Settling for second best
Oliver Bentley finished his classes for broadcast journalism in May 2000 — and is now working at Starbucks.
Bentley, who first came to USF in the spring semester of 2004 as an exchange student from Perth, Australia, expected he would have a better future in the United States than in Perth.
“I wanted to diversify my degree and gain an edge against other journalism students,” he said.
Bentley finished his coursework at USF and spent nine months after graduation traveling the world. He then returned to be with friends here. But Bentley sold his car before leaving the United States and spent most of his savings moving back. Consequently, he needed a job. After searching and sending out resumes, his journalism career search fell through and he accepted a job offer at Starbucks.
“I would rather work in broadcast, but I will take what I can get to survive,” he said.Daniel Van Hoose, the assistant director of the USF Career Center, said Bentley’s dilemma is not unusual.
“For so many (students), it turns into a matter of economics because usually people can only go a certain amount of time without some kind of income, and if their desired job doesn’t materialize, then they will start looking at other, more high-demand industries where the employment process tends to move along a little bit quicker,” Van Hoose said. “Sometimes they’ll end up (like Bentley).”
Proactive versus reactive job searching
“When we talk to people who seem to be having difficulties with finding employment, we start looking at what are the activities that they’re involved in: What are they spending time doing? What is it (and) what are the activities they are involved in that they classify as being looking for a job?” Van Hoose said. “And usually there are some things that the job seeker could be doing that perhaps they weren’t aware of or don’t know about, so we’ll try to teach them those skills.”
Van Hoose said most people have difficulty focusing on the job search and trying decide what they want to do. He said that although it sounds like Bentley didn’t have that problem, “The next thing to look at is: Is the candidate using proactive or reactive strategies?
“And many times,” Van Hoose said, “job seekers are using reactive instead of proactive strategies.”
He defined reactive job-searching strategies as looking in the classified sections of newspapers, searching the Internet and sending out resumes and cover letters without a follow-up plan.
“Those methodologies aren’t typically effective or are not effective very quickly,” Van Hoose said.
According to Van Hoose, the most successful proactive method is networking, which involves talking to people in the desired career field. He said that although it’s the best way to find a job, it’s also the least used. He said only about 10-15 percent of people actually network.
“It’s not the most comfortable job-search method for most people because they feel like the networking conversation needs to be one of requesting someone to hire them, and that’s the question that you don’t want to ask when you’re networking,” Van Hoose said. “The best approach to networking is talking to people about, getting their advice — like how did they get to the position that they are in, what would they recommend you do, who would they recommend you talk to, and you just keep setting up these informational meetings with people.”
He said that people who do that most often get job leads or will know someone else who might have a job lead for a person.
“(But) sometimes, just even through coincidence,” Van Hoose said, “they will run into opportunities in some other fields that are more prevalent and end up in those jobs.”
To take a job or not — that is the question
Van Hoose said it’s a person’s choice whether to take a job in a different field — one that they might not have particularly sought-after but is a good place to start.
“If you’ve been looking for three, four months, and you have been using proactive techniques, and you come up with a job offer that’s maybe just a little bit off of dead center, and you’re running out of money, then the answer is probably (to accept a job outside your career field) because you can say you’ve given it a reasonable effort to get a job that would be more to your liking,” he said. “(In that case), it just seems to be a difficult job market at that point in time, so you may need to have a plan B, a plan C and be willing to do that for a year or two until the job market changes some.”
Van Hoose said even if students get stuck in an unwanted position, they should try to learn from that experience and get stabilized financially. He said it’s much easier to find a job if students are already working.
“That tends to put you in a stronger position,” Van Hoose said, “because now you’re not in that situation where you have to take something that wouldn’t be right dead center on what you wanted to do. I mean, why do that again? Stay where you’re at until you can get what you’re looking for.”
He said students may not have that leverage right out of college, so they should try to be flexible and get some experience “under their belt.”
Students should be realistic coming out of college, Van Hoose advised.
“A lot of college graduates who don’t have a lot of professional experience in their field will have aspirational mismatch — that is, their expectations will be very, very high, and they don’t have a lot of factual information yet about the reality.”
Van Hoose used salary as an example. When students see a particular career has an average salary, they shouldn’t expect to get the average salary for that profession starting out. Professionals with two to 10 years of experience skew the salary average higher. Van Hoose said that graduates should be aware of that when researching salary information.
Another aspiration mismatch Van Hoose sees is people expecting to get distinguished positions right out of college.
“I’ve heard it before in technical areas where some technical people want to be a system analyst,” he said. “Well, a system analyst is a fairly experienced person. They’ve already been through being a programmer, being a lead programmer, being a project manager … it’s several rungs up the ladder of that particular profession, and they may think that they’ll get that in a couple years. But when they actually get in the workplace and look at who the people are in their organization that are system analysts, that aspiration mismatch will be brought back to reality because they’ll begin to learn ‘Oh, yeah, these analysts have been around her for seven to 10 years.'”
Back to reality
Bentley doesn’t plan to stay at Starbucks forever, but he says it’s a good start.
“I chose it because it’s a social environment. I serve old professors and friends,” he said.
He has also scored irregular work at a public relations firm in Tampa. “Not part-time or full-time,” he says. But, it’s a start for him until he can get a broadcasting job or can afford to go to graduate school.