“Take a risk on the youth”

My friend Traci has a marvelous post up on her blog about the challenges facing the fresh crop of college graduates, An Open Letter to ‘Generation X.’ She writes:

“Stop offering unpaid internships and ‘entry-level’ positions that require at least two years of experience. Stop hiring twentysomethings to fetch your coffee and Xerox pages for you. Give us a chance to learn. Give us a chance to grow. Don’t toss us to the curb after we give you our all as interns.

Take a risk on the youth, and if we manage to fall into the stereotype you think we are–entitled, spoiled, lazy–then by all means fire us. But don’t not open your doors.

We didn’t go to college and invest in a future to be told we’re not good enough.”

This rang very true to me, enmeshed as I am in the disheartening hunt for full-time employment. All too often, I’ve visited the career website of a company I admire, rejoiced to see a section for “Recent Graduates,” and then discovered that they offer nothing but unpaid internships. I’ve combed through reams of interesting postings tagged as “entry-level,” only to find that I meet all of the qualifications except the first on their list: “two years of experience in [extremely specific field].” Who knew that experience in the muskrat belittlement management industry could be so vital?

In the last three months, there has been a spate of interesting articles about the legality of unpaid internships. For an internship to be unpaid and legal, there are six federal criteria that must be met by the employer; for instance, the training must be similar to what an intern would learn at a vocational school, and the employer must not gain immediate advantage from the intern’s activities. If these are not met, then it is illegal for the internship to be unpaid. Nonetheless, unpaid drudge-work internships are common and sought-after, and many interns are reluctant to remark on negative conditions in order to avoid burning bridges within their industry. This aspect of the system is broken, but it is nonetheless the prevalent system.

With my student loan payments already begun, I’ve looked at a few in-state internships with companies I idolize, but mostly I’ve been stalking the wild full-time job. I know that I am competent and intelligent. I just dearly hope that the people reading my resume will give me the chance.

12 thoughts on ““Take a risk on the youth”

  1. Yes. This. Even as a 27 year old with three years full-time experience and a college degree, I was looking for entry level jobs because that was the only thing that would hire me. It was a joke. Now, pushing 30 and with a masters degree, 4 years full time and 8 years part time work experience, I’m taking the kinds of jobs that we were told to expect after college.

    Broken system, people. Broken system.

  2. Beat up the Boomers first.
    A lot of Gen X is not in a position to help you.

    and work your network. Do your friends and acquaintences know what you’re looking for, so perhaps we can help?

    Best wishes.

    1. I’m not sure if you read all of my friend’s post, but I think her point — and mine — is an earnest entreaty for Gen X (and Boomers, or, more to the point, anyone in a position of hiring power) to give us a fair try, and not to reject us out of hand because of our age.

      Times are challenging for everyone, for certain.

      I’ve been putting tentative feelers out into my network. Slow work, but hopefully it will pan out. :)

  3. What’s really broken is the economy. Employers could never have pulled this shit in the booming 90s. I remember how desperate companies were to hire someone, anyone, to the point that many criteria were tacitly removed from the hiring process. It didn’t matter what field your degree was in. It didn’t matter if you didn’t demonstrate your stated skills! It was like the later housing bubble, in which banks were begging to be lied to by uncreditworthy buyers.

    By the same token, an eventual job-seeker’s market is the only thing that will truly fix the problem.

    In the meantime, I think the only way to get away from these exploitative practices is for candidates to say no en masse. If companies discover they can’t get workers for free, they’ll change their behavior. It’s usually hard to do this when you have little negotiating practice, and it’s always hard to make common cause when you’re competing with others, but what’s the downside to walking away or unionizing? It’s not like you’re losing a paying job.

    I really hope that “No, I’m sorry, I don’t do uncompensated work” becomes the standard reply to an unpaid internship. In the meantime, good luck with the search!

    Anyway, I know that you’re looking for paid work. I’m just ranting. Stay strong; don’t listen to the nonsense. Perhaps in a few years there will be a crop of class-action law firms suing employers for internship law violations, like last decade’s crop of firms profitably suing for unpaid overtime.

    OK, I’m taking off my grumpy hat now. Good luck with your search! You are smart, competent, personable, and responsible. Any employer would be clamoring for you in a sane market. I hope such a market comes soon.

    1. Thanks for the rant! Interesting stuff, all. I wonder if there is ever a happy medium where neither employers nor job-seekers are the markedly more desperate ones.

      I’ll cross my fingers for, and minutely contribute to, the movement of “No, I’m sorry, I don’t do uncompensated work” — although I must admit that if I could afford it, I’d still consider doing unpaid internships for a few special companies. (And that’s why unpaid internships are still around.) And I do do unpaid volunteer work for super awesome projects, but that’s a horse of a whole different color.

      There is perpetually a “these damn kids!” thing going on! I bet one could even track down Victorian tracts and cartoons about it, if one could figure out the right search terms.

  4. By the way, when I was in high school we were all being told how Generation X were a bunch of slackers, who had decided to stay with their parents or malinger in grad school or to do some crazy unpaid art project or slum it in India due to the lack of good jobs in the late-80s/early-90s recession.

    Hmn, where have I heard that rhetoric since?

    People respond to incentives. That’s no less true of employees than it is of employers, although, in the former case, the results seem more benign.

    It’s ironic that Traci perceives her generation to be the target of the same stereotpyes Gen X was tarred with… by Gen X. Maybe it’s a case of adults always having a “those damn kids” mentality.

    Anyway, it’s as much nonsense now as it was then.

  5. It’s disgusting, but unsurprising, that businesses driven primarily by profit motive take advantage of the skills of interns as a cheap (and illegal) way to advance their business. The bad economy makes it worse. I don’t know how people expect a person to get two years’ experience when there aren’t opportunities to get two years’ experience. To you and your friends in the same boat: hang in there.

    greaspre money

    1. Agreed on both points. There seems to be a tiny tide of people stepping back and saying “this unpaid stuff is not okay,” so perhaps it will grow into a real movement eventually… but there’s a lot of inertia and fear to bypass first.

  6. When I graduated in 1989, I ended up in retail and then in clerical for over 10 years. There seems to be a cycle. If only we had graduated in the time of the cycle when college graduates were in high demand. Keep trying. You are super intelligent and I want your skills in action.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kim! That’s really nice to hear. I shall keep trying, and will hopefully get lucky. :)

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