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Don't Get Caught Up In the Job Market Hype

By Ian Ybarra

features columnist

On Monday I received an e-mail with a subject line that read, “Fwd: Good News for Class of 2004 re entry-level jobs.” Those who know me would assume it would pique my interest. After all, I am in the class of 2004 and pay much attention to the hubbub about students getting jobs after college.

However, I must have been extraordinarily excited to open the e-mail, given the circumstances. Firstly, I was battling a three-day backlog on MIT Webmail, which, despite sporting a spiffy new homepage, still provides “just enough functionality for occasional use.” Secondly, I was at my parents’ home in Altamont, Kansas, which boasts a population of 1,000 and a dial-up connection that had me surfing at a nice clip of 26.4 kbps.

The e-mail contained a press release from CollegeGrad.com with the headline: “College Grad Hiring Up 12.9% for 2004: CollegeGrad.com Names Top 500 Entry Level Employers.” Good news, right?

As much as I want to, I can’t honestly describe the press release in the style of Linda Richman, Mike Myers’ character who hosts the classic “Saturday Night Live” skit “Coffee Talk” -- “It’s neither good nor news... discuss.”

It was news, in fact. But I can say that the press release made me get a little “verklempt.” I was frozen in confusion, unable to utter a word. That is, until it made me laugh aloud a few times.

The news was neither good nor meaningful. Also, it included a few things that were downright ridiculous. Finally, it made me wonder if the career gurus it quoted, including the President and Founder of CollegeGrad.com, actually need new jobs for themselves.

This week I’ll explain why the news is absolutely neutral and meaningless. Next week I’ll expound upon the press release’s ridiculous bits and ponder the incompetence of a few career advisors. Here we go.

How good is it, really, that 500 employers CollegeGrad.com surveyed say they’re going to offer 12.9 percent more entry-level jobs than they did last year?

The press release doesn’t even compare that growth rate to CollegeGrad.com’s own survey results from last year. I had to find a cached page of last year’s press release to learn that the 2003 survey yielded a 2.3 percent increase from the previous year. I’m confident that 12.9 percent is greater than 2.3 percent, but I’m not sure how that affects our lives. Perhaps we could estimate that for every ten of our friends who didn’t get jobs last year, there will only be nine of our friends who don’t get jobs this year. I feel better already. How about you?

Why didn’t CollegeGrad.com also project how many job offers will be rescinded next fall? Yeah, it’s dirty business, but it’s reality. Or how about telling us the percent increase in college graduates? The National Center for Educational Statistics projects the number of Bachelor degrees conferred in the United States to increase at an average compound rate of about 1.6 percent per year throughout the next decade. Yup, 12.9 percent is greater than that, too. But so was last year’s 2.3 percent, and there was still panic over so many college grads being unemployed.

Speaking of unemployed graduates of recent years, won’t they be battling the ’04 graduates for these entry-level jobs? No doubt they’re hungry for work. They have spent months holed up with the folks, repeatedly answering to everyone -- from their parents’ mechanic to old sweethearts to the local librarian whose four-pound hair bun is perpetually forcing her haughty eyes over her spectacles -- as to why they aren’t doing anything with that degree of theirs. That would definitely motivate me to get a job. I’m still “safely” enrolled as a full-time college student and I’ve been fielding those questions at a rate of eight per day while I’ve been in Kansas this week.

Clearly, if there is sense to be made of this “Good News for Class of 2004,” we should leave the task to The Wall Street Journal. We shouldn’t hold our breath, though. Instead, we should focus on figuring out what we really want to do next and making ourselves better prepared than everyone else in the world to do just that. Or, as they say in Kansas, “Keep on keepin’ on.”