Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lost or Traveling?

People think that millennials move around so much because we are lost and still trying to find our way. Obviously, this is partially true, but it's also a bit hyperbolic. "Trying to find your way" does not necessarily mean you are lost. My own post-graduate journey took me from the Appalachian Mountains to a resort town in Michigan and finally to Chicago. I didn't make these moves because I was lost and blindly grabbing at whatever opportunity I could find. In fact, most of my friends who have moved multiple times in the past four years have done so with an ultimate goal in mind. This goal may not be a definite tangible thing, but at least we're on a paved path.

My first post-grad move was for a job. I was lucky enough to land a well-paying seasonal gig with the National Park Service right out of college. Unfortunately, an emotionally unstable supervisor who was also my roommate and had an irrational distrust of twenty year olds quickly made my life pretty miserable and caused me to learn how to write my first Letter of Resignation. I moved back home, found some part-time jobs, and remained there for nine months before moving for yet another seasonal job at a resort town in Michigan. My next move was to Chicago for an unpaid internship (about the only type of position where you can get hired out-of-state).

For two years in Chicago, when employers looked at my resume, they commented on how much I had moved around. I tried to explain not wanting to live at home and how a seasonal position was the only way I could land a guaranteed job without taking the risk of moving first, but nothing seemed to help. All the HR managers saw was someone who, for the past few years, held jobs for 6-9 months before moving on to the next opportunity.

What was frustrating is that I felt like I, and all millennials, had no choice. Once out of college our only real option is a part-time job in retail, food service, or maybe as an administrative assistant. Are we expected to keep these jobs for years? Did these hiring managers really think it was more professional for me to keep balancing part-time positions at Talbots and the Holiday Inn Express rather than accept a 38 hours per week seasonal job at a luxury hotel on Mackinac Island (a job that also provided room and board, I might add)? It turned out, once I was in Chicago and out of the seasonal employment game, without years and years of experience at one job my options were limited to the Gap, Caribou Coffee, and more unpaid internships.

My situation was not unique. Most of my friends spent their first few years out of college moving from town to town and transferring from job to job. Some went the seasonal/unpaid internship route like me, while others tried moving to the city of their choice first and finding a job second. A handful stayed at home and tried to get a job from there, but were still forced to move from part-time position to part-time position (because part-time jobs do not always come with the best managers). They, too, faced the same discerning eye from hiring managers when they applied for full-time positions. What I always want to say during these interviews is, "Don't you think I would have stayed if I could? If any one of those had been a full-time job with benefits, don't you think I would have stuck around?"

Millennials are often criticized for our lack of work ethic and not holding down jobs for very long. I think this has less to do with work ethic and more to do with trying to make the best out of a lousy economic situation. Sure we could stay in one place, working at Starbucks and as a dog walker for years, or we could also keep looking for another job that may pay more or just simply be more enjoyable. Do I feel slightly ashamed that since college most of my jobs have not lasted more than a year and a half? Of course. Do I feel bad about each decision that ultimately (after almost three years of struggling) awarded me with two fulfilling part-time jobs in the city of my dreams? Not at all.

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