As the spring semester begins, students are scrambling to secure summer internships and post-graduation positions. The pressure is especially high for seniors, who will soon be completing their final semester and walking through the Van Wickle gates into the dreaded “real world”. For those of us seniors who still don’t have a job lined up after fall recruitment, it can be a stressful or even anxiety-inducing experience.
Financial uncertainty is perhaps the most stressful element of the job search. Most graduating students need to find an immediate way to support themselves economically or pay off student loans, and the lingering uncertainty surrounding job prospects and potential salaries can be unsettling. Not only do these students need to figure out where they are going to live, they also need to consider their budget and living expenses.
Yet financial anxiety is not the only motivating factor for graduating students. There is also a pressure, particularly for Brown and other Ivy League students, to go on and do something extraordinary after college. Every day, we are bombarded with news of students going on to attend top-tier graduate schools, receive Fulbright grants and take prestigious jobs at multi-million dollar companies. While Brown has a reputation for being one of the least competitive Ivies, post-graduation plans can create competition between students and, in turn, affect students’ levels of self-confidence and self-worth.
To seek validation, some students mass apply on job boards, seeking opportunities solely based on the organization’s prestige. But this is a problematic mindset to have. If you ask people who have graduated in recent years, most admit that their first job was not their favorite or most glamorous job; it was mostly a learning experience or a way to break into an industry. Thus, while taking on the challenge of finding a first job, students shouldn’t be basing their decisions off of the “prestige” or “reputation” of the organization. They should be looking for opportunities that offer room to learn and grow and that foster a positive work environment. Oftentimes, this environment can be found not in a big-name industry hub, but in a smaller organization where young employees may play a larger role.
Another issue that can limit students in their job search is a tendency to turn down post graduation internship opportunities because they don’t pay well or lack a professional title. After all, why settle for being an intern when you can hold a full-time position? But what few people realize is that these internships often open doors to entry-level positions at the end of the summer and can lead to new connections within the field. In addition, if you ultimately don’t like it, you only need to commit to three months there, compared with a year or two for many full-time positions. Unfortunately, too many internship programs are low-paying or only offer stipends, but the networking and opportunities they offer can result in more rapid advancement in the field, allowing them to pay off in the long term. Other career paths may only be accessible through internships. For example, many ad agencies, magazines and digital media companies hire recent grads for internship roles with the intention of training for them for a full-time position at the company, rather than using a more traditional entry-level recruiting process.
Unfortunately, CareerLAB and other on-campus resources do not effectively expose students to the variety of career paths open to them, which only makes the job search process more stressful. Instead, CareerLAB takes a narrower approach to the job hunt. They bombard students with messages about career fairs, the Handshake recruiting tool and constant reminders about consulting, finance and technology opportunities, only heightening the pressure to land a traditional, high-stress position. Not only can this tactic discourage students from looking outside of the most popular companies, but it can also deter them from considering internships post graduation. CareerLAB distinctly separates the job and internship searches, targeting their internship resources and events at underclassmen, while only marketing full-time jobs to seniors. This is a troubling binary to follow, as it’s not inclusive of alternative career paths and reinforces the unrealistically high standards set for Brown students. CareerLAB also fails to offer adequate student support in calculating their financial needs after college. Cover letters and resumes aren’t the only things students need help with; figuring out the appropriate salary to cover living costs is just as important, if not more, to students’ job searches, and this should be given more attention during career counseling sessions.
Moving forward, the University should work towards broadening conversations about the job search. Perhaps instead of having seasoned alumni with top roles and degrees come speak at campus events, they can invite younger alumni who can speak about navigating their first job or two in fields outside of consulting, finance and technology. CareerLAB can also make more of an effort to diversify the job fields and companies they promote to students and help demystify stereotypes about pursuing a post-graduation internship.
By showing students that they are not alone and making the job search a more manageable task, the University can help make senior year less stressful and more enjoyable — as it should be.
Samantha Savello ’18 can be found applying to jobs (and internships!). She is a former employee of CareerLAB. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.