A recent grad, Emma Koza is no stranger to the Toronto Hustle. In her mini-series, Breaking into the Real World, Koza will explore how she intends to stand out from the throngs of other job-hungry millennials, all fighting for position in the working world.
Part 1: Over-Educated and Under-Employed
“The art-sci’s have no future!” the purple-clad engineers from my alma mater used to chant in unison during Frosh Week. They were completely oblivious to how closely their program resembled a cult and I—a film and media studies student—was completely oblivious to the lack of prospects I would have after graduation. Of course, when I decided to pursue my artistic inclinations I knew that finding a job wouldn’t be easy; I just didn’t think it would be so hard. I thought that ambition, hard work and a uniquely formatted resume full of relevant extra-curricular activities would set me apart from the others.
The high rates of unemployment among youth—most of whom, like me, have also graduated with honours from our country’s top universities and found the perfect font to make their resume stand out—makes finding a job feel like a game of chance or who you know. Months of searching for opportunities left me feeling like I was getting Punk’d. Entry-level positions call for 3+ years of experience and pay less than what I was making as a food runner at a restaurant in Yorkville.
Internships are a way new grads can enter the working world; however, most are unpaid. If they do pay, it’s rarely enough to cover travel. In my eyes, unpaid internships are like those socks with the individual toes: that have no real place in society and yet have become so ingrained we think they’re normal. Why do we think it’s okay to trade something tangible like work for something vague like experience? Working for free is a ridiculous notion to expect from someone, let alone a recent grad that is swimming in student loans and hasn’t eaten a meal that didn’t come in a cardboard box since they left home.
The ubiquity of unpaid internship programs teaches us to be desperate for opportunity and to fear saying no to one. In our early twenties we should be learning about the relationship between hard work and a dollar earned and how to make decisions based on what matters most to us. Most importantly we should be learning how to place value in ourselves and in what we do.
I hear over and over again that ours is a generation of hustlers. The rough market forces us to work hard, sometimes with multiple jobs and on various projects, and take full advantage of all the tools we have available to us. We are creative and we’re expert networkers. But at what point will all of our hustling start to literally pay off?
I don’t mean to discredit all internships out there; some friends of mine have successfully completed internships and said that the experience was rewarding and educational. It is worth mentioning too that they now all have jobs with desks, a salary and benefits.
But there is no question that an internship is risky. There is no guarantee that you will be hired on full-time or that the work you do as an intern will be educational or meaningful. I question the large companies that can afford to fund an entry-level salary and still expect young people to provide their services for free. I also wonder if the big shots that head those companies believe so strongly in what they do that they too would be willing to do it for a minimal honorarium and a learning experience.
The main reason I detest internships is because going even just three months without an income is not a realistic possibility for most young people. The expectancy employers place on us to have internship experience gives the kids that can afford to go without pay an unfair advantage over the rest of us. Just as the saying goes, “The rich stay rich,” while the middle-class take positions irrelevant to their chosen fields.
Unwilling to risk giving up my income stream for an internship, I felt stuck in the situation I was in with no real entry-level prospects for a film grad. Waiting for a company to be impressed by my communication skills, enthusiasm and the fact that I was an exec at my school’s TV station (read YouTube channel) started to seem as unlikely as Ashton Kutcher coming through my front door and declaring everything that happened to me in my post-grad life was a prank. I wanted to feel like I had control over my life and what I was going to do with it.
The best way I could think to do that was to develop a skill. I have always been interested in web design and development but never in a million years thought it was something that I would do myself. I’m not sure if it was frustration or a new sense of confidence that gave me the push to go for it, but now I am. To the surprise of my friends and family who think of me as an artsy music-lover and not a tech wiz, I am starting the coding boot camp program at HackerYou.