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How To Get A Job After College

First of all, you have to pick an employable major. The sad truth is that essentially none of what I am going to write will have any practical application if you do not major in a hard science or business, and it will probably apply more to business majors or would-be corporate scientists and engineers than the future Noble Prize winners of the world (who are already at MIT anyway, so I am not sure why they are consulting information about how to find a job).

Before I continue further, it is probably worth mentioning my the background and context of my own education:

I was the epitome of the highly-gifted-yet-terribly-under-performing/”the public education system has failed to nuture the great minds of the generation” high school student. I dropped out of San Diego State as a 19 year old freshman. I returned to college[1] two years later, this time in Santa Barbara. I slogged through two years of City College and decided to transfer to UCSB as an accounting major because the accounting classes I took were easy, my benefactor/grandfather approved of the business-related course of study, and also because at the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do and frankly wasn’t interested in much more than girls, beer, and weed.[2] In hindsight, I wish I had studied engineering, but the difficulty of the math was more than I was used to (part of my problem was that I had always been “gifted” and breezed through things rather easily, so when confronted with a genuine challenge, I often would take the easy way out), but in any case I eventually graduated, with a 3.0 GPA and a degree in “Business Economics with an Emphasis in Accounting”.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been employed most of that time, but the entire process of looking for a job and the economic and political malaise of the last 3 years has been nerve racking. To give you an idea of what to expect, let me return again to my own experiences: First, my naive undergraduate dreams of a $50,000 starting salaries (as promised to us by the aggressive recruiters of the Big Four accounting firms) were dashed immediately. I made less than half of that my first year working as a bookkeeper after graduating (the Big Four aren’t lying about the 50K figure, but what they neglect to tell you is that you typically work 60-80 hours/week your first year… so your hourly wage is somewhere in the $13-17 range). Once you have exhausted the limited resources of your campus’s career center, you turn to the job fairs and online sites like Indeed and Monster (good luck if you don’t have 2-5 years experience. Ironically you would be better equipped for today’s job market if you never went to school and just took a job as a data entry clerk instead), or Craigslist (1:50 legitimate job to scam ratio, but ultimately this is where I found my first job after college). The truth is that if you go to any school that doesn’t have instant name recognition (UC Santa Barbara is consistently ranked very high in U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings of colleges and universities, yet it doesn’t command the same sense of secure entitlement to a job as do the Ivy Leagues or UC Berkeley or even UCLA. Part of this is because of its reputation as a party school, but I think just as important is it’s marginalized role role within the UC system. The best UC schools are in the big cities: SF/Berkeley, LA, SD. The name “Santa Barbara” also gets easily confused by people outside of California with “Santa Cruz”, which is not a terrible school by any means, but certainly a tier or so below UCSB (I am already in preparation for the deluge of hate from the Banana Slugs now that I have opened the floodgates… oh wait, Banana Slugs are way too stoned to take offense).

In order to maximize your employability after college, you must prepare while you are still in college. You have to understand that college is so much more than getting “an education” and the classes you take and the lessons you learn (if you follow in my footsteps, you will get a free additional lesson after you graduate, a lesson in humility).While I was at UCSB, I personally did not have a complete appreciation for what is meant by a “college experience”. To me, the college experience was parties and good times. You go to class every now and then, and read some books and write some papers and take a test, and then at the end they give you the piece of paper and the Career Center gets you some job interviews, you make the decision between the higher paying job in Atlanta or the lower paying one closer to home in Los Angeles, and you are off on your merry way towards being a taxpaying, upper-middle class suburbanite who wears a tie to work and has a wife that likes to throw dinner parties with other upper-middle class suburbanite couples… we would drink bottles of wine that cost more than $15 as we gossiped about city council elections, kitchen remodels, and whether the Maldives or Seychelles were the better vacation spot. But that’s not how it works.

The truth is that a college experience is as much about socialization as it is about socializing[3]. The clubs and associations are where people go to meet their future colleagues and fellow aspirational suburbanites. It is where their post-college peer group has its nascence. The people who get elected to be the presidents and treasurers of these associations are already well on their way toward being in upper management, with their subtle and nuanced understanding of interpersonal manipulation and group politics.

While attending university as an undergrad, a student rarely has more than 12 hours a week of class time. It is supposed that a typical student studies for 2-3 hours outside of class for every hour in class, but the truth is that there are a great many students who study far less than this, if at all. Ultimately, the amount of time spent studying is inconsequential; it is the course grade that is important. While there is a correlation between the amount of time one studies and one’s grade in a course, most students whose parent’s are not first generation immigrants choose to maximize more than just the single variable, “GPA”. To these students, the amount of time spent studying is generally equal to the point at which the marginal returns to further studying starts to diminish. Finding this sweet spot, which allows for maximum consumption of both “fun” and “GPA”, can take years of practice, but generally by the time a student is upper division they have fallen into the typical pattern of studying just enough to get whatever grade they need to feel satisfied (often this involves an intense period of overcompensation near the end of the term, a.k.a. cramming). The point of this digression is that employers know all of this (they were once in college as well), and so they expect you to fill your time not spent studying with productive extracurricular activities and membership in student organizations. The best types of activities are the ones that signal to potential employers that you are deeply interested in the industrial culture of your perspective occupation, and also indicate your willingness to submit to a system; being a member of the Parlimentarians or the American Society of Chemical Engineers is infinitely more useful than being the founder/president of the Young Marxists or the Excursion Club (motto: We Do It Outdoors!). Being the Commissioner of the Gaucho Beer Pong League paid its dividends to me as an undergrad, but it is the type of office that is generally frowned upon by perspective employers at the IRS, Ernst & Young, and McKinsey & Company[4]. For those who took on the yeoman’s work of being secretary for the Future Business Leaders of America, their rewards were to come in the after(college)life[5].

Working while in college is the best bet to landing a job after college (extra bonus points if you work the job, become leader of the association, and get the 4.0 GPA). The difficulty is finding a job that is aligned with you course of study and future occupational plans. Most college students don’t know what they want to do until their junior or senior year, and most of the jobs available to college students are in customer service, which is practically worthless on your resume unless you want to manage future generations of college students as they train themselves for jobs in outerspace or in China. Internships can be a sweet gig if you can get one, and if you don’t actually… you know… need a paycheck, because your parents are rich or you went balls to the wall with student loans.

The afternoons (and sometimes late mornings, and definitely both early and late nights, and by extension of late nights, the earliest parts of some mornings) spent playing beerpong in my backyard, the time I spent working at Coffee Bean so that I would have enough money to buy concert tickets, the “networking” I never did at the Accounting Association meetings that I seldom attended… I guess it would be easy for some people to look back on all of that and have tinges of regret over being unemployed. But I am not one of those people.

The suburban fantasies of my undergraduate years were false dreams borrowed from a bullshit narrative that has been presented to us by Walt Disney, Ronald Reagan, and our high school history teachers. The American Dream is dead, it has been since before I was born (1984), and there is nothing wrong with that unless you have been reaching for it your entire life, thinking it was your own and not knowing that it was just a marketing ploy to brainwash you into becoming a suitable consumer, a piece of coal to be thrown into the furnace of the capitalist machine.

There is a whole world out there full of possibilities, and if you have been blindly walking down a path towards some idea of success that may or may not be your own, you may wake up one day and realize that the plan isn’t working, or that you are just bored. The job market is the worst it has been in 80 years. If you are capable and frustratingly unemployed, take this once in a century chance to do something risky, like the CEO’s in Silicon Valley. Write a book (or even read a book, that might be better advice for some of you), volunteer for a political campaign, go work abroad, audit classes at the local university, and instead of stressing out over being an unemployable Liberal Arts major, destined to a life of steaming milk or dipping fry baskets, do something to educate yourself about politics and economy, and take action to make change. Study philosophy. The dollars they make on Wall Street are really a form of spiritual poverty if you have an understanding about the nature of life… in fact, most of the dollars they make on Wall Street don’t really even exist at all, as the next financial crisis will show. Above all, the best advice I can give anyone in college today is to work hard at learning about yourself, and do the things that make you a better and more well rounded person. If you look at college as just a stepping stone towards a career, you are missing out on a lot that life has to offer, and chances are, when you do finally start that career and get those big bucks, there will be a lot of things that money can’t buy you that you will wish you have.

[1]*I am an American, and in our fine cultural tradition of overlooking subtle yet important distinctions, we tend to use the terms “college” and “university” interchangeably, with “college” being used more frequently in the abstract, as in “I am going to college”, and “university” being used when identifying a specific institution, as in “I am going to the University of Southern California”. Further complicating the matter is that technically most Universities are composed of many different colleges, so within the student body of a University it is common to hear students refer to the specific college of their attendance as a sort of proxy for their major or course of study. Identification with a specific college at a certain university is almost always meant as a status symbol, and the effect is exaggerated  at the more “prestigious” universities, and even more so in graduate study programs, where it is not uncommon for graduate students to completely disavow that the Hastings School of Law or Anderson School of Management is located on a University of California campus.

[2]*this might lead you to believe I was some sort of ignorant, overprivileged frat boy… quite on the contrary, I was nerdy, overweight, poor and unpopular in high school (all four liabilities I was able to overcome through diligent effort), which perhaps led to my overindulgence in the more rawkus side of the social environment that a university provides (rawkus does not seem to be a word that is recognized by any dictionary with either merit or authority; it’s only lexiconic usage seems to be as the name of an underground hip-hop record label that released a number of culturally significant albums in the later 90’s and early 00’s. Undoubtedly, this is the where and how of the word’s entrance into my own vocabulary. The meaning that I would like to convey by its usage is an adjective form of the word ruckus, “of or relating to a ruckus”. “Rawkus” is a less sensual and more disruptively violent synonym of “debaucherous”). The revisionist romantic in me would like to say that my sub-optimal GPA and general disinterest in my studies was a rebellion against backwards orthodoxy (I suppose that is true in a way), but in hindsight it is easier to make the case that I was just a kid who was overstimulated by the sex, drugs, and crappy rap music that were ubiquitous in Isla Vista circa 2005-2008

[3]*Please don’t think that you shouldn’t enjoy yourself in college. The people who work too hard and miss out on all the parties and hookups are missing the point just as much as someone who has a bong surgically attached to their face the entire time and has to visit Planned Parenthood every other weekend. You have to weigh the consequences of your choices carefully. If you are a demure nerd who has never gotten into trouble, you will probably benefit more from going out and getting drunk and finding someone to get freaky with than you will from one more night of studying or playing World of Warcraft. On the other hand, if you already had a DUI conviction before you turned 21 and are a DJ or are in a band, it is probably worth it to spend Thursday night studying in the library instead of taking $1 shots at the local bar’s “College Night”.

[4]*Organizing a monetized Beer Pong League with corporate sponsorship (and to a similar extent, being a self-employed marijuana sales contractor, an enterprise that I was taking quite seriously in my off-years between SDSU and UCSB) is actually more of a testament of entrepreneurial acumen than is being the President of some dinky college club, but large corporate employers (or rather the managers who do the hiring for these corporations) generally don’t want independent and creative thinkers. They assume you will get “bored” and be disengaged from your work (or these managers worry that they are hiring a younger, more intelligent person who will ultimately be their replacement). Large institutions have a startling tendency to recruit conformists who understand that acting intelligent and sticking with the herd is often more useful than truly being intelligent (or at least this is what I must tell myself so that I don’t cry myself to sleep at night). These impersonators often thrive in the Kafkaesque bureaucratic environment of a maturing corporation, but they produce little innovation, and ultimately do not add much marginal value to either their company or society. These kinds of hiring practices are part of the reason that Western enterprise is moribund , with the notable exception being companies like Facebook, Google, and other Silicon Valley technology companies. The general rule of thumb is that the closer a company is to its start up period, the more likely they are to take the “risk” of hiring truly smart people.

Likewise to the youth of the CEO: longer time lines allow them to be more cocksure about taking risks than the 58 year old CEO who is worried about his retirement and has a Board of Directors and quarterly earnings projections to satisfy (the short-term culture of Wall Street and its relation to the aforementioned destruction of American enterprise would be a fitting subject for digression, but the size and scope of that coconut leaves it to be cracked on another day.)

[5]*Actually, this is just an assumption. I am not in touch with any of these people (if I was, I might have a job right now, and by extension might not be writing this).

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