Moneyish / Carlota Zimmerman

Proof that College Grads are Totally Delusional about the Real World

May 10, 2017


What happens when expectations meet reality in your first job

Gen Z, prepare to be disappointed.

The first crop of Gen Zers are graduating from college, and like their millennial predecessors, they’re expecting big things. Nearly seven in 10 (69%) expect to make more than $35,000 a year in their first job. That’s up a full 11 percentage points from last year, when the 2016 graduating millennials answered the question, according to data released Wednesday from Accenture. But the reality may be much different: Fewer than half (49%) of people who graduated in 2016 made this much. And there’s not much reason to think that the 2017 grads will make a ton more than last year’s graduates.

So why so much optimism about making a solid living? Katherine Lavelle, the managing director of Accenture Strategy, Talent & Organization, says that it speaks to the uniqueness of this group, as compared to many millennials. First off, Gen Z are the kids of Generation X, which also endured a recession during their college years, and thus tend to be more interested in working in growing fields and more willing to work for larger and seemingly more stable companies. But larger companies don’t always mean larger paychecks.

But it also may have to do with naivete. “New grads don’t always do their research to find out what their skills are worth in the marketplace,” says Call to Career founder Cheryl Palmer. “Especially if they have done well in school, they think that their good grades should earn them a lot of money.”

The class of 2017 also thinks their jobs will be full of learning — 67% expect on-the-job training, for example- but that too many soon be proven wrong. “People’s expectations may be that they will be taken in hand by sensitive, patient ‘older people,” says career coach Carlota Zimmerman. “Yeah, not so much, unfortunately. Time is money and many people are insecure of younger, ambitious people. They may be worried about their own job; they have their own problems.”

Freelance writer Sara Walsh, 24, who graduated from York College in Pennsylvania two years ago, has seen this firsthand. “In college I was always a go-getter and had numerous opportunities to grow with the support of mentors, colleagues,and professors,” shes says. “When I went out into the ‘real world,’ I felt confident that I would be working with people who would be supportive and collaborative.” Instead, she found that some of her coworkers didn’t want her to succeed. “I think coming from a world of compassion and fostering talents made it a bit of a shock to see how petty and conniving people can be even when there’s no reward for their poor behavior.”

What’s more, if past grads’ experiences are any indication, new college grads may feel pretty stifled at work. More than half of recent grads with jobs say that the job they’re in doesn’t even utilize the degree and associated skills they learned in college. Accenture’s Lavelle explains that this may be due to companies realizing that they can get college grads to do jobs — like answering the phones — that used to only be done those without a degree.

This is exactly what happened to San Diego resident 26-year-old McKenzie O’Brien. When O’Brien graduated from the University of North Carolina Wilmington with a degree in international business, she thought she’d land a job doing something related to that. Instead, she became a nanny for six months, followed by stints doing administrative temp work and bartending. “I was really down for a while after graduation, thinking I wasn’t fulfilling expectations,” she says. Still, she says, she wouldn’t trade those experiences and struggles — they led her to her current life plan, getting her doctorate in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. “I’m taking a chance, listening to my heart.”

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