s graduating seniors expect to earn less than $25,000 a year, but a third of recent grads report that they are making that amount or less. In Hall’s case, the experience and job security may be more valuable than a starting salary itself.


Though money is an important factor when choosing post-graduate work, some people like Scott Ames don’t have the luxury of choice. Ames, 20, did not graduate summa cum laude. He did not get the prestigious summer internship. He is not on his way to New York for his first job. He is in the middle of a community college education where he balances his 8 credits of night class with his 30+ hours he works at a mortgage-consulting firm in Lake Oswego.


Balancing educational advancement and a career is hard, but Ames has seen the effects of a limited income through his work. Much of his time at work is spent processing papers for residential and commercial foreclosures. “If anything this job has shown me the reality of the world out there,” says Ames. “Some people just run out of chances.” The fact that college graduates have double the average starting salary than their non-grad equivalent is one motivating factor that keeps him going to night classes in Portland. He knows every sleepy hour spent in class is one step closer to his future career.


Jobs are chances, in a sense. Employers take a chance and invest in a person’s skill in hopes of adding value to the business. Richard Bell is a headhunter in Lane County whose own job is finding the right people to fill job vacancies. Bell and his team are the ones combing through the hundreds of nearly identical resumes and cover letters to find those qualified enough to fill job openings for companies around the area. “Trying to stick out in a pile of resumes is tough,” says Bell. “But it is hard for us get a good idea as to who the applicants are with just a list of qualifications.” Bell advises newly graduated students to not let opportunities pass by and believes that any professional experience can open new doors in the future.


This was the case for our friend in New York, Lloyd, or Mr. Hall to his 150 students. Hall describes a recent lesson where he taught fourth graders what plants needed to flourish. Before delving into the details of what is required to make the seeds in their Styrofoam cups sprout he asked the class what they thought plans needed to grow. Of course the smarty-pants in the class shot their hands up and gave the right answers, but Mr. Hall heard answers like “patience” and “love” which were as correct as they were thought provoking.


Careers are like plants. You need to good place for your roots to grow into, be patient as you pay your dues and love what you do. It is these unexpected answers brought by his first teaching job that have Hall considering a career in education after his stint in New York is over next year. He would never have guessed he would want to become a teacher after college, end up calling New York home or think that fourth graders may be wiser than we give them credit for. “Reality is nobody knows and that is okay.” By seizing the chance Teach for America provided him, Hall has stumbled upon a calling that fills him with pride and purpose.


Some find it harder to be as passionate as Hall is with their own jobs. His work may not be as rewarding as teaching underprivileged children, but Ames still finds personal value in his own line of work. “I have learned a lot about the housing market and how to manage owning a house. So when that happens I will know to be way more responsible.” In the future Ames plans on getting his real estate license so that he can utilize the knowledge gained from his first professional job.


Nobody can really say what is going to happen in the next fiscal quarter, let alone year, but we can hope that the newly employed workforce follows recent trends and continues growing with the post-recession economy, even if it is the reason you have a job in the first place. “I do think about how a bad economy has given me a job,” say Ames. “Just goes to show you that there are always jobs out there no matter how things get. You just have to put in hard work and you’ll earn it.” At a time filled with so much financial uncertainty, taking your future into your own hands can transform your perspective of responsibility and self-purpose.


The employed still live through daily stresses but they are stresses they have earned and they can count themselves lucky to have them. Hall reflects at the end of his first school year where he is sowing the seed instead of being sowed. “This job has given me high highs and low lows but reflecting on the year overall, I am happy.”




Side Bar

Getting a summer internship is one way many college students gain applicable skills for when they are ready to apply for their dream job. 2013 University of Oregon graduate Hannah Everman will be starting an internship with KDRV Newswatch 12 in her hometown of Medford, Ore. where she will spend her summer shadowing different members of the KDRV team, learning each aspect of broadcast news production.


This is Everman’s second internship she has landed in the past two years, the first being at another local news station in Medford, but she enters this year’s venture more nervous, but more prepared for what lies ahead. She is treating this particular internship opportunity as a two-month long interview and looking to impress every chance she gets. “It is a little scary not having school to fall back on, so I am hoping [KDRV] will offer me a job after the summer is over,” says Everman.


For many people the term “intern” is short for “college student who makes copies and gets coffee” but for the ambitious, this is not enough. In the case of Everman, she plans on making the most of her time at Newswatch 12 by networking and learning as much about the field as possible.


Everman recommends pounding the pavement as opposed to lazily sending an e-mail to a company offering an internship “Don’t underestimate the power of knocking on doors,” says Everman. “It shows that you are dedicated and willing to talk right then and there about why you are interested in the position.”

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