ESSAY- A plea: Don't ask this UVA grad about his job

Most people would think twice before asking a casual acquaintance about a private matter. For instance, you wouldn't ask a co-worker how his divorce was shaping up or ask a friend's daughter why she failed English. These topics are stressful and embarrassing.

So before UVA unleashes a few thousand hungry new grads into the job market in May, now is a good time to consider why it is that everyone feels comfortable approaching recent college graduates and asking, "Have you found a job?" 

It's the inexorable, cringe-worthy question that people just can't help but start asking graduates the second they are handed their diplomas. My friend's parents, my parent's friends– it's all they want to know. "Now what?"

I could always tell them the sad truth: that I'm back at home, living with my parents, dealing daily with the humiliation of rejection, being told that I don't have the "senior skill set" required for the jobs I wanted and that now I've begun the painful, pride-swallowing process of lowering my standards and begging for jobs I don't want in the first place.

But of course I don't say this. I don't have to. Behind a forced smile and clenched teeth I tell them, "Still looking." The rest is implied. 

Then comes the part of the conversation in which everyone becomes an expert on what's best for you. People either respond by telling me how wonderfully their children's or grandchildren's job searches are going ("He's interviewing with Google!") or by imparting one of two pieces of contradictory advice:

• The first is that I shouldn't be afraid to take a lousy job right out of college because, who are we kidding here, your first job won't be your dream job. This is followed by a lengthy account of their own early job tribulations and the invaluable lessons it afforded them ("Kids today lack humility, anyway").

• The second equally unsatisfying suggestion is not to sell myself short by taking a job I'm not interested in because, by God, life is too valuable to compromise. This speech usually includes clichés about self confidence and grabbing life by the horns and is reliably followed by a personal tale about the storyteller's own perseverance and unwillingness to take no for an answer ("I walked right in there and I said...").

The rare– although not rare enough– third piece of advice is to give up bourgeois affectations like career advancement and move to an obscure Asian country like Bhutan and soak up all that life has to offer ("The culture is so calming."). I generally disregard these types (potheads) because most of them still don't have jobs.

Regardless, the conversation ends with me forcing another smile and doing an about-face, most likely on my way to the Corner to complain about this conversation over pitchers with my friends because every single one of them has been on the receiving end of this conversation.

What advice is there for us college grads with too much pride to go back behind the register at Panera Bread? Who are too inhibited to take hostages in order secure a dream job? Or who don't speak Dzongkha? 

We need real advice. How do I make my philosophy major sound useful without sounding like a gasbag? What are some good tips for preventing flop sweat during an interview? When all jobs require at least 1-2 years of experience, how do you get experience?

Unless you hold the answers to questions like these, my advice is not to give advice.

Simply avoiding the subject all together is even better, especially if you are only politely making small talk. My hope is that this will become a new standard of etiquette.

Assume that if we want to talk about our job searches (which only happens once they have ended) then we will bring it up ourselves. The topic is exhausting for recent college grads.

Be especially considerate of UVA graduates who, as a species, are already burdened with an unrealistic sense of entitlement. We don't need to be reminded of how poor the job market is. We know about the economy. We aren't reassured by your job search war stories, and we certainly aren't comforted to know that your son just landed a sweet new job with a signing bonus.

From now on, let's play it safe and talk about our respective opinions of, say, foreign cars or bottle versus draft beer. Hell, I'll talk religion and politics– anything but my damned job search.


Turner Hay, who grew up in Charlottesville, graduated from UVA last May. He often pretends to be worldly and informed but having never lived anywhere else, concedes that he has no valid opinions on matters outside the 'ville.


1 comment

I will forever be mindful of posing these questions to recent college grads.