From the Archives: Whitman grad faces real world

Alasdair Stewart, Staff Writer

This op-ed originally appeared in the March 9, 1995 issue of the Whitman Pioneer. Alasdair Stewart is a 1994 graduate of Whitman College with a degree in anthropology. The following article has been edited for length. 

At commencement, I sat and sort of listened to the speeches, thinking to myself that it would sure be nice to get out into the real world, get a job and just take some time away from books and classes. I figured that I would take a couple of years off to work and then go back to school. After all, I had just spent the better part of two decades in school, and it seemed like change would be good.

I had made a nominal effort to get a job locked down so that I would be able to go to work right after graduation. But nominal effort yields nominal results, so a short time later I found myself at a temp agency, hoping they would have something that I could use to pay the rent. After filling out the forms and taking the tests, they found a job for me that utilized all of the skills I had acquired at Whitman: sorting 9 cm x 9 cm blue wood blocks at a local company.

This was not exactly what I had hoped for. After all, I was armed with my beau­tiful resumé, “proven leadership skills” and the ability to learn things very quickly. In fact, I did learn to sort the little blue suckers very quickly.

I looked through the want-ads every day and applied for everything that I was even sort of qualified for. It turns out that most employers want people with experience, not “proven abilities.” I figured that, being a col­lege-educated person and all, I might be worthy of working as some kind of man­agement trainee.

When you get to the inter­view, they ask questions like, “Where do you see yourself in the next five to ten years?”

It didn’t seem appropriate to say, “plotting a hostile takeover of your pissant little company.” But these people don’t generally like to hear, “in graduate school,” either.

I devised a clever solution. I said that I hoped to pursue a career in X (X = whatever field the job opening was in), and I gave some thoughtful reasons for this desire.

Unfortunately, employers do not like attrition, and they know as well as you do that they can’t hope to keep you in their job unless it is a really good job, which if you have just graduated from college you have no chance in hell of getting.

After several frustrating experiences, I visited the Career Center where I found out that “the job market’s really tough out there.”


Now don’t get me wrong, the Career Center is a useful resource. As you will no doubt find if and when you visit, they do not find jobs for people. While it is true that “knowing” people can help you get an interview, it is not true that “knowing” these people will get you a job. What it all boils down to is that in the real world, people are trying their hardest to make money. This means you have to have something besides “proven leadership abilities.”

Clearly, it is possible to get a job, and if you are lucky, you can even get one you like.

While it is hard to get a job and paying bills is a drag, life after Whitman is pretty cool. Looking back, it is easy to see why everybody more than twice your age keeps saying, “Yep, world’s goin’ in the crapper. Kids these days. Got their heads in the clouds. They just ain’t practical.”

Soon, many of you will attend com­mencement. When you do, you’ll probably think, “Well, it’s gonna be cool to get out of here and get a real job.”

Yeah, it is cool. Armed with your official Whitman Alumni Association highlighter, keychain and your lovely resumé, you will step into the real world. It does not take long to see that reality really doesn’t bite all that much.

If you’ve read this far, looking for some kind of wise advice, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I can only tell you that you should enjoy every last minute of your Whitman experience.

I have found in the time since my commencement that if you want some­thing, you have to do more than just ask for it. Jobs, unlike classes, have more than prerequisites involved in their ac­quisition.

For every job that you are qualified for, there are forty other people who can type 600 words per minute, speak seven foreign languages and have already got 50 years experience doing the job that you want. If you can discard the notion that you should be hired just because you have a sweet resumé, then you have taken the first step toward being the aggressor in the job search game.

Frankly, you actually have to be able to do things, not just have them written on a sheet of paper.

Life after Whitman can seem bleak, but at least you can think like a champ.