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My Final Thoughts on Boise

For the last year I’ve written with a fairly academic and tongue-in-cheek tone. One, because I enjoy it and two, because it helps keep my perspective clear and objective. It’s the same reason I don’t rely too heavily on personal anecdotes.

However, after two years of informational interviewing with just about everyone in Boise, offering to work for free, being told I’m overqualified, that my resume looks great, that I’m under-qualified, that I have no experience, that I’m too independent, that I’m not independent enough, that I’m too East Coast, I have taken a job with an investment firm in Kansas City, and thus this will be my last column.

I want to offer some personal observations from a micro and a macro level about what I have seen as a driven but underemployed 20-something in Boise.

By all accounts, I fit the bill for the Occupy movement. With degrees from two highly regarded institutions, creative, and intelligent, I expected to find a job. I didn’t assume one would be handed to me, but like many of those protesting, I found the process far more difficult than expected.

I recently attempted to set an informational interview with an investment banker in Seattle. I wasn’t asking for a job, but his response explained that he would never consider hiring me because I have no previous experience nor am I an Ivy graduate. What’s remarkable is that this person graduated in the early 1980s with only a B.A. from Carleton College.

At that time a bachelor’s degree was all one needed because companies used to train people on the job. In the old model, firms hired smart people and trained them. Now firms hire specialized people and hope employees learn to see the big picture.

My generation entered school on the premise of the former model, and came out on the latter. Sure anyone can be adaptable, but obtaining specialized skills often requires more schooling, which for many, means accumulating more debt and delaying the start of a career—in other words, taking a large discount in lifetime earnings.

In addition to the rapidly changing demands of employers, many young folk suffer from the tyranny of the internship. Internships provide great experience and help companies reduce paying for professional development and training. But many people can’t afford the luxury of working for free and internships price out people who need them, which means they are less “experienced” in the field they want to enter compared to the fellow who could afford the internship.

The liberal arts and college in general used to be for the affluent in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Then higher education was democratized and by the mid-1990s one frequently heard that majors didn’t really matter. Well now we’ve come full circle, because majors do matter again and the liberal arts have less footing than ever.

As the current generation drifts towards majors that prepare them for a specific job, I worry about the loss in broad-based critical thinking skill, especially in ethical reasoning. We too often joke about philosophy or English majors unable to ‘contribute’ to a workforce because a lack of skills. In reality, these folks, at least the ones I know, could contribute a great deal if—and here’s the key—given the chance.

Unfortunately so many young folks, myself included, entered the workforce at the wrong time, and instead of adapting many want to see a new economic and political structure.

Unlike the protesters I don’t believe that we need a total restructuring of our political and economical system. Certainly, I think there are some things that would help. For instance, investment banks should never have been allowed to go public back in the 1980s, proprietary trading is not really in the customer’s best interest, and no-doc loans should go away.

What frightens me, though, is that I believe our hands are tied because—whether I like it or not—the banks and their lobbyists might be right about how increased regulation will keep us at a competitive disadvantage and that won’t help any city create jobs. In other words, it requires global regulatory effort and participation to stabilize the world economy. That stabilization matters for small towns, no matter how far apart they seem. If there’s any doubt, we got rid of the Monroe Doctrine a century ago.

Anyone who thinks European debt should only be solved by Europe, as Republican candidates announced in this week’s debate, doesn’t realize that it was that disassociation that led mortgage lenders to offer no-doc loans and sell them to Wall Street banks. If you’re not responsible for the risk, then you choose not to see it. Think of Europe as the Wall Street banks and America as Boise. Due to Wall Street’s problems, Boise has problems. In fact, that’s why I must leave.

To solve problems at a macro level requires an international regulating effort. Good luck. At the micro level, the one we can control requires investing in on-the-job training, it requires the risk to hire smart people sans the technical skills, and it requires that individuals continue to follow their dreams, challenge themselves, and embrace the changes around them.

Thank you Boise for all you have offered and all your kindness. And thanks to the Idaho Business Review for letting me voice my opinions week after week.

You can reach Tucker at tslosburg@gmail.com, follow him on twitter @tuckslos, or visit his personal blog http://tuckerslosburg.tumblr.com/

About Tucker Slosburg

5 comments

  1. After reading this, I was curious and decided to go back and read some of your previous postings. I have to say, I really believe that you are emblematic of the problems of so many of today’s college graduates. They are so busy whining about the situation that THE ENTIRE COUNTRY IS FACING and how it relates to them alone (ignoring the fact that we are all struggling under the weight of the economic downturn as though it was some personal attack on them), that they never just suck it up and start to put in the effort to build a resume through work and not simply academic padding. They are insulted that agencies are not banging down their doors to offer them work because they earned a degree. Woe is to them because they may have to start at the bottom, or start working in a field that does not appeal to their absolute surety about 25 year olds, with four whole years of college needing to be treated as so much wiser and more skilled than those that have been working in the world for decades and have had some actual life experiences. Instead, they whine about their situation, and on top of that, this author chose to spend his unemployed time giving advice to the world about politics and economics. Blows my mind. No job, no life experience, but an expert on how to fix all of the problems of the world.

    (How did our youth develop such irrational opinions of themselves? Is that the fault of parents and schools telling them how wonderful they are all the time?)

    Boise is a terrific place, with a warm and welcoming feel to it. As a 15 year resident, transplanted from the hated Southern California, I found it to be one of the easiest places to break in an connect that I have experienced (and, sadly, I have experienced too many). The fact that this guy was not able to tap into that specialness of Boise, I suspect, says far more about his approach to the place than the place itself (the bowtie was the first giveaway to that likelihood!). I am certainly bummed that Boise didn’t work for him as I like to think it can work for everyone, but I would suggest, if he reads these comments, that in his move to Kansas City, he head there with a dose of humility, his head down, ready to work, eyes open and mouth shut for a while so that he can learn through observation and experience rather than simply through spouting opinions based only on college classes and mental self adulation.

    I know this posting was tough commentary. It perhaps comes off as mean spirited. But it is not meant to be. I just really believe that we need to offer our young people some honest words, instead of dancing around the tough subjects that they need to hear about (I totally agree with the previous poster that said that when you are not being hired by a firm, and they tell you it is because of their situation and has nothing to do with you, they are lying. They are just too cowardly about hurting your feelings to be honest with you. Consequently, you walk away from the situation without any idea about what you REALLY need to do in order to get that next job you apply for. After all, you SHOULD have gotten this job, right?). These are those tough words Tucker. They are not meant to hurt, just to hopefully get you thinking about the things that people have been too polite/chicken to say to you.

    And, truly, congratulations on the job. Nice for all of us to know that perhaps things are turning around with businesses hiring entry level guys again. Enjoy Kansas City.

  2. I have a simple suggestion for you Tucker. Stop asking for “informational interviews.” Don’t use the phrase anymore. You sound like a prima donna psych major. I don’t even konw what the heck an informational intereview is supposed to be. And I’ve never had time in my work, or seen that others have time in their day, to sit down with some kid who wants such a thing. If there is a job you want to do go after it, get an interview, sell yourself and make sure they know all you care about is getting the job done right. Nobody wants to spend their time talking with you about information you want, or sharing your thoughts, or anything else. Get over yourself–you’ll have a lot more fun.

  3. Mr. Slosburg, I am from, as they say, an older generation, but I must report that throughout my life I have experienced a world much like the one you describe today. Other than for a fairly select (and small) group of political and business elites, even in our meritocracy there have always been—and will always be—some doors that just do not open easily or not at all. The good news is that there are many, many other doors, windows, fire escapes, hatches, and other points of entry into our capitalist society that either are open, or will open with sufficient encouragement, even for the likes of you and me. You say of your job search, “I didn’t assume one would be handed to me, but like many of those protesting [at Occupy Wall Street], I found the process far more difficult than expected.” All I can say is if the OWS protesters management of their protests is any indicator of their job skills, it’s no wonder they are unemployed. Also, speaking from experience, the process (whatever it is) is always more difficult than expected.

    I do not know you, but certainly wish you well in your pursuits, and if you will indulge me would like to offer my thoughts, informed as they are by the ages, as you leave Boise behind. I have found that very often when things are not working out in life, whether in business, or relationships, or otherwise, we want to hear (and believe), “it’s not you, it’s me.” Alas, I must tell you, it’s always “you”–or in my case “me,” but you get the point…. You tell us a story of “offering to work for free, being told I’m overqualified, that my resume looks great, that I’m under-qualified, that I have no experience, that I’m too independent, that I’m not independent enough, that I’m too East Coast….” Tucker (if I may), these are all just variations of “it’s not you, it’s me.” Believe me, I have heard them all over the years, and they are simply polite business speak for “we do not want to hire you.” The question you must ask is “why”?

    I have worked with hundreds of successful companies over my career, and they have all consistently done and continue to do precisely the opposite of what you maintain is current practice: Hire highly motivated, ethical, organized, intelligent people and allow them to learn and develop on the job. Sure, some baseline skills are needed in some industries—you need some background in finance to be an investment banker, you need to understand chemical engineering to be a researcher at ADM. But, generally, you just need those core values of motivation, ethics, organization, likeability (as important as any factor), and intelligence.

    A few practical suggestions as you make your way to Cowtown (that’s what they call Kansas City, you know). First, self-identifying with the Occupy Wall Street movement, populated largely by the unemployable, rather than the unemployed, is probably not a good start. Second, as painful as it may be, take a look in the mirror—are you embodying, and conveying, the core values I’ve listed above? Third, make sure you are knocking on the right doors, that you are targeting areas that interest you, and that play to your strengths; remember, at this stage in life you are not just trying to find some job to make money, you are looking for career you enjoy.

    I’ll let Mick Jagger (even older, and certainly more sage, than I) sum things up:

    “You can’t always get what you want
    But if you try sometimes well you might find
    You get what you need”

    Happy trails,

  4. Hey…Dude, you took my advice. Smart move; you’ll like KC, everything’s up to date in Kansas City.

    Checkout what’s happening over at the 9000+ acre Sunflower site between Olathe & Lawrence KS (on the Kansas side). Those folks in Johnson County Kansas (a home-rule state) are serious about economic development, and Sunflower being midway between Kansas’ economic engine (JoCo) and their main university, has a real opportunity as an enhanced version of the RTP in North Carolina.

    And the latest! there’s a serious, broad movement afoot in Kansas to completely eliminate their income taxes altogether (http://www.kansansfornoincometax.com/), because the rest of the state hasn’t had the growth JoCo’s experienced. (Idaho can never do it, because the LDS crowd would lose all their subsidies.) Key point for every young person in Idaho (you’ve mastered): it’s a huge waste of time, and time only runs in one direction. Way to go, kid!

  5. Sounds like you had a rough go of it in Boise. Sorry to hear that. Sounds like there are tight networks and limited opportunities.
    Do you think their might be a way to combine liberal arts with more technical training learn Excel and Aristotle while in school?
    What obligation to students have to prepare themselves for the workplace by gaining “practical skills” through outside activities along with their liberal arts education? What advice would you give to a high school student before they go to college?