I really don’t understand it, but, once again, I have not been invited to deliver commencement addresses at Harvard, Stanford, Princeton or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Weird, ain’t it?
The fact is that 2015 graduates are entering a very perilous job market. The financial sector has completely recovered and venture capital firms are paying seven-figure salaries to first-year vultures. The same mega-bucks are available for high-tech types, and they not only get perks, like free dog walking, but the company even provides dogs for those new employees who don’t have them. This explains the proliferation of poodles at Google.
But maybe it’s just as well that nobody is inviting me to speak, because, frankly, I’m not sure what advice I would give, except that when your manager asks for volunteers to staff the North Korea branch office, keep your hand down. Fortunately, I have been given expert advice on giving expert advice from advice expert Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, who stepped away from the podium long enough to write an article in The New York Times.
“How to Avoid Commencement Cliches” is the title of Brooks’ screed, and a darn good screed it is. Asked to deliver the commencement address at Ava Maria University, Brooks was wary about giving advice that would not play well with his 20-something audience. “I wanted to inspire and uplift,” he writes, “but I was well aware that, more often than not, graduation addresses are met with blank stares and tepid applause.”
["Blank stares and tepid applause?” Replace "applause” with "raise,” and that sounds like your most recent annual review.]
According to Brooks, the people entering the job market today are not interested in the same types of careers as those of us who are clinging by our fingernails to the job market today. “Back in the late 1970s,” Brooks explains, “human resource scholars began to notice and write about four distinct career patterns in the American economy.”
And once you stop chuckling over the idea of scholars in the human resources department, I’ll elucidate:
Career Types No. 1 and No. 2 are the types of old-fashioned careers no longer appealing to any graduate with a degree in beer pong.
No. 1 is the “steady state.” In this career a person holds the same job for the same company for decades. Most companies have at least one of these “lifers,” a cobweb-covered drudge who had been in their job for so long that no one knows exactly what it is that he or she does. All you know is that they are either (a) really important, (b) related to someone really important, or (c) have some especially dirty dirt about someone really important, but won’t spill it as long as they get a regular paycheck.
Outmoded Career Type No. 2 is “linear.” This means “all job changes are upwardly mobile in the same career path.” Brooks calls the linear career is the “yuppie sine qua non,” but I’m not so sure. It doesn’t take long for even the most feckless yuppie to realize that the higher you climb the ladder, the easier you can be picked off by the some career sniper, looking to take your salary and your parking place.
Career Type No. 3 is “transitory,” a very nice name for someone who shows “little apparent progress in money or responsibility.” Brooks describes a transitory worker as “your mom’s worst nightmare,” and here’s hoping there are plenty of them in your family. Nothing takes the heat off a slacker like you more than having at least one sibling who is even a bigger loser.
Career Type No. 4 is, apparently, the flavor of the month for today’s graduates. They embrace the “spiral” model, which looks like the transitory pinballing of random job changes, but is actually highly directed. Today’s graduates are searching for “purpose in life,” Brooks believes, and continue their inner pursuit for well-being even if it means “frequent career changes and a willingness to take pay cuts when necessary.”
Brooks finally decides to target the spiral types in his commencement speech, encouraging them to achieve the “pursuit of higher consciousness and benevolence to others.” Personally, I would take a slightly different tack. What I would say to 2015 graduates is that if you are seriously considering ignoring salary and possible promotion into the rarified ranks of the overpaid, under-productive ranks of management, you have already achieved one significant purpose in your young lives.
You’ve convinced me that you’re nuts.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.