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“We’ve gone through so much”: As the class of 2022 graduates, they’re nervous about the future

May 28, 2022, 12:30 PM UTC

With graduation season in full swing, hundreds of thousands of Gen Zers are hoping to make the leap from student to professional. And it’s looking like a good year to be on the hunt for an entry-level job. 

U.S. employers said they’re planning to hire 32% more college grads this year than last, according to the research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. It’s still a tight labor market, as employers scramble to fill open roles created in part by the Great Resignation, and that could give 2022 grads that chance to be choosy about their first job.

In practice though, newly minted graduates may not see it that way. The past four years were not the classic college experience they were promised. Many spent a year or more taking classes online; they struggled through remote internships and missed out on study abroad experiences—all during a period of great instability, with a pandemic raging, intense political unrest, and a whole lot of economic uncertainty.   

In the days leading up to their commencement ceremonies, Fortune spoke with a handful of new grads—some still on the job hunt and others with gigs lined up—about their college experience and their hopes and plans for the future as they move on to the next phase of their lives.

“It’s been extremely stressful thinking about finding a job”

Tramell Orr, 21, Kent State University
Bachelor’s degree, Neuroscience 

Tramell Orr
Courtesy of Drico Lamar

Tramell Orr is deciding between offers for jobs that are at best tangential to his major; mainly lab technician and medical assistant roles. This wasn’t his original plan. 

When the pandemic hit in the spring of Orr’s sophomore year, he’d been applying for summer jobs shadowing physicians and physician assistants. “I was originally going to go to physician assistants school directly after undergrad. But to apply, you need patient care hours—your application doesn’t look good without internships.” 

The pandemic threw an “insane” wrench into his college experience, Orr says, and neuroscience was already a “really difficult major.” Virtual lectures made everything more challenging. 

“My college experience was pretty bad; it stressed me out beyond belief,” he says. He hopes to find a job in the next six months related to his degree, at which point he’ll consider moving out of his parents’ house. But until then, he says, “I won’t be making any big moves.”

Orr hopes hiring managers take into account the unique circumstances he and his classmates have endured. “There’s been so much on our plate beyond just our coursework,” he says. “Jobs, and all post-grad stuff, were the furthest thing from my mind. It’s been extremely stressful thinking about finding a job.”

“My requirements for a job are insanely low”

Griffin LaMarche, 21, Fordham University
Bachelor’s degree, Marketing

Griffin LaMarche
Courtesy of Griffin LaMarche

Griffin LaMarche has no time to waste. He started his job at an ad agency in New York City one day after his graduation ceremony. 

“My requirements for a job are insanely low,” LeMarche says, but he’s still excited for this next step. “I have the dream job, I have an apartment, and now I have two weeks to work my ass off and start putting a dent in my rent.”

After a mentally exhausting four years, LaMarche doesn’t care about vacation, salary, overtime, or other benefits, he says. “Everyone I talk to says I should take a break after college to travel or relax. For me, that’s out of the question. I understand the money’s not great, but I need to start working. If this pandemic has shown me anything, it’s that, if I have nothing to do, why not work my ass off?”

LaMarche doesn’t think his approach is too crazy; he thinks it’s representative of his generation. 

“We know we’ll have to work really hard, really quickly if we want any returns to retire on,” he says. “I just don’t feel like I have a lot of agency. Maybe it’s just because I only finally got a job right at the tail end of college, but just having the opportunity to work 40 hours a week and make over minimum wage? That’s enough. And I’m grateful.”

“Gen Z is really not going to stick with jobs we’re not happy with”

Lucy Genda, 21, Appalachian State University
Bachelor’s degree, Public Relations

Lucy Genda
Courtesy of Madison Ayres

Lucy Genda will start a remote internship next month as a solutions design intern in the marketing department of a biotech company. That runs through August; after it ends, she’s “not really sure what comes next.” Wherever she ends up, her personal job satisfaction is top of mind.  

“Gen Z is really not going to stick with jobs we’re not happy with,” she says. “If we’re not happy, it’s not worth it. People used to work for their companies for 30 years, but it’s not that simple anymore. We’re really accounting for our mental health.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean remote work is required. “I’d totally consider an in-person job; I’m flexible,” she says. “Being online my whole junior year, I really took a hit from that. I learned I need to look at someone when they’re lecturing. Online, there’s not enough accountability or structure to my day. I just don’t thrive in that environment.”

Though her post-grad internship is remote, Genda hopes to be in an office soon. “One of my main passions is people. I thrive best when I’m working with my team, bouncing off ideas. That’s something I’ve really lacked in college, and I’m hoping to make up for it.”

As employees, Genda says her class is not going to settle for less than they deserve. “We’ve gone through too much,” she says. “We learned that anything can happen at the drop of a hat. Life is too short to not be content with what we’re doing—or to not get the compensation we deserve.”

“We’ve gone through so much as students”

Dakotah Jennifer, 21, Washington University in St. Louis 
Bachelor’s degree, English

Dakotah Jennifer
Courtesy of Tiffany Chen

Since graduating last week, Dakotah Jennifer has begun a de facto gap year, which she hopes to spend interning and applying to MFA programs. The jobs she’s applying for will hopefully feed her passion. One must-have, however, is a paycheck.

“I’ve done so many internships in my life, and now that I’ll be a graduate, I can’t keep being unpaid for my work,” she says. 

“Even during my time at WashU, I’ve had two or three part-time, 10-hours-a-week jobs,” Jennifer says. “Before the pandemic, I thought, okay, I’ll be a journalist somewhere like the Washington Post or The Atlantic.” But now, she sees an opportunity to do more than one thing, maybe even in more than one industry. 

While some of her peers will just be happy to get any job, she says others have become more discerning. 

Jennifer predicts the class of 2022 will be more willing to advocate for what they really want—in both their jobs and personal lives. 

“We’ve gone through so much as students, and we’re not going to settle now, as employees,” she says. 

“I hope our future bosses will cut us some slack.”

Alec Gordon, 22, Washington University in St. Louis
Bachelor’s degree, Finance, second major in Marketing 

Alec Gordon
Courtesy of Jen Leighton

Alec Gordon, who aspires to work in sports business, knows the value of job experience, which is why he was especially gutted when his summer 2020 internship with the Las Vegas Golden Knights ice hockey team was canceled.

“It’s really hard to get a foot in the door in sports business,” he says. “Losing the Golden Knights opportunity really changed my mentality. I realized after that that I’d have to be a grinder, a go-getter, and show that I deserve to be in this industry.”

During his junior and senior years, Gordon has managed to find part-time internships with different sports teams, but all were remote—and unpaid. 

“Still to this day I have not made a single dollar working in the sports business,” he says. “But I’ve realized it’s about the balance. I’m huge on work/life balance now, especially in my industry. I have a lot of friends going into investment banking, and they’ll make $120,000, but they’ll be miserable. I want to love what I do.”

Gordon is committed to only working for companies that share his values.

“COVID made me see there are companies that care about employees and companies that don’t,” he says. “I hope our future bosses will cut us some slack. You never know what’s going on in people’s lives—we’re employees, but we’re humans first. Treat us like humans, not just people who get stuff done for you.”

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