90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:

Question 0

Do you feel stuck?

Kat working at Saloon in Davis Square.

In 2008, I graduated from one of the country’s top universities. Having spent the first six months after graduation looking for work in my field , to no avail, I realized that my timing in entering the professional world could not have been worse. So, I took the opportunity to develop my resume with more unique, “real world” experience that might give me a leg up on my competition.

I spent almost a year living and working in Buenos Aires, where I became a certified ESL teacher and through marketing campaigns and word-of-mouth established a loyal base of almost twenty students. I also worked as a bartender to develop my Spanish language skills, and I am now at a near fluent level. After some time, I decided to return to the U.S. to pursue a more permanent, professional career path.

That was two years ago and, while I have interviewed extensively by networking and taking advantage of even the most tenuous of connections, I have yet to find a professional job. I began my job search in the field of international education — high school and university study abroad programs, or non-profits that provide educational aid in underprivileged communities.

My focus has since widened to pretty much any job that has normal hours and benefits.

I have managed to maintain my financial independence by working as a bartender in the Boston area. The irony is that the longer I go without a professional job on my resume, the less likely I am to be offered one. Interviewers look at my resume and notice a rather significant employment gap. I still never know what to say when asked — “I’ve been bartending” just never seems to go over well.

In truth, I have developed some very useful skills over my years in the industry, skills that would probably get me the job if I could prove I had them from a source other than pulling pints. I am a strong communicator and saleswoman; I can multitask in my sleep; I don’t get overwhelmed easily; I am adaptable to change; I am comfortable engaging with people of diverse backgrounds. These are skills that would make me an excellent candidate for most of the positions to which I apply. Unfortunately, it seems it doesn’t count if this skill set is the result of years slinging drinks.

I am at a point where I don’t know what to do, except perhaps go back to school and add my own straw to the pile of student loans that’s breaking my generation’s proverbial back.

But there is still no guarantee that I won’t wind up just where I am now, only saddled with monstrous loans to pay off with my $2.63-an-hour-plus-tips wage.

I am afraid this generation has missed the golden age of the American Dream. Hard work and education simply are not enough to get you where you want to go anymore — in fact, it won’t even get you close. We need to be more creative, more entrepreneurial, more competitive, more dedicated. If I could share a piece of advice with my 2004 self, it would be this: Choose a path and stick to it. If you want to be an actress, to travel the world, to work for the World Health Organization, to be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer — choose. I couldn’t, and now I do something that was never on my list of things to do.

Kat is one of the two participants in Generation Stuck who are documenting their lives in audio form, in addition to text. Those stories will be broadcast on WBUR in November.


  1. Sophy at 3:15 pm, September 20, 2012

    Your last piece of advice really strikes home with me. I was also very driven and went to the one of the top art schools in the country. However, because I didn’t have a clear career path in mind (i.e. game design, graphic design, etc.) I think I was at a disadvantage when I graduated. I thought this was a very personal shortcoming and it’s interesting to hear someone else come to the same conclusion. I wonder if there are others out there who feel the same way?

  2. Genevieve at 5:50 pm, September 20, 2012

    Kat, I would’ve given myself the same piece of advice in 2004. I couldn’t decide on a major. I dabbled here and there with my curriculum and that is why I graduated later than I should have. I feel like by the time you’re a sophomore or a junior in college you already have to start networking for the right job. I should’ve graduated in 2008 but I ended up graduating later than that. And you’re right, because the world has become so competitive it’s not enough to work hard and get an education, there are so many more expectations that a potential employer looks for and it’s very difficult to stand out. I majored in Italian and now I wish I had majored in something like Economics but then again if I actually had done that I would’ve been miserable and kicking and screaming the whole time. I feel like my degree has very little value to it at this point.

  3. death2hr at 2:18 am, September 21, 2012

    Have you tried making lying on your resume? I couldnt get a job after college now 4 years later I am making $80000 cause I have supposedly a mba and asked my friend whos a manager at another company to say I was his employee.

  4. CircusMcGurkus at 11:16 pm, September 28, 2012

    Unfortunately, I do not hire people. But honestly, those of you in this project who have been more creative and resourceful are significantly more interesting and probably far more fun to have around an office than the folks who have picked a single path and stayed with it. Or, those who picked a path that is clearly not right for them or those who think they are far more skilled than they appear to be. I know that is not helpful in terms of employment and I know school loans are the scourge of the nation (truthfully, we would be far better off with apprenticeships combined with time to study on our own but the big university market -which is a HUGE employer would not really like that…and because they employ so many people politicians would not like to minimize them either. And yet they are not sustainable…) But, I think as you tend bar or Sophy who works at Ikea or Genevieve who works…everywhere… you are, as you point out, gaining tremendous skills.

    You also have a bit more freedom than the 9-5 grunts and it is not such a horrible thing. Life is to be enjoyed and if your field of study is enjoyable it will come around. In the meantime, that feeling of not really accomplishing anything – most of us have that, even when we are. But, you folks are saddled with unreasonable debt for your troubles which is just wrong on so many levels and it pushes you to almost feel like failures when you are really so very much like previous generations in thoughts and hopes.

    Our very silly, but also strangely wonderful, society – and that in Europe – we are collapsing on our greed at the same time that many things are getting easier to do in a faster way. So, there is not much room for new folks to get “real” jobs without creating them. It is not the recession, though, it is growing pains. It is a shift. In the “good old days” that never existed, American industry was protected by high tariffs making importing goods far more expensive. The market at home was huge and there was less need to export – plus a lot of our export ventures did not go very well. So, jobs were plentiful and even with union labor costs, the prices seemed reasonable because the imports were so dear. We now insist on full free trade and we mostly have it so the cheapest run economies are wide open for American investment and local labor to make products we do not really need anyway. This artificially drops our expectation of what goods actually cost so we have grown accustomed to buying far more than we need and still crave more. Yet, we do not want to buy if the price point seems unfamiliarly high.

    In the interim we were told that labor unions make America less competitive so we are doing our best to dismantle them in order to provide cheap labor like they do in developing nations even though that is impoverishing and depressing our own society. We are, in short, learning that we cannot have our cake and eat it too. But we do not like the lesson. So we keep trying to change the curriculum.

    It is hitting you like a ton of bricks because even though it was on its way in your parents’ day and later, it has actually arrived now. We cannot afford who we want to be and who we have been. Yet we have a very correct, in my view, desire to protect our weakest and most vulnerable and this is a growing group. So, the reasons we are fraying at the edges are actually partly noble – we refuse to abandon those in need. Sadly, it is partly disgraceful – in that we went to war without figuring out in advance how to pay for it. American history scholars and buffs will explain that this is precisely the impetus of the American Revolution. The taxes we did not want to pay were to cover war debts.

    I think your point about being more creative is true; but also figuring out how to monetize that creativity in a world where – your generation is wonderful about this – we want to protect the environment and do the right thing and not harm other people or animals in the process. Every other “success” failed those tests – they came on the backs of slaves and underpaid workers and global environmental hardship,or financial shenanigans etc. So, creative farming practices are really taking off and historic preservation is a growing field and forensic accounting is important. Cleaning up after the mess we left you is the future. At least for now.

    Sorry for this long post – but you should know that while this has everything to do with you, you are not at all responsible and you were not unreasonable to believe what you believed when you went to school. However, you start where you are. Where you are is a totally different place from the one you thought it was. And, you do sound very smart and creative and resourceful so I am guessing you will do well, whatever path(s) you choose to follow.