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My Entry-Level Trap

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By Zach Sinemus

I entered my freshman year at Swarthmore College in the fall of 2006 with wide eyes and high hopes. My goal was to receive a liberal arts education that would prepare me for anything; I'd major in philosophy and become an excellent thinker, a blank slate that a company would be eager to write on. What's not to like about someone who has spent four years learning how to think critically?

Fast-forward four years. I've recently graduated, having accomplished my goal of learning how to really think about pretty much anything.  Towards the end of those four years, I spent a lot of that time not only thinking about Wittgenstein or Zizek and the like, but also about where I wanted my career to go.

Monster.jpgI figured that, being trained at thinking about things, I'd be a natural teacher. I applied for Teach for America but unfortunately ran into lower acceptance rates than almost any college in America -- less than 10 percent of all applicants were accepted. I followed that up by applying to Philly Teaching Fellows and ran into a hiring freeze. Since I hadn't gone to school for a teaching certificate or education degree, with those two rejections went my teaching aspirations.

Abandoning the idea of teaching for the time being, I did what any media-saturated twenty-something has been "sold" on doing -- I turned to job web sites like CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com to help me land a job. I created my profiles, uploaded my resume and listed my supposed strengths in April -- plenty of time, I thought, to secure some job before graduation.

After following the required steps, I was ready to finally browse the web sites for jobs. I naively believed that not only would I be able to find a good amount of jobs for which I was suited, but also that employers would be searching these job sites for resumes and profiles like mine. And so I browsed. At first I searched through all local jobs in industries I liked - I held up hopes for education still, so I kept that box checked and I included others, such as legal and banking. My first search yielded a decent number of results but quickly I realized the search left me looking at jobs I wasn't quite qualified for.

My next search would be a bit more advanced, as I added additional criteria such as "Bachelors Degree" and "Full Time." Further down the list came the critical criteria. There I revealed my lack of experience by checking the boxes that read "Less than 1 year" of experience and "entry level." 

At this point I noticed an interesting discrepancy; there were more "entry-level" jobs than jobs that required less than one year of experience, about two-fold in fact. How does that work? What sort of entry-level job requires years of experience? They are, after all, entry level. I soon realized that my hopes for quick employment had died.

Monster informed me that there were only 26 jobs entry-level jobs requiring less than a year of experience in every industry in Philadelphia. That wasn't enough even to employ the 29 students in my Theory of Knowledge class. The nation's largest job search engine wasn't capable of finding enough jobs to employ a single class at a small liberal arts college.

Since that fateful April search, I have done countless more - all with similar results. What I have learned is that while there are 1,500 jobs in the Philadelphia area for the college educated, almost none of those potential employers are actually willing to train. They all require experience.

 I spent four years in a top school learning to think critically only to discover that nearly every employer would rather I have spent those four years in the mailroom. The same is true for any number of my fellow recent graduates. While we spent four years pursuing the degree that everyone advised us we'd need, we apparently failed to get the 3-5 years of experience that 98% of jobs require. Except for sales jobs that offer no salary (but ever-reliable commission!), the prospects of finding an entry-level job in Philadelphia are slim to none.

With that I issue a simple question to employers: how does one propose a recent college graduate go about attaining the initial years of experience that none of you are willing to provide?

 

Zach Sinemus is still unemployed, wondering exactly how to get enough experience to qualify for an entry-level job.

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