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Under 24 & my journey from school to employment

Being under 24 - my experience throughout school, internships and finding employment

Photo of Claudia Y
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I am currently under 24 and this is my story from school to finding a job

Following Asian expectations during high school I naturally went into science and thought I would be an engineer or doctor. I had never been more stressed out in my life I took 11 classes, retaking some to get a higher mark. It was a competitive year with more students applying to university, some students would refuse to help other students on even simple things like a math problem just because they pose as an threat and would beat them to a university spot. On top, I was doing extra circular and volunteer activities because its an admittance bonus and to be a “well rounded person”

When it came time to apply for college I was told to apply for design as a backup in case I couldn’t make it into a science undergrad, not the most supportive thing I have heard. I was always good in art and design but always used it as a grade average booster and it was easy.

In the end I did get into science programs but not the very best but I was also admitted into some of the better design programs. On a whim I decided to go for design, pretty much felt like I wasted my high school years and worked way too hard on science.

I entered university in 2012 and did pretty well. I did 3 unpaid internship in my first two years. The first one was ok, didn’t do too much. The 2nd internship was even worse it was advertised as a job until I got to the interview. I felt like they were really exploiting students for free work. I didn’t work at the office, I just worked from home and sent them finished files. Skills gained: close to none. The third was also posted as a job and paid a mere 2 dollars an hour. It was discouraging in the beginning to asked to do meaningless tasks and got let go.

All along these day time internships I also worked minimum paid retail and customer service jobs. I never thought about it until I left those that how much that has taught me more than those unpaid internships. I was able to build presentation and communication skills daily by pushing sales and talking to strangers. On top I met great friends being around others the same age. I also started two small startups with friends which also taught me a lot even though they didn’t last for long.

In my third year I was lucky enough to study abroad in Germany. There I was really able to improve my design skills and felt like design was a good decision. All along my time in university my parents were always (very) worried I would never find a job in a creative field, but at least they were financially supportive.

I came back from Europe and finished another year, itching to leave again I took an internship in Hong Kong. It paid only 4 dollars an hour and I still had to pay for rent and living in an expensive city. It was a great firm and I ended up doing amazing work and got a lot of experience. But it was a revolving door of interns and they barely had any full time employees. Other interns would always talk about how they are making money by just hiring cheap students for full time employee value which caused frustration for all of us.

I was set to graduate in June of 2013 by December 2012 I was already looking for a job. People around me created such fear of joblessness. “Oh you are a creative? Better start looking now you are never going to find a steady job” and my grandparents thinks I do arts and crafts and make happy little drawings for a living. I would throw out my resume every week and signed up for many job notification emails. Interview slowly started coming in but not in places that I wanted to be in but I felt like I couldn’t be choosey at this point, especially with the news telling us about bad economies, job market and that the generation has been grouped as lazy and self absorbed.

I ended up with a contract position upon graduating. Not enough pay, no benefits or vacation days, 1.5 hour commute each way. I worked for a year straight without taking a single day off because I wasn’t allowed to. I would see on LinkedIn or Facebook about how some people were getting amazing jobs and I was stuck in this subpar one. It was again discouraging but really kept building me up and still is. Frustrated and still living at home I left that job. I must have applied to over 100 companies and with a lot of perseverance I got one.

Somedays I really wonder that if I went down the science route would I be doing much better? My brother is an engineering student and he makes more than me as a co-op student than I do at my full time job. But I also know graduated science students who are having a difficult finding jobs as well or being underemployed. 

Today I have a full time job its still not 100% where i want to be but at least I have a job for what I went to school for and I’ll still keep trying to figure this grown-up life out.

Along the way to employment I thought there was a lot of negativity from the outside world that really can bring someone down.

It’s a long story and I actually never typed out my experience like this till now but this challenge hit close for me

- Let's get rid of the thought that unpaid internships should be a "right of passage"
- Create collaboration instead of competition in schools
- Spark positivity instead of the negativity from the media and outside world


Join the conversation:

Photo of Meena Kadri

Thanks for sharing, Claudia and we're loving the positive provocations you've added at the end of your post. Looking forward to what these might spark for our upcoming Ideas phase. Hope to see you there!

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

Claudia wonderful share. I'm sure it hits close to home for many people. Are there any successful programs that offer an alternative to unpaid internship that help young people gain experience and build networks? What did you wish you had access to during job hunting that you didn't have to get the job you wanted?
Thanks for sharing such a great personal story,