DAVID GREENE, host:
This year, even a college degree is no guarantee of a job, as commentator Emma Jacobs of Youth Radio has learned. In the past, many students had a position lined up before the end of senior year. Well, Emma graduated from Columbia University last week with a history degree and without a job.
EMMA JACOBS: My job search began nearly four months ago. I've sent out dozens of cover letters and applications, mainly for jobs without prerequisites. A history major like me doesn't come with many specialized skills besides research. These days it's difficult to convince people to take a chance on an entry-level hire.
(Soundbite of phone ringing)
JACOBS: Hi, Ryan. This is Emma Jacobs...
That's me on one of the handful of interviews I eventually landed, but still no job. There was one week when I got three rejections. It felt like I'd hit a brick wall. I'm not questioning my abilities, but I have begun questioning my choices, knowing students with engineering degrees are still finding jobs. And many of the positions I am equipped to fill are disappearing.
Alex Kaz is another new graduate without a job. He majored in physics and has been applying for teaching jobs like Teach for America, which usually hires recent graduates. This year competition is tougher.
Mr. ALEX KAZ: We had, like, the one-day interviews and that's when everyone comes in. So many other people were laid off: a lot of people were, you know, former bankers, lawyers, attorneys, etc. You could see that clearly this was not their first, like, career choice and many of them, you know, worked on Wall Street for X number of years, or worked in a law firm, or you know, marketing, I don't know, whatever. And they were sitting amongst us in a program that was originally geared towards people who were leaving college and trying to get them to get to come to the classroom.
JACOBS: Now Alex is feeling a bit lost; so am I. After all our hard work, it's difficult to face the reality of a big blank space now that we've finally graduated. I'm not devastated but I'm exhausted. Before graduation, my father kept asking if he should bring the car to take my things back to Boston. I wasn't sure how to answer. If I found a job, I wouldn't have to move home. So I just said, I don't know.
At least I can commiserate with my friend Avigail Oren about our job searches. We give each other pep talks. At this stage of the game, it's all about shifting our expectations.
Ms. AVIGAIL OREN: I would hate to say that I'd take any job. I definitely have had to rethink. I started out looking for jobs that paid $30,000 to $40,000 and now I'm looking definitely from 20 to 30. And I would say, though, that it's been difficult - hurry up and waiting. You know, we want to get you in for an interview right away, right away. You hustle in. Two weeks later, you're sending follow-up emails saying - are you still alive? You know - hello?
JACOBS: I've been there. At one small nonprofit the hiring manager told me up front that other applicants had master's degrees and years of work experience. Avigail says she gets it.
Mr. OREN: Ultimately I am a new entry into the job market. Despite all of my unpaid internship experience, despite all of my volunteer work and activities, I've never gone into an office at 9:00 and walked out at 5:00.
JACOBS: And for us, it may be a while longer until the 9-to-5 job materializes. I finally decided to take one more unpaid internship and stay in New York for as long as I can afford it. I'll have to get temp jobs to pay the rent, but at least when my father asks about my plans, I can tell him not to bring the car.
GREENE: That commentary from Emma Jacobs was produced by Youth Radio. And you can comment on it if you'd like at the opinion page of NPR.org.
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