by Andrea Puckett

When I stepped out of college, I felt I would conquer the world. However, I quickly learned the best teacher is failure. I completed my undergraduate degree in 2001. After graduation, I remember thinking that it would be no problem to find a professional job because I had the skills and people would want me. Also, I felt that I would be like my father who graduated from college in the 1970s and had the same job for 30 plus years where he was able to rise from the bottom to the top. What I didn’t realize at the time that my father’s generational rules, my role model, after college didn’t apply to my situation.

DC Metro
Two months after graduation, I found myself in the DC metro area looking for internships. My logic at the time was that if I was going to take chances that I had to do it now and have no regrets. Within one month, I found a Public Relations internship in Washington DC. They were going to hire me for three months on an intern to perm basis. The future looked like it was going to go very smoothly. However, what I didn’t count on was one month into the internship was September 11, 2001, which changed the job market and my mindset forever.

I remember September 11, 2001 being a beautiful day, the weather was nice and the atmosphere in Washington, DC was very pleasant. I drove into DC and my internship and within 15 minutes of being there I watched on the computer as a plane hit the Pentagon. I was within two blocks of the White House and I was scared. The office busted in uproar. I was able to get in contact with my father and boyfriend on my cell phone and let them know that I was okay. I crammed five people into my little Cavalier and we began a journey back out of DC back to Herndon, VA.

Packed Places
The streets were packed and people just didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if we would be sitting in traffic and if a plane would hit us in our cars. I was terrified because it was just my third week in the DC area.

What is normally a 30-minute trip back to Herndon, VA from DC took me four hours. My car ran out of gas and I had to walk to get a gas can to fill it up. The day was horrific. I just wanted to crawl back to my parents and never leave but I didn’t let fear win. I went back into DC three days later and found out that even though the country had went though a tragedy that business still went on.

The PR firm that I was working for couldn’t get material into the media so all of their intern’s jobs were cut. I didn’t know what to do for a job and my dream of getting into the field that I studied was strained.

After September 11, 2001, I have seen that the job market was hard to penetrate for entry-level workers. The problem was that economic problems caused companies to let tenured staff go and the entry level job seekers were in competition for jobs with tenured professionals who were taking entry level jobs at a fraction of their former pay.

At first, I began to think that I was the only one who was suffering from entry-level job syndrome but I discovered that many of my friends were going through the same thing. We have taken jobs to pay rent and bills like retail sales persons and babysitting jobs that we swore we would never do again if and when we got a college degree.

Starting Families
When my parents graduated college, they started families and began saving money. For my role model, there was no question of whether he had entered the right profession or if he would get a job in his chosen profession. However, for my generation the answers are not that easy and we have to delay starting families because of a lack of stability.

Today, the average twenty-something has over seven jobs by the time that they are 30. I have heard people say that my generation needs to put away the Play Station 2 and start saving for retirement. However, when you have a job and can afford to save it is a different perspective than when you are struggling to find a job that pays above minimum wage. In today’s world that diploma can just mean your resume gets past the human resource gatekeepers.

Four years after September 11, 2001, I can say that I have gained experience in the job market, but the problem is keeping competitive with those that were able to get a job right after college and who have that working experience. Also, I have found that employers who are those that hire are often removed from the struggle that those who graduated in 2001 have faced because more than often the hirers are my father’s age and graduated in the 1970s and faced a different times and have different expectations when they interview you and often don’t by that teaching preschool for two years can give you good leadership and business skills.

I wish that I had the great secret for all of us who are struggling to fall into a professional career path. However, all I know is we have to keep interviewing and have good friends that allow us to cry on their shoulders at times. When history is written about our generation, I know we will be a generation that created its own path because we had to because today our models that we grew up with didn’t apply. September 11, 2001 destroyed many things in the United States but it gave us freedom to explore and create a new path for future generations.