Ruth Bass: Job hunt challenges all new grads

Monday October 22, 2012


Three years were happily or unhappily spent studying the architecture of ancient Greece, the wonders of Michelangelo's ceiling, the life span of a fruit fly, the psychology of the criminal mind and the philosophies of Kant and Sartre.

And suddenly, senior women at our small liberal arts college in Maine were spending hours in classes devoted to typing and stenography.

You're not doing it, they asked, as I continued on my merry way to a major in English, a minor (unrecognized) in history and a smattering of other courses to satisfy my curiosity.

It was not my goal to become a secretary, an executive assistant, a receptionist or a clerk. I wanted a "real" job, a job for a college graduate.

But the reality back then was that college women didn't have a pile of opportunities out there, so it was very smart of my classmates to acquire mechanical skills that might spell paying the rent and eating until they were married, having children and depending on some guy's salary.

For them to ask what has become "Jeremy's question" during this political season was quite reasonable: "Will I be able to get a job when I graduate?"

So they prepared, unashamed of the fact that the postgraduate job might be a lowly one that didn't require a college degree at all.


So, Jeremy of Long Island isn't the first to worry about getting a job after graduation. It's a senior tradition for brooding. It's not new.

At one point in recent years, thousands of people with bachelor's degrees opted for grad school because they couldn't get jobs. It's not a phenomenon of this economy we're in right now -- it happens perennially.

When our firstborn graduated, wanting to be a sports journalist somewhere, he ran up against a wall of women.

Newspaper editors were bound to hire women over men for their sports departments because they didn't have any, and the pressure was on. That was a tough job market -- for a male.

The second born was a female looking for a newspaper job. She'd have been in the right place two years earlier, but now the editors had caught up a bit, and being a woman was no longer a way to get a high heel into the newsroom door.

She applied all over the place and three months after graduation took the first offer she received. She had a couple of advantages.

She had worked on the college paper, covered sports for the local newspaper in her college town and had interned at her hometown paper in the summer. She was prepared -- but that was a tough market also.

No. 3 came along a number of years later, armed with a Ph.D. in American history. She did her research and learned that a total of 60-some possibilities existed in the world if she wanted to teach American history at the college level.

She applied in Ankara, Cairo, New Haven, Plattsburgh, etc., etc., etc. She applied everywhere. And within a few months, she was on board as a tenure-track assistant professor at a university. Another tough market.

So Jeremy of Long Island, casually promised a job by Gov. Mitt Romney if he becomes president, is not unique. The year 2012 is not unique. Finding a niche you want in the job world, after high school or after college, requires an intense search and, if you're lucky, someone to feed you while you look.

After-graduation jobs don't fall out of the sky now, and they never did.

Ruth Bass's first job was as police reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Her web site is


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