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Are teenagers out of touch with reality?

So yesterday on Moneyville, Madhavi wrote an interesting article called “Teens think they’ll earn $90,000 a year by age 30.”

According to the National Report Card on Youth Financial Literacy (.pdf), high school graduates seem to be extremely disconnected from reality. Especially when you consider the results from a survey of over 3,000 recent Canadian high school graduates:

  • The average survey respondent expects to earn $90,735 in 10 years; roughly three times the average income of 25 to 29 year‐olds with post‐secondary degrees ($31,648).
  • The median survey respondent expects to earn $70,000 in 10 years.  However, the median income for a 25 to 29 year‐old with at least a high school diploma is $26,000.  Even among Canadians between the ages of 25 and 29 who have a post‐secondary degree, the median income is only $29,000.
  • Nearly 3‐in‐4 (73%) expect to own a home within the next 10 years, and according to estimates by Statistics Canada, only 42% of 25 to 29 year‐olds are homeowners.
  • A large majority of respondents (81%) believe they will be financially better off in life than their parents.

Now check out some comments from Madhavi’s Moneyville article:

  • “These kids are in for a very rude awakening.”
  • “Sure, if minimum wage is raised to $45 an hour!”
  • “Realistic? I think not. Since when have teens been known to be realistic about their expectations, in general?”
  • “I’m not surprised. They have a sense of entitlement and the problem is, they now get coddled in University as well.”
  • “For that kind of money you either need to be a stock broker, sling crack rock, or have a wicked jump shot. Welcome to reality kids!”
  • “This is a generation that has been sold a bill of goods: Get a University education and you shall write your own ticket. Most have never been denied a single thing, gotten everything they’ve asked for and so much more. Fifteen year olds with $200 sneakers and $75/monthly cell phone plans. Inflated grades for mediocre performances. It’s no wonder their expectations are so unrealistic.”

Teenagers are optimistic – and they should be! I don’t want to live in a country where youth are being told that they have to aim low, because what they really want in life isn’t going to happen. Those Moneyville comments angered me. Are these the people our youth are looking up to? How inspiring and motivational to be told that life sucks, it will never be what you want it to be, and to stop trying to accomplish anything. Sure, eventually most teenagers won’t earn anywhere near $90,000 by the time they’re 30. But I think we should be teaching them that if the really want it, and are willing to work hard for it, they can achieve anything they want in life.

Related: How I landed my first job out of college

I’m 29, and while I don’t make $90k, I’m close. And I expect that next year (the year I turn 30), I will hover around that $90k mark. It’s something I never expected, and I’m extremely grateful for it. But I have also had to work incredibly hard for that money and for my career – probably harder than most people who bring in that kind of salary. Nothing has come easy. But in my teens and into my 20’s, every time someone told me I couldn’t do something, or that my expectations were unrealistic, that lit a fire in me. I wanted to prove them wrong so badly. And if I can do it, anybody can. Truly.

Last week, I was talking to my boyfriend about careers, and that I think we are growing up with a huge sense of entitlement. We expect great jobs and great salaries to be there waiting for us, we expect to climb the corporate ladder quickly, and we want everything yesterday. And that’s the problem. I think that the disconnect between high school dreams and the reality of the real world comes from the fact that there are many students who never apply themselves – maybe because they don’t think they have to. There are definitely teachers and parents out there who sugarcoat what reality will be like after they finish their education. So some students never pushes themselves to achieve more, yet there is an expectation set in them, and they feel like they are entitled to the same thing as those who do work hard.

Related: How I saved for my down payment

I am hopeful that the teenagers who are entering University and starting adulthood keep thinking optimistically about their future, but to be realistic about their expectations. I hope that they truly understand that nothing gets handed to you once you graduate. The job market is extremely competitive, and if you want a great salary, that car, a house, and a comfortable (debt-free) life, you need to earn it.

To the youth of today: you can truly do great things with your life and with your career – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But you have to want it more than your peers, and you have to want it more than those who already have it. Be hungry. Work hard, don’t take anything for granted, and create opportunities for yourself.

Do you think teenagers are out of touch with reality?

How I landed my first job out of college

I was recently asked by a few people how I was able to land my first job out of college (as a writer with the provincial government), with no experience. I don’t really think I’m qualified to give much advice on this topic, but I can definitely tell my story and let you know what I learned. This is going to be kind of a long post, so I apologize in advance.

During college
It seems so cliché to say that I “worked hard” while in college, but I worked effing hard. What I’m doing right now doesn’t even come close to the effort I put into my education. I volunteered my creative services to build up my portfolio, worked 2 part-time jobs (one was career-related), and spent free evenings pouring over tutorials and internet forums trying to teach myself new skills. Not to mention the countless blurry-eyed nights spent until 4 or 5am in the studio.

The program I took was for media generalists. We focused on key areas such as graphic design, writing, radio, television and photography. It was a very broad program, and some people really chose to focus in on one area – like radio or television – because that was where they wanted to take their career. But since I don’t have the personality to be on radio or television, my strategy from Day 1 was to make myself as employable as possible. So even though it wasn’t a marketing program, all of the applied skills we were learning were directly applicable to any career within the marketing realm. I knew my best shot would be to take all of the skills I’ve been learning and pitch myself as a walking, talking all-in-one marketing machine. That way, I could fit into whatever position was needed within a large marketing department (since my skills were diverse), or I could work and run as a one-woman-show.

My trial run of my strategy came when I was applying and interviewing for the mandatory summer internship. Because I had volunteer experience under my belt, and had a great part-time job where I led a team of 3-5 workers, I was able to land a job as a Project Coordinator for a non-profit organization. The pay was awful, but I was able to do a little bit of everything – website/graphic design, print production, event management, and writing.

After graduation
Once I graduated, I continued to work my 2 part-time jobs for the first month while I looked for work. I knew I wanted to get serious about my debt, and I thought my best option would be to try for a job with the government. It would provide me with steady pay, and the ability to move within the organization. Because it’s true what they say – once you’re in, you’re in. The competition is always fierce when you live in a capital city, so I kept my ear to the ground, applied for entry-level government job I thought I was qualified for (and was interested in), and started networking like crazy. Then, one day I got word from a friend that there was an unadvertised opening for a clerk position (which is basically the lowest on the pay scale – lower than an admin assistant). I wasn’t really interested in being a clerk, but figured it couldn’t hurt to throw my resume into the mix – and if anything, I could practice my interview skills. Because unadvertised job openings don’t really follow normal hiring rules, I knew I had to act fast. I was called an hour after I submitted my resume, and had an interview scheduled for the next morning.

Turns out, they were actually looking for someone with my kind of skills – they just didn’t have the budget to have the position classified as anything higher than a clerk. And since they couldn’t afford to hire someone more qualified, they were just going to hope for the best. So even though I only had a 4-month internship and volunteer experience under my belt, I was able to convince them that I could do whatever it is they wanted me to do. Plus, I was willing to work under the ‘clerk’ classification. It was kind of a lucky break, but I would have never known about it had I not gone crazy with my networking. I was hired on the spot, and started the very next week with a salary of $32,000.

I have to say, even though I’d probably never work in government again, it was the best first job I could have hoped for. I spent 50% of my day ghost writing for government big shots, and the other 50% of my time I spent analyzing and summarizing error reports for a new software program (it was more fun than it sounds, I swear!). It was totally unglamorous, and I was still technically a ‘clerk’ but the experience and contacts I was making were priceless. I spent 6 months working and paying off my debt until I got the itch to try to see if I could harness my experience and move onto something else more in line with what I was looking for.

Miraculously, I landed an interview for a 12-month marketing coordinator contract, but this time within municipal government. The qualifications were for 5+ years of experience and a bachelor’s degree. I had 6 months of (government) experience and a diploma. I ended up not getting the job, but when the person they offered the contract to declined the position, it was offered to me and I scooped it up. And the rest is history!

Here are a few things I’ve learned about my experience:

  • Work hard in school. This may sound like a no-brainer, but seriously put in as much effort as you can in the areas that matter. I focused more of my attention on beefing up my portfolio, networking, and working on my graphic design skills, than I did studying for tests or working on video editing. That’s not to say I didn’t try in the areas that I wasn’t necessarily interested in, I just chose to focus most of my energy on what I knew was going to benefit me the most.
  • Have a killer resume and cover letter. Your resume and cover letter are your first impression, so make it a good one. Get someone you trust to look over your resume. Five years ago, when I was looking for my first job, I asked two HR managers to look over my resume. Now, whenever I apply for a job, I am confident in how my resume portrays me as a person. If you can’t think of anyone who can look over your resume, consider hiring a professional editor. It will be well worth the money.
  • Know how to market yourself. If you have relevant work or volunteer experience, don’t be afraid to apply for jobs that are a step above entry-level positions. If you are really keen on the job, let that show in your cover letter. You might not get the job, but you won’t know until you’ve tried, and it could open up other doors for you. There have been a handful of times that I’ve applied for a position, only to get a call asking me to interview for another position within the company instead.
  • Network, network, network. Talk to family and friends, go to industry/community events, volunteer – do whatever it takes so that people know your name and your face. Engage on social media, especially with those already in your field of work, companies you’re interested in, and people within the community. Put yourself into the conversation. Oh, and get on LinkedIn. Right now.
  • Be interview-ready at all times. Employers are not shy about asking tough interview questions – even for entry-level positions. Find a friend or someone in the industry to help you prepare for upcoming interviews. I keep a notebook of standard interview questions, as well as my responses to them. Then, before any interview, I will read over the answers and practice speaking them out loud in the mirror. It might feel dorky at first, but it really helped me. I might not be the most qualified candidate, and sometimes I can be painfully shy, but for some reason, I’m pretty good at interviewing.
  • Just get your foot in the door. Normally, entry-level positions are not glamorous. In fact, it might not look anything like the dream job you’ve been imagining. But we all have to start out somewhere. Do a good job with every task you are assigned, and be proactive in asking for more responsibility. If you aren’t getting what you asked for, don’t be afraid to move on once you feel you’re ready.

Did you have a hard time landing your first job out of school?


Pondering my 5-year college reunion

My 5-year college reunion is tomorrow. It’s crazy how the last few years have flown by, and it’s made me reflect back on how I’ve shaped the first 5 years of my career:

  • (7 months) writer in provincial government
  • (12 months) marketing coordinator in municipal government
  • (8 months) marketing coordinator in non-profit
  • (18 months) marketing coordinator in real estate
  • (15 months) marketing coordinator – current job

How many jobs did you have in the first 5 years of your career?

I was able to determine the direction I wanted my career to go fairly early on, and I’ve been relatively fortunate that my inability to stay at a job for more than 2 years hasn’t played a factor in my employability. 5 jobs in 5 years doesn’t exactly shine the best light on me. Spinning that negative into something positive, I feel like I’ve gained a lot of experience working with so many different organizations/industries, which has made me into a more well-rounded employee. And after 5 years (and a few horrible jobs) I feel like I’ve finally found a company that I can stay with for the long term.

A few days ago, I was discussing careers with a friend who is close to finishing up a Masters degree. The topic of being passionate about your career came up, as it usually does when you’re looking towards getting your first job. And as most of you know from my previous post on the topic, I have a pretty strong opinion on not needing to be passionate about your career in order to have a fulfilling life – so I always find it refreshing and interesting to hear another person’s insight. I told my friend that we put so much emphasis and stress on finding something in our lives that we can be passionate about – and it seems like we’re all trying to find the passion within our work. Which makes sense, because we spend the majority of the day at our jobs. But passion can be found and held elsewhere, and just because somebody isn’t in love with their career doesn’t mean that they lack motivation or ambition. I believe in what I’m doing, it just doesn’t define who I am.

But the great thing about personal finance is that we’re all different. My values are different from your values. We all choose our own path based on what we deem to be important. That’s why I find it inspirational when I see my fellow classmates following their dreams to achieve whatever it is they want – whether it’s personal or professional. Seeing them achieve their goals makes me incredibly happy, and knowing that they are fulfilling their passion really gives me motivation to keep on doing what I know is right for me. Because in order to accept a life with a career you aren’t passionate about, I think you have to be extremely confident in your choice and really sure of who you are, inside and out.

Anyway, this post ended up longer than I had intended, and I’m not sure it had much of a point except to re-hash what I’ve already blogged about. But, it’s Friday. :) I’m just happy to be seeing my former classmates over the weekend.

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