Jack Guzdowski had great expectations but small results.
He said he expected to get hired by the FBI, another federal agency, or, after a while, even the Loudoun County or Manasssas police departments.
The only position his administrative justice degree from George Mason University helped him get since graduating a year ago was as a part-time security guard for Giant Food.
"Some of the jobs offered me are an insult," Guzdowski said after returning from another in a series of unsuccessful job interviews. "Some are offering $3,000 less than what I'm making now part-time. I can't live on $13,000 a year.
"It's disheartening," Guzdowski continued. "I spent four years of my life getting a degree, and I can't get a job."
George Mason junior Jeff Piston said he would like to think that he will be able to achieve as much economically as his parents did, "but I don't think it's true. It's not like you thought in high school. Our expectations are too high. I don't think" childhood dreams "were ever possible."
"My expectations are dropping," Piston continued. "And I'm learning to live with it. It's an awkward feeling."
That awkward feeling is a symptom of a national affliction called Baby Boom shock, the result of a saturation of the labor market and a simultaneous job cutback from the recession.
Fewer local employers have promising openings and some local colleges are getting fewer visits from recruiters whose companies are tightening their belts, local career counselors said. At the same time, jobs in high technology and accounting fields are unfilled.
The local college counselors said they are warning students as early as their freshmen years to prepare for jobs, interviewing and making contacts before they graduate.
And while the superstars of a class may have no problem getting jobs, "The average person is going to find it more difficult in the job market," said Kathy Sims, director of the Student and Alumni Career Services office.
"Things shifted in the mid-70s," said Linda Kaufman, career counselor at George Mason. "I don't think students are as optimistic as" they were a decade ago. The fields of accounting, sales, computer techology often have more jobs than qualified people to fill them, Kaufman said. But often it's only easy for the cream of the crop, she said. "Even for the average accounting student, it's hard to find a job."
The American dream had promised each generation would be more educated and more prosperous than the last. That may be true for the outstanding graduate, but it isn't the case any more for the average job seeker.
"Students are taking positions that are not necessarily their goal," Sims said. The average person who wants to stay in Washington is going to have a doubly difficult time, she said.
"If they plan to stay in the Washington area, they'll have highly skilled competitors," Sims said. They also are facing the Baby Boom work force. "These people are competing with the largest population groups and with the government 'RIFs'. Those qualified professionals are also going to be in the same market with our graduating students."
And it probably won't get any easier, Sims said.
"In the late '60s and early '70s it was much easier for students to walk into an interview and not look their best," because there were more openings than qualified candidates, Sims said. Now "students are perhaps willing to change their images, prepare resumes, look attractive." Grades have become very important to students, she said.
"I think a job will be out there for me," said George Mason University senior Mike Manion. "And I realize I'll have to start at the bottom."
Manion, a marketing major, said he has heard of several openings in that field. But he added, "I think you have to start off at the bottom and start climbing the ladder." If he doesn't get a good job immediately after graduation, Manion said he will go to graduate school. "The way I figure it, if a four-year degree isn't good enough, then that's what I'll have to do."
George Mason junior Kelley Gasparine, a biology major, said she doesn't expect to fare better economically than her parents. "I can try to do better. I don't know if it's possible, but there's a lot of room for advancement. I'm gonna just do my best."
Among a slightly younger crowd--about a dozen Woodrow Wilson High School students--the mood was optimistic. They said they weren't overly concerned about attaining economic success.
"I realize that if you want to get ahead in life you have to start early," said Wilson senior James B. Raiford. "Things are hard. Money is tight." But Raiford said he has already started working toward his career as a professional photographer and businessman. He said he has bought more than $1,000 worth of camera equipment and has been taking free-lance photographs and getting some published for several years. After school he said he works as a security guard at CBS Inc. downtown.
"I'm going to go into computer technology," said senior Keith Blount. "I think that's where it's at in the future."
Blount said he hopes to enter Howard University in the fall and would like to repair computers rather than program them. Blount said he thinks he will be more economically successful than his parents. "My parent, she never went to college, and she's pressing for me to get the education she never had," Blount said.
Several students from more financially secure families at the high school said they weren't worried about getting jobs in their fields.
"My parents are certainly concerned that I do well," said senior Jacob Frumkin. "I sure think about it, but not in an overwhelming way."
Frumkin, who is waiting for acceptance to Yale University, said he wants "to be the next William F. Buckley. I think that he contributes a lot to American thought. I think that William F. Buckleys are going to be much more in vogue if the economic climate" doesn't improve.
Senior Elizabeth Drayne, an aspiring journalist, said, "It's obviously going to be a lot harder for our generation to do well because of rising costs." Breaking into journalism four years from now "is going to be a lot harder. There's so much competition. I'll probably start at a small newspaper and work my way up to an editor position."
"People have to start training a lot earlier now for jobs," Drayne said. "There's so much competition for jobs. You're going to have to start from the bottom and work your way up."