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Grads: Can You Still Afford to Be Picky?

This recession has hit recent grads hard.

Case-in-point: Scott Nicholson, 24, is crashing at his parents’ place and searching for a job with little success. And yet, he turned down a $40,000 job offer in his field of interest because it wasn’t a management-training, career-track position.

Is this guy:

  • Smart to hold out?
  • Off his rocker to pass up a decent gig?

For one, he’s privileged to be able to pass at all. He has no debt (his parents put him through school) and a rent-free pad.

When I graduated, I had student loan bills and my own credit card debt (stupid as that was). I needed a job, pronto, and I took the first offer I received. It was a great job, but it didn’t pay enough and I had to move to a new city to take it, against my wishes. Still, I wasn’t about to be choosy.

In today’s economy, I would definitely do the same. Between other “career-track” jobs, I’ve worked at a car dealership and a coffee shop. A job is a job, and in my opinion, it’s better to have any work than none.

What do you think? Let’s hear from the recently-hired and recent grads still on the hunt for a job. Do you have to take what you can get in this job market or can you still be picky?

Published or updated on July 9, 2010

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. Greg says:

    I just turned 24 a month ago. I graduated with a BA in Managment in 2009. I spent 6 months looking for a job that was “up to my standards” and paid me what I thought I was worth. At the end of 6 months I was still unemployed living at home (and I had student loan debt). I decided I wasn’t worth that much.

    I decided to take a sales position… eww right? I finally landed in a furniture company as a sales associate. Within 4 months, I was training to be a sales manager. Within another 3 I was training to be a store manager, and one week shy of a year in the company I was running my own store with roughly 10 to 15 people under me, including 2 other managment positions.

    Scott is an idiot, as was I at first. You can’t be picky for ever and you never know if were you land will work out for you. Day one they don’t make you the CEO, everyone feels they are undervalued, but if you work hard, people will see and you start getting closer to you “value”. Its a goal for a reason, it doesn’t happen over night.

    Side note: The question in the interview that I believe did it for me was when my interviewer asked me what I am looking for in a job. This was the first time in the numerous interview that I answered this way… and it resulted in my first job offer which I took right away. “An entry level position in a company where I can prove my self and grow with the company”. Not “I want to be in charge.. can I have your job?”

  2. Brett says:

    I graduated with a BBA in Finance in December 2008 myself. If I knew how bad things were really going to get I would have never waited until this previous semester to start grad school. I’m still waiting for my 40K offer or even a decent internship opportunity as I’ve waited tables and worked retail most of the time and I couldn’t take it anymore. If he is comfortable as he watches his friends start careers while he sits around all day then kudos. I could never

  3. Meg says:

    I blame the guy’s parents almost as much as I blame him.

    I graduated in May 2010, 21 years old, very little in student loans (under $6K) and moved halfway across the country after graduating with a BFA in Theatre with very little in savings, but nothing to lose. Now I work for slightly below a livable wage in an expensive city, and do not work in my intended field. But guess what? It took me 4 weeks to land a job (granted, I had tons of work experience for my age) and there’s tons of room for growth, and great benefits. On top of that, I’m able to use “life lessons” (worth ethic and ownership of your work) I learned in college in my work. Sure, it’d be nice to have some cushion, but I’m young, and as long as I watch where my money’s going, I’ll be able to take more career risks in 10+ years and do what I love.

    Our generation needs to end this whole “living in the moment” thing and start thinking long term. Many of their parents did them no favors in the way they raised them to think about and spend money. If we think the Boomers are doomed when it comes to retirement, I can’t imagine what our generation is going to be like…

  4. Nicole says:

    My mom has always said that it’s easier to find a job when you have a job. This is true. When I graduated from college 6 years ago, I couldn’t find anything in my field (legislative/policy work). I ended up working as an order taker and then a customer service rep for a clothing call center for about a year. I also volunteered in legislative offices to gain more experience. I eventually left the call center job for a stipend-only internship working for my state senator during our legislative session, and I had already decided to apply to law schools. After my time with the state senator, I started law school. Three years later, I found myself in the same situation and since I didn’t want to practice (and still have to pass the bar anyway) I couldn’t land a job as an attorney. I actually went back to work (this time part-time for pay) for the state senator I had worked for before law school. This past May, a year after graduating law school, I finally landed a full-time job as a legislative assistant for a state delegate. It’s certainly not where I thought I would be when I graduated from college 6 years ago, but it’s where I need to be and I’m happy. Sometimes things don’t always turn out the way you plan. This guy Scott seems to have a problem of thinking he’s too good for anything lower than what he wants. That’s an okay attitude if you also have a bit of common sense. Turning down a $40K job because it’s not as good as his older brother’s job (which is what it sounded like from the article) is just plain stupid. Plus, he has parents who seem willing to let him do this because they also think he’s better than entry-level. Hey, if my parents had been able to pay all of my tuition for undergrad (they paid part and I have student loans), then my life would be so easy too. Interesting that now, in the end, he’s willing to do temp work or work as a bartender. Should have taken the other job. You can learn a lot from hindsight, and I hope he did.

    • Nicole says:

      I should have mentioned that in some cases, as it did for me, getting that extra degree can really boost your resume. And it looks better than empty space. I may not want to practice, but my law degree certainly helped me land this job. I use my degree, in some way, every day.

  5. Jane says:

    Reality check: $40,000 is a solid starting point. I’m a few years out of school and most of my friends started at less than 40. I started off making $35,000 (took the first job offer I had) and four years later I’m making double that with huge bonus potential, more than most of my friends.

    On a related note- I’m tired of recent grad interns who think they know more than people who have been in the work force for years. Just because you have a college degree from a good school does not mean you know more than anyone with even a year of experience. Nor does it mean the world owes you anything. The best thing grads can do when they accept a job is to work hard, LISTEN, and learn. There’s a lot that you can pick up from those that have been in the business that will help you grow and move up. And NOBODY likes some smug kid that thinks he’s smarter than everyone else.

    • Jessica says:

      Agreed – considering that the median income in America is just over $40K, I’d say that’s a nice starting point for someone out of college with no experience especially in this economy.

      Just like you, I took a lower paying job straight out of college (first offer which I now know I should have negotiated – growing pains I guess, but my foot was in the door) and now I’m making double my starting salary (through hard work, several promotions and salary negotiations in the past 5 years) and much more than the average income even in my area (DC-Balto. Metro).

      I guess I just had a different upbringing – no silver spoon or pony.

  6. Suzanne says:

    I’m in a similar but not so extreme situation looking for advice. I got a job offer today with a pretty good salary. But I’m interviewing a week from today for a better job with a better salary. In this economy, is it silly to try to hold onto the offer I have until next week once I’ve interviewed with job #2?

    • Haley says:

      See if you can get the offer extended. If you can’t, maybe you should take it. Still interview for the other job no matter what–who knows what could come from it?

  7. Johanna says:

    Plain arrogant if you ask me.

    I finished my undergrad in 2004 and my graduate degree in 2008. The job I have doesn’t require my degree, but is in my field, and secure. I’ve not applied for a few jobs I’ve seen because they didn’t seem secure. Meanwhile, I am applying for jobs that are secure, and hope something will come to fruition at some point. In the meantime, I’m covering rent and student loans and my other bills.

    Another reason to take the job – it’s always easier to get a job when you have one. 2 years of unemployment looks bad, even in this economy. Even a part time, unpaid internship in your field would look better.

    Take the job, start earning money, and stop free-loading off your parents. Even if you are living at home post-college because you can’t afford your own place, you should pay your parents something (like part of the utilities and the cost of your food.) His parents have really encouraged him to be an arrogant person with a sense of entitlement – what do they expect now?

  8. Jane says:

    WOW, I missed the part where he has been looking for 2 years. He isn’t crazy, just an ass.

  9. Jane says:

    I am also 24. Two years ago when I needed a job, I took the one I was offered. It paid $15/hr. Ten weeks later I was offered a job that paid 3x. Points being, it is easier to get a job when you have a job, and if you are worth more than $40k/yr, you will find out.

  10. 2Fairy says:

    Luke +1

    Just graduated professional school and finished my two weeks of work. The job is far from ideal and doesn’t utilise half of the skills for which my education prepared me.

    I ended up accepting my first offer but not until renegotiating my salary resulting in an offer $20K > the original offer but still $10K less than the highest salary in the range advertised. If they hadn’t matched my requested salary, I would have walked but in hindsight, that probably wouldn’t have been in my best interest.

    Note: Their highest advertised salary was still at least $5K LESS than offers that were available even to last year’s graduating class. Working with them also meant that I had to move across country but I would have moved out of state anyway (just not as far). In March, I accepted the offer because:
    1) It offered an immediate source of income with a start date 1 month following graduation.
    2) It would allow me to gain practical experience while continuing to pursue other, more lucrative opportunities.
    2b) I researched the geographical area and saw many opportunities for advancement in my field. Opportunities which I could explore while being paid to be in the area.
    3) The position offered job security not readily available elsewhere. I don’t plan on staying there more than a year but I could stay here forever and a day if so desired and cash in on the defined benefit pension plan available plus various student loan repayment opportunities.

    There were 2 positions available. I had shared the opportunity with my classmate who also ended up applying. He held out for the highest advertised salary but they refused to match his request (as expected with an applicant fresh out of school, no exp).
    It’s been several months and he’s currently still interviewing in hopes of landing a better position but so far, no employers have bitten. He’s currently starting to feel the financial pinch, made worse by the fact that he has a family to care for (I don’t). Even if he secured a job soon, I would have already worked long enough to collect paychecks equivalent to the difference between salaries. Chances are any other jobs available will be far more stressful with less job security and less convenient hours.

    In the meantime, I’ve started researching my next career move and will be ready to start laying groundwork next month and my plans will hopefully be brought to fruition in 9-12 months. Something I would never be able to do if I didn’t have a regular source of income and documented experience in my field.

  11. Peter says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d take the job as well.

    However people talk about losing experience. However the wrong experience will also hurt. Lots of jobs at level X, when you want level X+1 can also hurt you chances sometimes.

    Employers judge your talents for a great deal on your past resume. Therefore the wromg experience can hurt sometimes more than no experience!

  12. Calista says:

    Moreover, if I were his parents and, after putting him through college, he decided he was too picky for that job, I’d be charging rent or not letting him live at home.

  13. Calista says:

    I’m not sure I’d say “crazy” (he IS debt-free and living for free, after all), but I’m not sure I agree with his choice either. How does he know he wouldn’t like the job? The job I got out of college (graduated in ’09) was one of my last choices while interviewing (didn’t care to stay in Pittsburgh, didn’t want to go into the industry). They gave me a very attractive offer, and after weighing the other two choices I decided to take a chance. I’ve found that despite not originally being too enthused about the opportunity, I’ve actually gotten to do some really cool things and get a little more clarity on what I want in a career and how to get there.

    My caveat? If he had given the job a chance, it may have been better than he hoped, and it may have opened doors for him that staying home and being picky can’t do.

  14. Luke says:

    Waiting won’t improve his chances at landing that perfect job. My friend waited for the perfect job… and he plays Halo all day in his parents home 2 years after graduating college.
    I took the first thing I could find… doesn’t mean I can’t still go to interviews.

  15. If he didn’t want to take the job, then maybe he should consider paying his parents back for putting him through college 😉

    I think that getting experience helps, and he can always go to something better; plus, he will look like a better candidate if he shows that he is there to learn and not just there to collect a salary.

  16. Mike says:

    I’m about the graduate as well and I’m still looking for a job. I am long past the stage of choosing a perfect fit. A job is a job. I’ll take what I can get.

  17. Tony says:

    He’s off his rocker.

    I’m in the exact same position. Just graduated and living with my mom (no debt), and the only place I got a job offer (out of dozens and dozens) was at the company where I interned last summer. It’s a job that requires someone with my major (mathematics), but not really close to my “career field”.

    They’re only paying me 30K, but I’ll take it anyway. Why? IT’S A JOB! I can’t tell you how many people my age would punch me in the face for turning down a job like that just because it’s not the “perfect” position for me.

  18. Evan says:

    Let’s say he turns down 40k to get 55k a year, before taxes, down the road.
    He has to wait an extra year to find the better job.
    He’s giving up 40,000 in salary to make 15,000 more per year. It would take almost 3 years to make up the difference.
    Also he’s giving up a year of “paying his dues” and working up the corporate ladder.

  19. Kari says:

    Okay, I’ll play Devil’s Advocate. This guy has no debt whatsoever? Then why accept a job he wouldn’t enjoy? He could have accepted the job while looking for a more desirable job, but then his time would be divided. If it takes 1000 hours of job hunting to find his ideal job, he’ll find it faster if he treats the job hunt as a full time effort rather than something to do on evenings and weekends.

    • tom says:

      Scott should be most concerned with losing out on that year of experience. You can always make more money, you cannot make up that experience.

      Also, he doesn’t know how their promotion and advancement structure work. For all he knows, the company could do most of their promotions into management from within.

      Bottom line is he should have taken the job for, at least, the experience.

  20. tom says:

    Did anyone notice that the management training program he applied for was at the same company that offered him the lowest level position?

    He also turned down a second chance to become an officer in the USMC.

    I think this is extremely telling of Scott’s character. He fits the OLD stereotype of a Gen-Y (I am Gen-Y, also) in that he has a sense of entitlement. He wanted the management training program, but when he didn’t get the offer, he was insulted. They obviously thought enough of him to give him an entry-level position. He didn’t have the experience or skills to qualify for the management program.

    I think Hanover International dodged a bullet with this kid. He’ll always think he deserves more.

  21. Honey says:

    I have a PhD and when I graduated, $100K in student loan debt and over $10K in credit card debt. I ended up taking a position as support staff because my partner was geographically bound, and I make $40K a year. The idea of someone with a BA passing up a salary like that boggles the mind.

  22. Bryan says:

    23 years old. Graduated this past December from a public state school with a BS Engineering degree. I had a decent GPA (not great) but had almost 2 years of career related internships.

    In my opinion I think Scott can be choosy IF AND ONLY IF he has the credentials to back it up. If all he has is his education but no extracurriculars/internships that can relate to his career then he is a lame duck.

    I had three job offers out of school and turned them all down (they were good offers too 60k – 65k+ w/ benefits) because they were not in a location I wanted to live in. I waited three months to get the job I have now in a city I wanted to be.

    I think Scott is making the right decision because its important to be figure out your priorities and stick to them. My decision was to wait until I found a job in the right city. That was my priority, if Scott’s priority is to get into the management track then so be it… with that being said I also believe that in Scott’s current situation… I would have taken the job offer. WHY? Graduating in 2008 and waiting 2 years is too long for me to wait. I would be bored out of my mind.

  23. Mike Piper says:

    Seems like an exercise in poor judgment to me (another Gen-Y’er).

    Even if the position itself goes nowhere, it’s certainly better on his resume than “unemployed, living at home” for the period in question. And $40,000 > $0.

  24. Chris says:

    I’m 25 and a recent college grad. I just took a job @ 38k with reasonable benefits just so I could get out of the menial 24k job I was in!

    Having a giant gap in your resume while freeloading at home is never a good thing to have to explain to a potential employer. I think he’s crazy for not taking the 40k, which is well above what the average recent college grad will make (depending on industry).

  25. Joel says:

    I’m 21, just graduated from a good liberal arts college with a degree in Economics. I will be working in a management training program for a top 5 bank making just under 50k/year plus tons of benefits.

    I graduated with a 3.4 which obviously isn’t spectacular, but at the same time, I am earning a higher salary and have a better opportunity than most of my friends who graduated with better GPAs from better schools. The secret wasn’t that I had someone I knew working in the company (i actually got my current job through a job fair and an online application), I worked hard to find the job I have. A professor I deeply respect told me that once you graduate, you have to treat looking for a job as your full time job. This means that you should be spending 40 hrs a week looking for a job. While that might be a bit excessive, it is still important to seriously devote time to applying for jobs and not sending out “four or five (applications) a week” (link above). I applied to hundreds of jobs and finally heard back from one and prepared for hours for the interview. By the time I went into the interview I could talk to you extensively about what was happening in that particular company in recent news, I had prepared about 15 thoughtful and meaningful questions to ask the interviewers, I could tell you about the leadership of the company, etc.

    That said, Scott Nicholson should have definitely taken the 40k a year job and I’ll give you a few reasons why:

    1. Even if he was holding out for a better opportunity, the opportunity cost of waiting is losing job experience. When he goes to apply for those corporate jobs in a year, he will be competing with people who might not have been on the deans list in college, but people who have been working gaining experience over the past year. Since he graduated in 2008, he has done nothing. He could have been working in the peace corp or something similar, but he chose to do nothing and it has hurt his application. Interviewers will ask him “what have you done since graduating college in 2008” and he will have nothing to say.

    2. He has to factor in that living at home with his parents in Massachusetts will probably save him over $1000 a month once you factor in rent, utilities, food, etc. This easily adds $12,000 a year onto his “real” salary.

    3. He is just assuming that there is no growth path from the job he passed up. One thing I learned in my job process is that every company has management positions whether it is the CEO of Goldman Sachs or the CEO of an auto repair store. Once you get into a company, a lot of them promote within.

  26. tom says:

    Picky = Better job

    Picky = Unemployed

    This guy needs to read the paper.

  27. David Weliver says:

    OK, three “crazies” so far. I’m waiting for somebody to defend his decision, though I realize that may be asking a lot :)

    As somebody on the edge of Gen-Y (born in 81, I’m sometimes included and sometimes not), I understand where the “delusions of grandeur” come from.

    Our parents and the colleges they sent us to constantly told us that we are “special”. They really did. Why, I have no idea.

    But that’s resulted in the “Gen Y Swagger”; a sense of entitlement and a reluctance to “pay dues”.

    Older generations may be over-critical of these traits because they’re envious, but if an entire generation refuses entry-level work, our economy is in trouble.

    I admit, I’ve got some of it in me. I’d rather work for myself, not “the Man”, and I want a work-life balance. I’m not going to let work define me.

    That said, I have too strong a work ethic to choose unemployment over a decent job. I’ve also found that the sooner you learn you’re NOT THAT SPECIAL, the better off you’ll be.

    • Jane says:

      I thought it was nice that my parents told me I was special! They just never told me I was too special to work.

  28. MMS says:

    Yes, he is crazy. He may not get another offer for a year and even then it may be for less money. He would have been smart to take the job – at least he would have his foot in the door and could apply for other positions within the company or continue to look for other jobs.

  29. Tim says:

    I wouldn’t say this is what is wrong with an entire generation, I’m 25 and think he is crazy!

    I’ve held one job or another since I was 13 years old and jumped on the first offer I received 8 months after graduating in 2007.

    And what’s wrong with taking the crappy job to pass time until the right one comes along?

  30. Turning down 40K to start right out of college? Perhaps this is what’s wrong with Gen Y….. delusions of grandeur.

    I would never burden my parents and return home after 4 years of college. That would remind me everyday of how I failed them.

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