Where is my paycheck?

BY: CHRISTINE HARMON

College graduates not only find it difficult to find the right job after graduation, but many become dissatisfied with their career choice once they discover the intense realities of the working world. Two weighty questions that loom in the distance are, "Where's my paycheck?" and "What do I really have to do to get it?" 23-year-old Mike Barnes, a UCLA engineering alumnus from the class of 2005, continues to struggle in his job search more than a year after graduation.

"I work at Ralph's grocery store down the street from my house," he stated. "I've worked there for three years now, and none of my co-workers believed me when I told them I got my degree last summer. I had to bring it in to prove it."

Despite his professors' assurance that he and his classmates would choose where they wanted to work after college, Barnes has had little success despite feeling that he's paid his dues.

"Most people who get their degree in engineering, especially from a school like UCLA, don't have to try hard or intern before they're hired," he said. "At least that's what I thought. I paid a lot of money to get a good education - the type of education that should merit a high salary."

If this isn't alarming enough, engineering degrees top the list of most sought after majors by employers hiring recent graduates recorded by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Also, according to a national survey by NACE, more than 90 percent of employers describe the job market as good, very good, or excellent.

NACE cites a rebounding economy and retiring work force as reasons why employers predict a 14.5 percent increase in hiring of college graduates. This is very promising when taken into consideration at CSULB alone; 6,333 students graduated in the 2005-2006 school year, and that number has risen annually over the past five years.

So where does an undergrad start? Wayne Tokunaga, career counselor at CSULB's Career Development Center, explains avoiding devastating surprises after graduation begins with active involvement in shaping a career early and researching all options with friends, professors, advisors, and most importantly, the Career Development Center.

"We help students figure out what they want to do in life," Tokunaga said. "Then, when they figure that out, we help them achieve it."

Manuel Perez, director of the Career Development Center, averaged about 9,000 individual appointments last year. While 9,000 students may seem like a large number, that still leaves well over two-thirds of the student population not utilizing the resourceful Career Development Center to their advantage. Perez expressed that the Career Development Center's main goal is to make students aware of their options and opportunities that exist and also to help them utilize all the resources available to find success after graduation.

But finding a good job is not the only dilemma graduates face. It's realizing the right job can be a frustrating and allusive task.

This is what happened to 26-year-old Will Tonn, a psychology and business administration graduate from Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"When I was in school, I had no idea where to start," Tonn said. "I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I really like psychology and wanted to do something in that field, but it just didn't work out."

Tonn is currently an insurance adjustor for Progressive Auto Insurance. Before this, he worked for Family Solutions where he ran a group home.

"I got that job about five to six months after I graduated," Tonn said. "It stressed me out. I enjoyed it at first, but once I got promoted, everything changed. It got really stressful. I did it for a year, and that was it. I started working for Progressive after that."

Tokunaga believes graduates run into this problem by developing a skewed perception of their career choice from television and movies. He also said that with our generation, "once we master something, we get bored with it easily and want to do something else. However, society is adapting to the way people are thinking these days."

Tonn agreed that expectations in college don't always become reality in a career choice.

"I was over not being paid well and being stressed out all the time," Tonn said. "I discovered the other side of the profession which was working with people who've had really hard lives. They've been manipulated their whole lives so that's what they did to me. I think that asking someone what they want to do so young is really messed up. People should travel first, get out there, and figure out who they are and what they want to do in life before making that decision."

"Sometimes students have a hard time focusing," Tokunaga said. "They think, based on the experiences of their parents or grandparents, they are going to only work this one job. They think they are going to do that for the rest of their lives. Realistically, however, in today's market, that's not going to happen."

According to an article in Time Magazine, "Who Needs Harvard?," people typically change jobs seven or eight times in their lifetime. Dissatisfaction with careers and constant change is a phenomenon that is not necessarily a new occurrence.

Karen Croft, a 1981 marketing graduate of CSULB, thought she had it made when she obtained a job with Xerox shortly after graduation. After serving as vice president of the American Marketing Association and president of the International Student Association she was more than prepared to take on the challenge. One thing she was not prepared for, however, was learning about and becoming ultimately dissatisfied with the corporate climate.

"Whatever you expect from your major, know it's going to be different," Croft explained. "It's always a lot tougher than you imagine. The key is you have to be flexible, you have to roll with the punches, and you have to learn from the experience."

The daunting issues behind tying career success with happiness can be overcome. The solution is to be smart by being prepared.

"The first way to be prepared is to figure out who you are and what you want to do," Tokunaga informed. "The second is the whole job search process. We strongly encourage students to not wait until the last moment when it comes to internships. The earlier they start - the better. It's not just about finding experience, but finding out if this is really what you want to do."

"We do what we can to try to educate students about careers," said Peggy Murphy Haden, program coordinator for the Career Development Center.

BeachLINK is also a great job and internship search tool to help. Plus, students can interview with employers on campus during Career Development Center events.

"These interviews are the real thing," Murphy Haden explained. "It's the only time I can think of, in your professional life, that this can happen.

It's awareness, or a lack thereof, that plagues the students at CSULB according to Murphy Haden. But if we, the students, can take advantage of the resources at our fingertips, the possibilities are endless.By helping you discover who you are so you can choose a major:

 Determine your interests, personality and values

 Discover the skills you excel at

 Determine your work style and the environment that would best suit you

 Career Resource Library

By helping you find the job you are looking for:

 Learn how to write a resume and cover letter

 Workshops and career counseling

 Internships and job search strategies

 BeachLINK

 Job fairs/on-campus recruiting

By helping you land that job:

 Learn how to prepare for interviews

 Practice interviews and videotaping to give you the employer's perspective

 Services are offered to alumni for a year following graduation