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Reader Letter

A 29-year-old on the difficulties of landing a first job Add to ...

At this point, you're probably wondering why I'm not looking at retail, restaurant, or coffee shop jobs. The truth is that I am, but due to my resume, experience, and other such things, these places assume I'll leave as soon as something "corporate" pops up. Fair enough, and if I'm honest I probably would, but this all leaves me rather short of options. Also, due to job-hunt and financial issues, my age group finds it extremely hard to go out and be in social settings, so the usual networking and schmoozing that previous generations indulged in isn't nearly as possible for us, nor can we be as good at it when we have the chance to. Lack of practice has that effect.

I should also tell you that not everyone I know has suffered the same fate as I have. A select few of my friends made it out of school and got decent jobs. Most still aren't making enough to save, invest, or buy a place. Many barely get by, doing low-level work they don't really believe in with little job security. Exactly one of my friends has "made it," so to speak. He's on partner-track at one of the big accounting firms. Sounds good, right? It is, except for a few minor issues. First, the likelihood of ever reaching partner is so slim that it's essentially non-existent. Second, the hours have nearly killed him. His average workweek is 65-70 hours. Average. It's higher some weeks, topping off at nearly 90 hours/week. Yes you did read that right. He and his wife did at one point own a rather nice place. His wife still does, but with the guy she's with now that her lawyers are finally done with my friend through the divorce process. Happily, his firm offered him legal assistance. Why? Doing so made it a lot easier for him to continue working an average of 65-70 hours/week. How kind of them…

There's a glimmer of hope in all of this, and it's the one I'm still reaching for. Seeing as how a job that provides a decent income, some job stability, home ownership, savings, investing, and retirement are all but out of reach for me, I've discovered a way to make life bearable. I call it the "lifestyle job," and it consists of working at companies that are involved in non-work things, say sports or hobbies, that you absolutely love. In my case these include skiing, cycling, the outdoors in general. Yes, the salaries and benefits are generally terrible, but these companies make it bearable. They provide access to activities you love at a significantly discounted rate, cheap or free gear, and time to play. Making $36 000/ year is a lot more bearable when you start with 3 weeks/year, the office has a bouldering room and a bar, you can bring your dog to work (just kidding! You can't afford a dog), you get gear you need to do what you love for next to nothing, and you've got time to go out and enjoy the sports you love. I'll never own a condo in a ski town, but at least I'll be able to make day trips, right?

It's far from what I wanted. I wanted 65 hour weeks in a high pressure corporate environment. I wanted the tailored suits, the chance at a high income, the BMW, the prestige, the respect, and the power. I wanted to be someone. I wanted to be able to afford to donate to charities that are important to me. I was considering children, marriage, the house, all of it. It's not happening.

Rob, we're not no-future losers. You know those high-school kids who study hard, get great grades, have part-time jobs, and manage to excel at athletics all at the same time? That was us. The university students who go to class, make the dean's list, run extra-curricular clubs, and still make it out to the bar once in a while? We were those guys. We've got nothing against hard work and earning our way. I'd argue that we're even rather good at it. You know who gets jobs today? The CEO's kid. The CFO's niece. The VP of Marketing's next door neighbour's kid. Nepotism and cronyism are what it takes, and even that isn't always enough.

Being willing to work is absolutely USELESS if you can't get a foot in the door. The economy is only part of the problem.

All the best, and thank you again for writing what you wrote. It's about time someone said it.

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