MIAMI — Maria Hernandez never thought she would be managing a clothing store. Hernandez felt confident that when she graduated from Florida International University's School of Hospitality and Tourism in May she would land her dream job of working for an event-planning firm.
But for Hernandez, one of the 1.5 million undergraduates who are colliding with 1.85 million more experienced job seekers, balancing expectations with reality has become a necessity.
"It's good to have something no matter what it is," Hernandez, 22, says of her part-time position at White House/Black Market. "At least I'm getting management experience."
Hernandez and other new college graduates who make up Generation Jobless are finding the way to compete in the worst job market in 25 years is to take work they otherwise would have dismissed — part-time positions, tutoring gigs, secretarial posts — anything to have some income rolling in.
Employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer grads in 2009 than a year ago, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
"They are discovering they have to be open to any opportunity," says Diann Newman, director of student services with FIU's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Everything in play
Newman says when an on-campus recruiter arrives, students interview, even those who previously might have been uninterested.
For some, shifting expectations means looking for jobs where other people are not and staying open to jobs most people would avoid. It also means considering different industries, lower pay or relocation.
Christopher Torres, 21, likens his experience to tolerating the appetizer until getting to the main course. Torres just graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor's degree in political science. He works four afternoons a week for a tutoring company and spends much of his time interviewing again and again for sales jobs at Best Buy and Blockbuster that pay just above minimum wage.
"It's going to be difficult to pay my bills unless I get two or three paying opportunities," Torres says. His dream job is working for a small, entrepreneurial organization, possibly in Washington, D.C., that makes a difference through its work. But for now, he says, he has accepted reality like most of his peers: "If we can't land our dream job, we at least want to find something we can stand until we can find our dream job."
Meanwhile, the elusiveness of the 9-to-5 job is triggering fresh thinking about career goals.
Ask today's college graduates their goals and many say they want the private jet but not the corner office. They want to own their own business, pioneer new industries, market new inventions or work for a startup. For these grads, a climb in Corporate America is no longer the path to success but a stepping stone to entrepreneurialism.
As FIU graduate Stephanie Bennett puts it: "I want to make my own schedule, go to lunch when I want, take vacation when I want. . . . I want to have control."
Bennett, 28, wants her own promotions and marketing firm one day. For now, she's going to graduate school and consulting for nonprofit organizations.
Not surprisingly, Christian Garcia, associate director of Toppel Career Center at the University of Miami, hears the entrepreneurial buzz on his campus. He says students read and hear about corporate layoffs and lack of loyalty and believe no one is looking out for them in the workplace. Garcia says the 2009 graduates figure, "If they are not out there for me, what can I do to get my own thing going? Starting a company is a risk but I might as well do it."
Clearly, there are some college grads fortunate to find full-time jobs. But those who do often discover expectations in the new lean-and-mean workplace leave little room for work-life balance.
Adam Carlin, principal of Coral Gables-based The Bermont/Carlin Group at Smith Barney, advocates internships to pave the way for a permanent position. Yet, he says he would consider hiring a new college grad — if he or she stood out from the pack of job seekers by displaying tenacity. "I'm looking for extraordinarily hard workers who will put in very long hours. They would get in at 6 a.m. and be willing to work on Saturdays and do a lot of research."
Carlin feels new grads are better positioned than those who entered the job market a few years ago and were laid off.
"They can come in at lower pay and ultimately end up in higher positions."
Shyvonne Williams, 24, will graduate from Barry University in Miami Shores this summer with a bachelor's degree in public relations after an unpaid internship in Georgia. She said she couldn't find a paid position but plans to wow the nonprofit with her hard work. "I'm hoping it will turn into a real job."