From the first day of preschool, tots answer questions about what they’re going to do when they “grow up.” As first graders, students aspire to have jobs like a zoo keeper, circus performer, astronaut or the president. But as the years go on, the career ideas grow and become more realistic — more individualized.

During the four-year college experience, students refine their skills and interests so that after they walk across the podium and throw their mortar board, they know how they are going to define their success. But with a dismal financial outlook, students don’t always think about what they want to do when they “grow up” as they did when they were in first grade — instead it’s what they have to do to get by.

With an economy that is not exactly booming, the idea of securing a job immediately post-graduation is not what all students opt for. Instead, graduate school furthers knowledge and postpones loan payments until there is a concrete income to pay the bills. In about five months, the roughly 6,000 seniors will make the decision of what’s next for them. They won’t discuss what they’re planning to do when they “grow up” — because they already have.

Finding her way

LSA senior Layne Steele Paddon isn’t worried about the days after graduation on April 28. Not only does she have a plan, but she thinks the majority of her peers feel they have a plan as well.

“I think it’s not only societally forced on us that once you graduate you need a job, but being in this kind of environment where it’s so rigorous and everyone’s at the top of their game, that we’re all really competitive (to get a job),” she said.

There isn’t a twinge of fear as Steele Paddon talks about her future. She speaks with confidence as she explains that through her internships and firsthand experience she’s decided she wants to go into a career in digital advertising and marketing. She plans to use her degree in communication studies and work in Chicago or Detroit.

However, Steele Paddon can’t currently get a job because the advertising field moves so quickly that jobs become available and need to be filled within two weeks. Though there isn’t a job waiting for her, Steele Paddon says she’s not scared she won’t get one.

“Through the amount of networking that I’ve done and connections that I’ve made … I’ve established myself well enough where HR recruiters have said to me, ‘I’m going to help you get a job, even if it’s not at my company,'” she said.

LSA senior Cassie Mills accepted a full-time job offer with Target Corporation after her internship with the company last summer. At Target, she worked as a business analyst in merchandising operations for Target India and knew that 80 percent of the interns would be offered full-time positions after completing the 10-week internship.

Target is currently holding her position as an associate business partner for organizational effectiveness until June when she will start working.

“It feels good because I didn’t know I wanted (the position at Target),” Mills said. “But at least having that, I came in this year just so much more relaxed.”

Mills is graduating in December with a degree in organizational studies and plans to take a semester off “to enjoy life” before she starts her job.

“I think (the time off is) something that everyone needs,” Mills said. “Everyone advises you not to go into the work force right away because college is so demanding, and then you need that time off. It’s the one time in your life when you’ll get vacation.”

Students who chose fields like business and engineering over humanities will find that they can be more easily hired while still undergraduates, said Damian Zikakis, the director of the Office of Career Development in the Ross School of Business.

“Students that are pursuing degrees in business and in engineering where they’re actually learning a particular skill that matches a job title … makes it a lot easier for them to find a job,” Zikakis said, “because it’s easier for a hiring company to just sort of slot them in.”

Last year’s Business School class had 87 percent of its 334 graduates employed within three months after graduation, according to Zikakis.

Steele Paddon said of all concentrations and programs for undergraduate students to pursue, business is the best choice for job security.

Yet while explaining her non-business career path post-graduation, Steele Paddon glowed with excitement, something she said is important for her peers to feel about their careers too. Steele Paddon is going into advertising because she enjoys it, not because of the money.

“I’m actually really excited because I feel like my job, still right now, is my hobby,” she said. “It’s not anything I specifically study so when I get to do it I’m still kind of giddy. I just love it.”

Steele Paddon pointed out that some of her peers get stuck because they think their first job defines all subsequent jobs. She said she’s comfortable with the idea that she can change her mind and that she might not do what she starts off doing for the rest of her life.

“I always try to remind myself what I’m choosing to do right now doesn’t have to be what I do for the rest of my life,” Steele Paddon said. “I can change if it’s not something that makes me happy, or if it’s going poorly or I’m just not achieving the kind of success that I want.”

The Lost Generation?

The slow economy is leaving highly educated students without the jobs they desire, and instead, they are working to make ends meet through multiple jobs that don’t necessarily require a degree. Recent articles in publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic have described the current generation of 20-somethings as “stuck in limbo” and “the lost generation.”

Generation X was the subject of a study published last month by Jon Miller, a University research scientist at the Center for Political Studies. Miller found that members of “the lost generation” do not embody their common stereotypes of being misunderstood and underachieving.

Miller wrote in the report that the three words that describe Generation X are: “active, balanced and happy.” The study found that the most educated GenX’ers were more likely to be employed and worked the longest work weeks. It also found that two-thirds of GenX’ers were satisfied with their current job – debunking the idea that finding a job post-graduation is impossible.

Lynne Sebille-White, senior assistant director at the University’s Career Center, said she doesn’t think the students she sees in her office are complacent about the job search.

“It seems like students are more engaged now,” Sebille-White said. “Certainly, attendance is back up to normal levels at things, and campus recruiting is busy and résumé drops are back up.”

A growing number of companies are interested in recruiting University students, according to Sebille-White. The Fall Career Expo this year had to add an entire day because more recruiters were interested in coming to campus.

“Things are improving greatly,” Sebille-White said. “Certainly, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of employers who are coming back to campus to recruit either through the career fairs or campus recruiting.”

Beside hosting career fairs, the Career Center works with students to develop résumés, cover letters and a general career plan.

Mills found her internship with Target through the Career Center, which has postings for positions available at various corporations. She said she sees a disparity between positions made for Business and Engineering students and those posted for LSA students.

“I feel bad because I know a lot of my friends in LSA don’t have a lot of the resources and it’s discouraging,” Mills said. “I think that the school does need to do a better job of that. I think the Career Center is OK, and they do try to do their best, but they need to be making sure that LSA students are getting as much of an advantage as Engineering and Business students because employers should be coming there too.”

Another option students have after graduation is to take a “gap year” Sebille-White added. Some students choose to get involved in the Peace Corp or Teach for America because they want time to learn more and make more informed decisions regarding their career, Sebille-White said.

“It’s not necessarily the fallback that they want to do Teach for America (or that) they want to do Peace Corp,” Sebille-White said. “Maybe they’ve been really involved in working on social justice issues or international kinds of development issues or (want to understand) the different dynamic of the educational system in the U.S. … they feel like now is a good time for me to be able to do that.”

Sebille-White added that the dynamic between parents and students has changed over time, and students are more willing to seek their parents’ advice which slows their decision-making process.

“Younger folks in general have more access to information than previous generations,” Sebille-White said. “So they’re going to check those points of access, whether that’s their parents, their friends, other relatives … before they make decisions.”

Steele Paddon said she’s not worried about life after graduation because she always has her parents’ support and can live at their house if necessary.

“I’m going through the motions, I’m doing the most that I can, so if I don’t have a job coming out of graduation, they’re not going to be upset with me, which is comforting,” Steele Paddon said. “I don’t feel like I have tons of pressure because I have a good support system.”

The Michigan Difference

Try yelling “go blue!” in an airport and not getting a response back. The phrase can unify strangers and be common ground for recruiters and students.

Sebille-White and Zikakis said attending the University is an advantage to students. Zikakis suggested that students may be more immune to the economic slump because of the University’s prestige and the employment aid alumni provide.

“I think (finding a job) is getting better as the economy gets a little better,” Zikakis said. “But I think at other schools that certainly remains an issue that there are not enough jobs available for all the undergrads that are finishing up. I think we just happen to be in a really good situation here at Michigan.”

The University has more than 500,000 living alumni — making it one of the largest living alumni bases in the country. Luckily for University students, Sebille-White said many University alumni look to hire fellow Wolverines when possible.

“U of M has such an extensive alumni network and alumni who are just so passionate about the institution and giving back to the institution and helping current students and recruiting current students,” Sebille-White said. “I’ve seen it make a difference.”

Along with a strong supportive alumni base, even just the words “the University of Michigan” helps students when applying.

The number of University graduates at a company is used as a statistic of pride for many employers — similar to the number of University of California-Berkeley and Harvard University graduates, Sebille-White added.

“U of M is always on that target list,” Sebille-White said. “(Employers) may not always be able to hire, (and) they may not always be able to hire in the same numbers, but U of M is probably going to be one of the last institutions that they drop off their list.”

Steele Paddon said she feels like the University name will help her, even if it’s just ensuring recruiters will read her résumé.

“I think people might look at my résumé a little bit faster, being like ‘oh, University of Michigan. It’s a super prestigious name, they produce great students, they have a very rigorous academic program,’ ” she said. “But at the same time, if I don’t have any experience to back that up, it doesn’t really mean a lot.”

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