|Deal With It: When Your
Collide With Reality
|Paul Hettich, PhD, DePaul University (IL)
Each year, the Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI) of
Michigan State University and the MSU Career Services Network publishes Recruiting
Trends. The 2012–13 report contains a wealth of data from employers,
internship/ co-op program managers, and recruiters. It addresses employer
hiring preferences by academic major, recruiting strategies, jobs for new
hires, starting salaries, internships, and many other topics. I encourage you
to access Recruiting Trends 2012–2013 at www. ceri.msu.edu (also link to
Publications for reports on several job- related topics). At the conclusion,
principal investigator Philip Gardner offers his final thoughts, including this
highly disturbing observation.
After four years of rough seas, the college labor market will probably
not reach calmer waters for several years. The most troubling aspect of this year’s report is the consistent and
damning rhetoric from employers that students’ sense of entitlement, expectations, and level of
is totally out of sync with the reality of the workplace [emphasis added]. These
Bachelor’s degree students who graduate this year entered college at the onset
recession and have had plenty of time to be coached about their
expectations, encouraged to engage in professional experiences, and prepared to
handle their first job experience. Yet, students remain as naïve as always
about focusing on their future (p. 41).
I have heard this damning rhetoric from managers complaining that most
recent graduates display an entitlement mentality, (i.e., unrealistic
expectations of receiving—not earning—challenging jobs, rapid
promotions, and high pay). Such rewards must be achieved through
skilled, consistently hard work and maturity (i.e., paying your dues)—not received by virtue of owning a
college degree. Similarly, I have also heard faculty complain about
inappropriate attitudes of beginning graduate students.
While college graduates naturally have high expectations of their
education, the current labor market is sending a very demoralizing message:
Sometimes the only available option is a dead-end, part-time job with low pay
and no benefits, from which you work your way up the hierarchy or change jobs.
Yet the greatest obstacle you might face in your first post-graduation job may
not be boring tasks and inadequate compensation (however rampant) but yourself;
that is, the attitudes and unrealistic expectations Gardner mentions. Based on
more than 50 visits to campuses last year, Gardner (2012–13) concluded that
career service staffs are working hard to prepare students for the future.
However, although some faculty feel responsible for promoting workplace
preparedness, other faculty do not believe that career preparation is their
responsibility. Gardner maintains that "All students need the capacity to face
life’s challenges head on instilled in them during their college years. Then
the complaints about their attitudes and behaviors just might diminish (p. 41).” In short, if your teachers do not discuss workplace
readiness (it’s not a Liberal Arts tradition), then you must take the
initiative and prepare yourself.
Why Do Students Have Unrealistic
The answer to this question is multifaceted, and I will explore just a
Family and self-expectations. Since elementary school,
you were expected to complete college to become professionally and personally
successful. You likely internalized these expectations into your growing sense
of self-identity. Consequently, it’s normal to assume that hard work, family
support, and investments of time, effort, and money will produce a high ROI
(Return on Investment) soon after college. However, there are realities
beyond your control.
Economic realities. While you were immersed in
the daily life
of a typical high school and college student, the world’s
economies, politics, technology, and labor structures were creating changes
threaten traditional assumptions about the importance of
a college education.
Rick Newman (2010) identifies four such assumptions. First, "A good education
leads to a decent job and a satisfying lifestyle” (p.15). The assumption may
remain valid but expect the possibility of encountering several jobs,
hardships, and perhaps more education before reaching these goals. According to
the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, "nearly half
American college graduates in 2010—some three years after the recession
began—were underemployed, holding relatively low- paying and low-skilled jobs”
(Bidwell, 2013). Having a graduate degree does not guarantee full-time work
either. What are the alumni employment statistics for your school? If the
reports are glowing, inquire if the data combines full- and part-time jobs and
if the jobs require a college degree. In Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The
Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It (2012), Peter Cappelli
The reality is that the lower unemployment rate for college graduates
comes from the fact that college graduates can also do the jobs that require
only a high school degree,
and arguably do them better, so they win the
competition for these openings. When applicants far outnumber job openings, the
overqualified bump out those only adequately qualified (p. 26).
Before these discouraging comments tempt you to reconsider college,
remember Cappelli’s subsequent remarks: "Being able to complete a college
degree is a useful signal of a person’s ability to persevere and complete
tasks, even if the skills gathered in college are not relevant to the job in
question” (p. 27). Remember also
the differences in average annual earnings
(based on 2009 data)
of $58,613 for baccalaureate graduates and $39,506 for
persons holding an associate’s degree (U.S. Census Bureau as quoted in
Hettich & Landrum, 2014).
The second traditional assumption regarding education
and careers that
Newman challenges is that hard work leads
to higher incomes. Not necessarily!
During a recession, many organizations expect more work from employees
for little or no added compensation or simply for the security of keeping
their jobs (forget about work-life balance!). Similarly, strong work ethic
is a key attribute employers seek. If you know how to work consistently
hard at a task, regardless of its attractiveness, you have an edge over those
who cannot. Finally, many economists maintain that wages have not increased
for the past three decades when adjusted for inflation.
Newman’s third and fourth assumptions are, respectively, "Devotion to
your career will produce a comfortable retirement. And each generation will
be better off than the one that came before” (p.15). Talk to a family member
or neighbor who was terminated or substantially downgraded after 10, 20, or
30 years of service (often losing pension and health benefits) and you will
question the third assumption. Tune in to news about the U.S. national debt,
threatened entitlement programs, global warming— the list goes on—and you may
doubt the fourth assumption.
You are "Gen-Me.” Much of the damning
rhetoric from employers that Gardner speaks of is directed to the generation
or culture in which younger-age students have developed. Jean Twenge (2006)
coined the term "Generation Me”, or "Gen-Me,” to refer to individuals
(including herself) born between 1970 and 1990. She describes a generation
negatively impacted by growing up with
the self-esteem movement, declining
social norms, and lenient parents. Gen-Me’s were encouraged to develop high
expectations, put themselves first, and believe they can do anything they
In The Narcissism Epidemic (2009), Twenge and W. Keith Campbell
examine a specific set of expectations called entitlement: a state
mind characterized by "the pervasive belief that one deserves special
treatment, success, and more material things” (p. 230). Twenge and Campbell
reported in a 2007 survey of 2,500 hiring managers, that 85% indicated
younger workers "feel more entitled in terms of compensation, benefits, and
career advancement than older generations” (p. 235). Also, many young workers
feel entitled to regularly arrive late to work, leave early, and place personal
concerns before job.
In fairness, not all Gen-Me’s are narcissistic, and entitlement
unique to young adults. Some corporations have created programs for new
graduates because of the energy, talent, and tech savvy many bring to their
new jobs. In short, the Gardner (2012- 2013) message about employers’
"damning rhetoric ... of students’ sense of entitlement, expectations, and
level of preparedness ...”
(p. 41) seems to be falling on the deaf ears of
students and faculty in spite of continued discouraging employment
statistics. How can you anchor your "great expectations” to reality while
still in college?
Expectations Management 101
In the following paragraphs, I present recommendations that
collectively help you establish appropriate attitudes for post- graduation
jobs. The further you are in time from graduation, the more likely you can
act on this advice.
"Know thyself ” much better than you do now.
career plans develop through serious self-exploration and awareness that you
are still a work in progress psychosocially. Begin your life/career journey
at your school’s career center.
a) Complete self-assessment instruments and discuss
the results with a
b) Learn how to write a resume, interview, network, and
c) Discuss your progress with family members, advisors,
d) Read back issues of Eye on Psi Chi and gradPSYCH.
What conditions or attributes of a job are important to you?
annual survey, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE,
2012) asked students to identify those employer or job characteristics they
would consider at the outset of a job search. The results revealed that
nature of work placed well above five other attributes which finished relatively
close to each other: compensation, coworkers, reputation, organizational
culture, and stability.
When queried about attributes they deem important when considering particular
job offers, students’ top 11 responses included (in rank order)
a) opportunity for personal growth,
b) job security,
d) good benefits,
e) recognition for good performance,
f) clearly defined assignments,
improving the community,
h) opportunity for creativity,
j) opportunity for advancement, and
k) high starting
Which of these attributes are most important to you and why? Given
that nature of work (at the outset) and opportunity for growth (particular
job offer) lead these lists, you should acquire diverse work experiences
during college and understand what aspects of work are most critical to you.
Work! Get a job, especially if you have never held one,
no matter how much financial support you are receiving. According to Job
Outlook 2013 (NACE, 2013), 91% of employers prefer to hire applicants with
work experience. If you have a job, take it seriously. Become mindful of the
skills required of its tasks, your coworkers and your interactions with them,
and the organization’s communications patterns, culture, and methods of
to a changing economy. Learn how to accept constructive and
destructive criticism, respond to challenges, become flexible, and work
reliably and competently under stress.
Strive to develop the attributes employers seek most in a candidate’s
resume (ranked from most to least frequently mentioned in NACE, 2013):
b) problem-solving skills,
c) written communication skills,
d) ability to work in a team,
f) strong work ethic,
g) verbal communication skills,
i) computer skills, and
According to Jon Keil, Director of Operations at Salem Group (a staff
augmentation firm), applicants must be prepared to discuss how, why, and where
each skill they claim has been demonstrated; listing them on a resume is not
enough (personal communication, February 27, 2013). What actions can you take
now to strengthen your skills? Most attributes are taught in varying degrees in
your coursework, but do not expect faculty to discuss them because teachers
usually focus on course content (i.e., theories, concepts, research). In short,
use your job thoughtfully as a laboratory for personal and professional
development to the extent possible.
Internships. As you probably know, employers give
significant weight to internships. However, with so much to say about
internships within limited space, I strongly encourage you to consult this
partial list of resources: your academic advisor, career center, alumni office,
and local employers; websites such as www. psichi.org, www.ceri.msu.edu,
www.naceweb.org, and career books by Hettich and Landrum (2014); Landrum and
Davis (2010); and Morgan and Korschgen (2014), to name a few.
Job/career related coursework. Employers expect graduates
to enter the workplace with strong team, problem-solving, written, oral,
technology, and analytical/quantitative skills (see NACE list above), so
complete courses that promote these skills sets. Chances are you will work in a
business setting, so enroll in economics, management, marketing, and finance
courses. Consider a minor or double major with technology, business, health
sciences, and similar programs where a psychology major combined with an
applied field may provide flexibility and an edge. Some courses will challenge
you, but it is far better to "pay forward” now than to discover your writing, speaking,
or technology deficiencies in your first post-college job.
Get actively involved in
extracurricular and volunteer activities. Most employers are as concerned about your
interpersonal skills as your academic abilities; leadership leads the NACE list
above. According to NACE’s Job Outlook 2013, when employers must decide
between two equally qualified candidates, they consider (in rank order):
a) leadership experience;
b) academic major (for specific skill sets);
c) GPA (usually 3.0 or above);
d) involvement in extracurricular
e) school attended;
f ) volunteer work;
g) foreign language
h) study abroad.
You will likely use your interpersonal and team skills daily in the
workplace; leadership gains importance as you progress. It is far better to
develop your interpersonal abilities in the relatively secure environment of
college organizations (even if by trial and error) than in your job where poor
"soft” skills lead to early career setbacks.
Other major campus resources include alumni office for mentoring and
internships; counseling services for managing personal problems (before they
become unmanageable under workplace pressures); residence life for a resident
assistant position; and student affairs/development for training in interpersonal,
time, stress, and money management skills. Finally, pay close attention to
national and international events because they can impact the economy,
government, labor markets, and your job.
William James believed that the greatest discovery of his generation was
that human beings could change their lives by changing their attitudes. He said
"If you can change your mind, you can change your life.” Employers’ "damning
rhetoric” of graduates’ unrealistic expectations—attitude issues—has been our
focus. NOW (not after graduation) is the time to begin establishing realistic
attitudes and expectations about your future employment by following the
suggestions above. One final observation: Expect the possibility that you can
do everything correctly to prepare yourself for the workplace and still not
succeed—at first. But with persistence and a positive attitude you will
Bidwell, A., (2013, January 28). Millions of graduates hold
jobs that don’t require a college degree, report says. Chronicle of Higher
Education. Retrieved from
Cappelli, P. (2012). Why good people can’t get jobs: The
skills gap and what companies can do about it. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton
Gardner, P. (2012-2013). Recruiting trends 2012-2013. East
Lansing, MI: The Collegiate Employment Research Institute and the MSU Career
Services Network. Retrieved from www.ceri.msu.edu.
Hettich, P. I., & Landrum, E. L. (2014). Your
undergraduate degree in psychology from college to career. Los Angeles, CA:
Morgan, B. L., & Korschgen, A. J. (2013). Majoring in
Psych? Career options for psychology undergraduates (5th Ed.), Boston, MA:
Pearson Education, Inc.
National Association of Colleges and Employers (2012,
December 5). Student survey: Key employer/ job characteristics throughout
the job search. Retrieved from http://www.naceweb.org/s12052012/
National Association of Colleges and Employers (2013). Job
Outlook 2013. Bethlehem, PA. Author.
Newman, R. (2010, March). Surviving
the American makeover: How to stay afloat—and get ahead—when the old rules no longer apply. U.S News & World Report,
147(3), pp. 14–16.
Twenge, J. M. (2006). Generation Me: Why today’s young
Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled—and more miserable than ever
before. New York: NY: Free Press.
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W.
K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York, NY: Free Press.
Paul Hettich, PhD, Professor Emeritus at DePaul University (IL), was an Army personnel psychologist, program evaluator
in an education R&D lab, and a corporate applied scientist—positions that created a "real world” foundation for his
career in college teaching and administration. He was inspired to write about college-to-workplace readiness issues by
graduates and employers who revealed a major disconnect between university and workplace expectations, cultures, and
Author Note: I am grateful to Jon Keil and Camille Helkowski for their comments and suggestions regarding this article.
Copyright 2013 (Volume 17, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the
International Honor Society in Psychology
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