an alternative for bored students/grads who can’t find jobs

The New York Times had an article on Thursday about college students and recent grads who are finding that the work world is looking a bit different than they’d planned:

The well-paying summer jobs that in previous years seemed like a birthright have grown scarce, and pre-professional internships are disappearing as companies cut back across the board. Recession-strapped parents don’t always have the means or will to bankroll starter apartments or art tours of Tuscany.

So many college students and recent graduates are heading to where they least expected: back home, and facing an unfamiliar prospect: downtime, maybe too much of it. To a high-achieving generation whose schedules were once crammed with extracurricular activities meant to propel them into college, it feels like an empty summer — eerie, and a bit scary.

… Across the country, there are countless tales like that of Morgan Henderson, a student at the University of San Francisco, who, along with friends, planned a big road trip to Las Vegas this summer. With so few of the friends finding jobs, they downgraded plans to a road trip to Reno, then to no road trip at all. They’re spending time watching DVDs at one another’s houses.

Or Kathryn Estrada, a high school senior in Hialeah, Fla., who has no summer job after Circuit City, which employed her during the school year, went out of business. She is finding that even this early in the summer, attempts to while away the hours playing Scrabble and Cranium have grown stale. “We all just wish school would start so we would have something to do,”she said.

Um … Has no one thought about volunteering? Instead of getting bored trying to pass the time with Scrabble and DVDs, you could help where it’s needed (and for many nonprofits, it’s needed now more than ever), plus give yourself something to put on your resume that’s going to look a hell of a lot better than empty space.

I have to thank my mom here, who would never have let me sit around like this. Before my sister and I were old enough to have paying jobs, my mom required us to spend our summers volunteering — and we did. I volunteered at the local library (where I enjoyed overhearing a parent tell her toddler son that he wasn’t allowed to read Curious George books because he was a bad influence, something that amuses me to this day), at a vet clinic (where I discovered I was wrong about wanting to be a vet), and as a candy striper at a hospital (where I discovered I hated candy striping). I thought she was totally tyrannical and ridiculous to require this, especially since all my friends were spending their summers at the pool. But I have a work ethic now, something I definitely was not born with, plus I’ve continued to volunteer on-and-off ever since, and her being a hard-ass on this issue probably had something to do with that. If nothing else, it gave me a head start on understanding how the work world functioned, something most of my friends didn’t get until a lot later.

(That said, for the record, I’m a big fan of lounging about unproductively when/if life allows you to, but (a) the people in this article are complaining about boredom, and (b) since they’re facing a highly competitive job market, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do what they can to make themselves stronger candidates.)

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Recent graduate here. The main problem I'm having is I think I've done too much volunteering and haven't gotten enough tangible skills. I'm trying to enter into digital marketing and have the know-how, maintain a blog, have had an internship doing it, but in comparison to everyone else, my experience is sparse. I've completed Americorps, spent countless hours volunteering in various organizations, etc., but it doesn't seem to matter in the business world. Any advice?

  2. Erica*

    AAM – I agree. Why some of these kids aren't considering volunteering, I don't know. I was also bothered by this line: "Curfews and household chores that seemed natural at 16 can seem oppressive at 20." Sure, a strict curfew might be a bit much, but if you're getting free room and board, I don't think it's too much for the parents to expect these adult children to do some work around the house. Would they rather dust and do laundry, or split the mortgage and power bills??

    Anonymous – not sure where you live, but check out I often see postings on there looking for volunteers for office jobs. That would be a great way to learn some more tangible business skills. You could also look for people in your industry on LinkedIn and do some networking that way. Use any connection to them as an opening to introduce yourself: alumni clubs, industry groups, etc. They may be able to open some doors for you. I've done this, and have gotten an excellent response rate.

    Also, make sure your blog is appropriate if you plan to mention it as part of your skill set, because someone may ask to see it. See AAM's post from last Thursday for what not to write about. ;-)

  3. Steve*

    Semi-recent here as well.

    I think the point is that it's a gut shot when you think you've "done the right things" so to speak by getting your degree, etc. and yet you still can't even get a food in the door.

    Most of us aren't so entitled that we feel we should be running a company within 3 years, but right now a lot of us feel like we can't even get an opportunity to prove ourselves at the lowest rung.

    I realize complaining about this is like whining about the sky being blue — that's just how it is.

    But as a matter of hindsight, I'm starting to believe there's a lot to be said for reforming college advising so students are more aware of what it takes to compete and don't emerge so shell-shocked. I don't think you can blame most 19-year-olds for not really thinking about that big picture quite yet.

  4. Laurie*

    What if we had two conversations.

    1. Recent graduates don't vault into meaningful work, right away. It's sad but true. Accepting cruddy work is a way to learn other skills: humility, patience, & quiet/subtle leadership skills.

    2. Volunteering is the same way. You can't come in and retool a website or rebrand an organization in the first few months of your experience.

    Life takes time. We think of our college experiences as the end of our education and the beginning of our careers (& the time when we make money). That's not true.

  5. Charles*

    I would not recommend reading the New York times to get any unbiased "news" or anything else for that matter.

    The Ol' Gray Lady ain't what she used to be. Think of Jason Blair, etc. They look for "facts" or quotes to fit whatever the slant of the story is that day. The Truth be damned if it doesn't fit their Upper West Side worldview.

    So, why think that young folks aren't voluntering simply because the New York Times says so?

    Oh, wait, they are refering to the demographic that the Times usually tries to target. People who wouldn't be caught dead doing "work" that is beneath them anyway.

    I mean, really, other than the elites in this country who has parents that paid for their first apartment or bankrolled trips to Tuscany? I think plenty of young people today are doing the right thing when it comes to a work ethic. But then maybe I just know the "wrong" young people.

  6. Aswin Kini*

    I am a regular reader of your blog although I don't comment. You have been providing some very good advice to people over the past few years. I would appreciate if you could give tips to other HRs and Managers on how to do useful resource management. I see that nowadays, American MNCs and their counterparts in India tend to read too much into recession and believe that downsizing is the only way of cost-cutting. Living in a country like India where people wanna work in US MNCS, I have been seeing quite a lot of attrition of late, especially some companies that simply downsized inspite of showing 30% profits.

  7. Antoon*

    Or, why not make volunteering your actual job? There are people in the world that need your skills and smiles. Join the Peace Corps! (Shameless, I know. But hey there's still plenty of time to watch DVDs out here.)

  8. Rebecca*

    Who the hell are these parents who were about to bankroll starter apartments and art tours of Tuscany, and who are fine with their kids spending their whole summer loafing? Not any parents I know.

    The Times is a great paper, but its perspective is not representative of the majority of Americans (and probably not even of the majority of upper-middle-class Americans in the Northeast).

  9. class-factotum*

    Yeah. What "well-paying summer jobs" are they talking about? When I was in college, I lived at home during the summer. At 7:30, I left the house to teach swimming for four hours. I was paid minimum wage plus a dollar. Then I lifeguarded (and cleaned the bathrooms) for 8 hours. That was just minimum wage. I taught swimming M-F. Lifeguarded T-Sunday. So whatever the hours come out to.

    That money was used to pay for my books and my weekend evening meals during the upcoming school year. (For whatever reason, our meal plan didn't cover Sat and Sun supper. Not so bad, because the food was awful.)

  10. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous, I think you got great advice from Erica and Laurie.

    Erica and class-factotum, yes, I totally agree! My parents always made it really clear that if I was living at home, I was going to contribute in some way — and I resented it at the time (because I was a brat), but in hindsight it instilled something really useful in me.

    Steve, I love your idea about reforming college advising; I think colleges are falling down on the job by not more realistically preparing students for what they'll need to know to succeed in the few years right after graduation.

    Laurie, your "life takes time" point is so true — and I think really nonintuitive when you first graduate and feel like you're failing if you don't find success immediately.

    Charles and Rebecca, not sure that my personal experience indicates anything, but I was pretty solidly middle class but still had a lot of friends in high school and college whose parents paid for their first apartments, overseas trips, etc.

    Aswin Kini, thanks for the nice words! I don't write a ton about downsizing because it's an area I have less experience with (which is lucky). But there are lots of other good bloggers talking about it, like the Evil HR Lady, for instance.

    Antoon, Peace Corps actually isn't volunteer work (they get paid!) and is highly competitive, but point taken!

  11. class-factotum*

    Antoon, where are you serving as a PCV that you are watching DVDs? I was thrilled to find books in English when I was a volunteer and spent a lot of time knitting in my free time because I was so bored. DVDs were definitely not an option, although I could have gone to the town square to see "The Lion King" in Spanish because it played for about 20 weeks.

    I also took my own toilet paper to work, but that's another story.

  12. Evil HR Lady*

    I totally agree that curious george is a bad influence. He's always doing something bad, but then gets rewarded in the end.

  13. Jayne G.*

    I'm just another recent college grad. Facing boredom-Yes. What am I supposed to do to improve my employability? I already have a job that pays the bills (which have recently decreased since I moved back in with my mother). I would like to get a job that uses my skills and my new degree but I'm intimidated by all the comments I'm hearing that this is the worst time EVER for college grads.

  14. ross*

    The biggest misunderstanding here is that it's not about boredom, or apathy, or lack of trying. I'm not among the population that is arguing with their parents about curfew, I'm trying to find a way out of my parents house to stop from being a financial burden. I'm not looking for a volunteer position, I need a job so I can move out, start paying my student loans, and leave my parents with their sanity.

    I feel like the general idea being perpetrated is that we're biding our time, looking for the right job, and need something to do in the interim. I spend all day every day pouring over wanted ads, internet job postings and making calls. I am desperate, ashamed, frustrated and feeling helpless; not bored and watching DVD's.

  15. home job*

    I remember my younger days when worked on summer. These days are gone and I see graduates having problems finding a season job. And if they find some, they need to invest a lot more energy than I used to.

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