Charles Murray’s advice to graduates: Get real jobs

Let’s get down to specifics. Just how are you supposed to go about enhancing your twenties?

Many of you may skip this tip. You’ve grown up in a middle-class or working-class neighborhood in a big city, in a small city or town, or on a farm. You’ve been working at all kinds of jobs since your midteens, and you’ve gone to school with students from all kinds of backgrounds. For you, there’s nothing broken that this tip fixes. It is intended for a particular subset of readers, to wit:

You have grown up in an upper-middle-class house- hold in a metropolitan area, attended good k–12 schools with other children of the upper middle class, and attended a selective college. Insofar as this description applies to you, you have lived in substantial isolation from mainstream America. You may not realize it, but if you were to be inserted into an ordinary middle-class or working-class community to live for a few months, you would feel like a foreigner. Have you ever seen one of those movies in which a clueless city slicker is thrown into a small town in the West or South? You would be playing the leading role.

Getting to Know the Middle:

If you’ve grown up in the upper-middle-class bubble, you may well have had contact with the most disadvantaged elements of American society. Many upper-middle-class parents make sure their teenage children volunteer once a week at the local soup kitchen or spend a week working for Habitat for Humanity in the summer. Sometimes the parents are motivated by a sincere de- sire to strengthen their child’s sense of social responsibility; sometimes by a sincere desire to strengthen their child’s application to an elite college. Either way, such experiences are good. I hope you’ve had some. But they can produce a false sense of knowledge. Working at a soup kitchen once a week may have exposed you to some of America’s most problem-ridden communities. But you’ve still never been exposed to the vast middle: the majority of American communities that are neither affluent nor in poverty, but function just fine—and in ways that you should understand.

So you need to think about ways of breaking out of the upper-middle-class bubble. The subsequent two tips will help if you have already graduated from college. This one will help if you’re still in school: You can find a summer job that is not an internship.

Internships are affirmative action for the advantaged. Who can afford to spend the summer without making any money? Students whose parents are subsidizing them. Who are you going to be around if you get an internship? In most cases, other upper-middle-class college students just like you and upper-middle-class supervisors just like your parents.

Furthermore, the value of internships is ridiculously oversold. Let’s be serious. The chances that your summer of interning at AEI or your congressperson’s office or the Museum of Modern Art is going to help you network your way into a terrific job are slim. It’s just as likely to produce an “opportunity” that seduces you into a job after college that you don’t really like that much, just because you have a connection. But neither of those outcomes is likely. The typical internship may well be pleasant, but it’s not life-changing, and it doesn’t send you back to school with nifty new job skills. You will have simply spent a summer hanging out with the same kinds of people you’ve always known in a generically familiar environment.

Finding a summer job that isn’t an internship is easier than you might think, even in a bad job market. There are lots of summer jobs available for college students at vacation resorts—not at the high-end places like Aspen that are open year-round and have professional staffs, but at the fishing resorts, dude ranches, restaurants, and bars that open only for the summer and have to re-staff every year. The Mountain West is a rich source of such jobs; so are the summer vacation areas of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, the Ozarks, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Adirondacks, and northern New England. Almost all of those jobs are filled by application during the winter months, and one of your options is to think ahead and apply for one. But you can still find a job even if you haven’t thought ahead. Just show up at a resort area in early June after the accepted college applicants were supposed to have arrived. Some of them will be no-shows (college students are unreliable), and employers will be looking for replacements.

What’s so great about waiting tables in Montana or helping children bait hooks in Minnesota? Partly, they’re the jobs that are available. Ordinary jobs are hard to get for just three months, because employers know you’re not going to stay. But jobs at summer resorts also have a specific advantage: They are service jobs. Many of you have been waited upon constantly until this point in your life and you will be waited upon constantly as a successful adult. It is essential that you know what it’s like to do the waiting upon. Once you have been a server in a restaurant, you will never again look at dining in a restaurant as you did before you were a server. If you have ever had to attend to customers in a busy store, you are less likely to be an obnoxious customer thereafter.

Working in a service job at an ordinary resort, store, or restaurant will also bring you into direct contact with all sorts of people you would have never encountered as equals in your upper-middle-class bubble. Some of them will become friends, and you will be inoculated against condescension in the future. Others you won’t care for—jerks are part of every social class—but at least you will have concrete reasons for not caring for them. One of my daughters went to a high school where some of the other students were self-described rednecks. She didn’t share many interests with them, and they weren’t her best friends. But she also knew them as flesh-and-blood people. When she went off to an elite college, it made her angry to hear her fellow students refer sneeringly to rednecks. They didn’t have the right to use that word, she told them, because they didn’t know what they were talking about.

That’s the point. We aren’t required to love all of our fellow Americans. But we should know from personal experience what we’re talking about.


Excerpted from The Curmudgeon’s Guide To Getting Ahead by Charles Murray. Copyright © 2014 by Charles Murray. Excerpted by permission of Crown Business, a division of Random House, LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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