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The Tug of Truth

March 31st, 2010 ::

by Thomas Madrecki
cartoon of people jumping off a cliff like lemmings

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/ / CC BY 2.0

When I talk to friends and family members about future job prospects, there is a now nigh standardized list of ideas and opinions that seems to inevitably meet the air: “You should go to law school.”

Yes, as a trained journalist and devout academic scholar, I seem to have a knack for all things research-based and detail-oriented. And ever since I began to see America’s legal system in action, there has been a part of me that readily identifies with the profession and feels I could easily become one of the thousands of well-paid lawyers across the country.

At the same time, though, I must say there is some aspect of law school that strikes me as undeniably mundane and typical. To employ a clichéd description, I don’t know if anything screams “selling out” quite like attending law school. Of course, that’s my personal opinion – but to me, it is the sum of all things “safe,” “expected,” and “what your girlfriend’s parents might like their future son-in-law to do if he isn’t a doctor or a celebrity.”

If not law school, though, what course of action might best suit my talents and interests?

With a background in editorial decision-making and writing, not to mention a decent amount of print and web design experience, I’ve naturally focused on job opportunities within those sectors. But communications agencies are tough to break into and many require that potential full-time entry-level employees fulfill an internship post-graduation. Those internships are frequently unpaid and there is an upfront emphasis on the fact that interns may not – and, in this economy especially, chances are, will not – be hired after the summer months. The idea, of course, is that work-place competition and increased selectivity in turn engenders more successful paid hires in a tightly budgeted and relatively small industry. All of that is well and good, but even for the most confident of applicants, the idea of heading to a new city with no guarantee of long-term growth or a permanent job is a potentially worrisome hurdle to overcome.

Elsewhere in the communications world, truly viable job prospects seem few and far between. There are plenty of interviews to be had, even in this tough economy, but what is missing is an easily accessible pool of entry-level positions tasked with the type of far-ranging creative work in which I have an interest. I might be able to find work as a marketing associate or as a corporate communications assistant, but the degree of responsibility – how multi-faceted an opportunity is – entrusted to me would most likely be lacking if the average job description holds any truth.

The end result is a feeling on my part that accepting a job for the sake of having a job would be, much like law school, settling for something I don’t whole-heartedly want to do. I’m a passionate person, a devoted person, and a hard-working person – but I have to believe in what I’m doing, and I have to feel like whatever I’m working on takes full advantage of all my talents and mental abilities. Perhaps from a pejorative stance that makes me highly selective and/or slightly inflexible. On the other hand, I consider this potential weakness one of my greatest strengths: Whether in good or bad times, I won’t settle for anything less than the best.

That notion of “refusing to settle,” though, brings to mind perhaps my biggest fear about the “real world” and the job market. I’m a firm believer in the pursuit of happiness – in a quest for existential meaning and philosophical understanding. Some might even say that the questions of truth – What makes living worthwhile? How can man better his condition? How does one become a hero if becoming a hero is possible? – tend to dominate my thinking on a wide range of subjects.

And so, now on the verge of entering a consumerist, very non-philosophical world (in which the bottom line reigns supreme and one’s only goal is to fulfill the demands of his job), I am somewhat concerned that any job opportunity will require me to make a personal sacrifice – to X-out or subdue the Nietzsche-loving student, to replace the self-directed author and literary critic with a mechanical businessman removed from higher, more human devotions.

Which is better? Which is more immature – to obsess over truth or to obsess over completing menial tasks?

The answers to those questions are profoundly personal, and everyone has a different opinion to share. That much has been made clear to me while I’ve searched high and low for the elusive perfect opportunity.

As for how I’ll respond to such musings, I have yet to determine what I’ll do next. I’ve come to a cliff – it’s time to jump or run…

Thomas Madrecki headshotThomas Madrecki is a fourth-year Echols Scholar at the University of Virginia and the former managing editor of The Cavalier Daily newspaper. A true media chameleon, he hopes his extensive writing background and knowledge of various print/web design options makes him the perfect candidate for a career in brand management, communications, journalism, and/or public affairs. On the side, he’s also a former Dexter USBC High School All-American bowler (averaging about 225) and a budding, Nietzsche-adoring philosopher with a keen interest in existentialism and the pursuit of happiness. Make sure you check out his online portfolio!

The views expressed here are the author's alone and not those of Network Solutions or its partners.

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Posted in Job Search, Thomas Madrecki, WhatsNextGenY | 4 Comments »

  • gregwbrooks

    The good news: I ended up talking about this post with a dozen or so colleagues — all of whom are senior PR and marketing types across a range of industries. Most currently have direct reports; all have experience in the hiring process.

    The bad news: Nearly everyone had stories about the unfathomable spike in this… well, sense of entitlement is likely the correct phrase… among Gen-Y jobseekers. A number agreed that this blog post would get you spiked from consideration for a job.

    The good news, I suppose, is that it's doubtful any of us — a group that represents agencies, in-house comms, content development, government work and research — have sufficiently fulfilling work opportunities to interest you.

    Two thoughts:

    First, there is an overwhelming chance that your first job may not be all that fulfilling — and that's OK. Short of joining the priesthood or the Peace Corps, your first job is *only* about getting your second and subsequent jobs. Looking for rich and nuanced fulfillment right out of school doesn't make you a latter-day Tom Rath (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_in_the_Gra… it *does* make you look like the kid who won't play a pick-up game of hoops because you just know you're destined for the NBA.

    Corollary to above: There is an equally overwhelming chance that your first job will not have much responsibility — and that's OK too. The problem with hiring someone right out of school is that university life is a poor predictor of workplace success. The very things that you all but rolled your eyes at can be looked at through the lens of someone with real skin in the game: In “a tightly budgeted and relatively small industry,” we manage risk — including hiring risk. One way we do that is by spending relatively little on entry level jobs that “would most likely be lacking.”

    We do this not to offend the precious snowflakes who want to change the world, but because there are clients and equity holders with real money on the line, and we want to be smart with our resource decisions. So, no, there's not much responsibility in first jobs — but that's because, as I said, university life and grades are a poor predictor of workplace success.

    The global advertising market, by the way, is $600 billion; the global PR market is about $6.5 billion. Not sure what you'd think of as big if those are relatively small.

    OK, this got long winded — my apologies. The short version is this: Many of the issues you bring up are important, but right now you view them like Plato's shadows on the cave wall. You'll be in society, in work and pursuing the happiness you say you want for decades to come; the best way to maximize those pursuits is to quit viewing them from afar, and dive in.

  • kateperrin

    Every generation comes out educated and raring to go, ready to leave their mark and take the world by storm. They always feel that if only they could have the perfect job that provides challenge, reward and growth commensurate with what they perceive as their skills and abilities they would find meaning in life and know true happiness.

    Reality: you can't tell from the job description what hidden opportunities lie those seemingly meanial jobs open to you that you currently snear at. Life is full of surprises and work is life. Grab the job at the place most of interest and see if you can make it something more. Make contacts, learn, grow and move up into more there or eventually move on.

    A man saw people working as he walked along a road. He stopped a man carrying stones and asked him, “what are you doing?” The man answered, “I'm laying stones.” He came to another man carrying stones and asked him, “what are you doing?” This man answered, “I'm building a cathedral.” Pick up a stone and get started building a cathedral.

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  • Jessica

    I couldn't agree more with kateperrin and gregwbrooks. Here are my two cents on this topic:

    1) Your first job is just a foot in the door. It's a springboard for what you really want to do.

    2) The first job –really ANY job– is what you make of it. Want to do something that's not on the job desciption? Tell your supervisor! You'd be surprised by what opportunities may come your way if you simply ask for it. (And if you can prove that you're the right person to do it and how it will help the client/the company/etc., the more power to you.)

    3) We've all had to pay our dues with “menial” tasks. On the flip side, these aren't as menial as you might think. I can't tell you how many interns at my company have complained about doing what they consider “menial” tasks–i.e. research, building media lists, etc. But what they don't realize is that these tasks are necessary steps to providing a fully thought out campaign. PS, can you take those “menial” tasks to the next level without being told? THAT is what will get you ahead.

    4) As you grow and learn you will be given more responsibilities. You're never going to start out fresh from college with the same responsibilities as a seasoned pro–that's why they are a seasoned pro. But if you prove to your supervisor that you can handle the work and you “get it,” the more higher-level tasks you'll be given.

    As much as I learned in college and as much “experience” I gained through internships, the real experience came from my first job. I'm so glad I didn't jump into a job with high-level responsibilities straight out of college. I probably would have failed. I wouldn't have known how to handle certain situations and, more importantly, wouldn't have had the guidance my supervisor gave me.

    I will soon hire my first junior account executive (that's the entry level position at my firm), and I'm looking for someone who's willing to learn and is open to whatever tasks they are given. And as this person learns, grows and proves that they can take on more responsibilities, then I'm happy to give them more. I'm not willing to hiring someone that will sneer at the tasks I give them because they're “menial.”