Arlene’s interview on The Underemployed Life. Part 2

If you missed part one of Arlene’s interview on The Underemployed Life, click here.

In part 2, Arlene discusses the “myth” holding back many college graduates, and offers advice for people unhappy with their job status.

TUL: In our last interview we spoke to several college students who thought this was a worse time to enter the job market compared to past generations. What do you think?

AH: New college graduates (especially liberal arts majors) have always struggled to gain a foothold in the job market. However, many college graduates are carrying way too much college debt. This limits their freedom of movement, and forces them to focus on making money, something which would otherwise not be their first priority.

Another truly unique challenge relates to the incredible pace of change, and the overwhelming array of options. Christine Hassler likens this to having a meal at the Cheesecake Factory. There are just too many choices, and too many things they’d like to try. Research tells us that more isn’t always better. At some point it’s counterproductive, because they are never completely happy with their choice. They’re always wondering whether they made the right choice. I tell them if they enjoy what they’re doing, and find the work meaningful, then they made the right choice.

Unfortunately the whole “follow your passion” myth has created this fantasy that there’s some perfect job or perfect career. As soon as something isn’t perfect they start looking for something else. I don’t know where this statistic comes from, but it’s repeated quite a bit, namely: that only about 20% of people have some innate, pre-existing passion to follow. The other 80% can search their souls ’til kingdom come and not find what they’re looking for, because they’re looking in the wrong place. Not all of the answers reside within; some of the answers are out in the world waiting to be discovered. There can be many right choices. Many college graduates enter the job market without the requisite skills or experience to make good career choices. They may need to actively add new skills into their repertoire.

There is a sad irony. While many of these intelligent and capable young adults struggle to find good jobs, many employers are concerned about talent gaps and shortages that put their organizations at risk. This can happen when college students only study what they want to study without regard for what the job market needs. My personal belief is that college should be a mix of studying things that you really find interesting, and taking some courses strictly because they have labor market value.

Let me give you an example. I was recently asked to evaluate career opportunities in the insurance industry. Not selling insurance, but working within the corporation in marketing or training or underwriting. What I discovered is that the average age of insurance industry professionals is 54, and that the industry will lose 400,000 jobs by 2020, mostly through retirement. They are desperate to attract college graduates. But they’ve been unable to attract this population because their industry doesn’t have a great reputation and/or because young adults assume that the work will be boring. It doesn’t have to be.

I think my job is to teach people how to make good career decisions. This is a trial-and-error process. You can learn a lot from your mistakes.

TUL: What do you tell people who compare themselves to peers who they believe are doing better career wise?

AH: I tell them about the Cheesecake Factory analogy.

TUL: There’s a lot of unused creativity and skills that are submerged when well educated people are stuck in bad jobs? What do you think it means for a country when roughly 23 million of its best and brightest can’t find meaningful work?

AH: There’s a shortage of good leadership and a real need for good leaders. What the “best and brightest” need to do is study the job market like it’s the most important subject they’ll ever need to learn. They also need to learn how to make good career decisions.

Read the full interview here.