In job interviews following my graduation from college, I received a lot of the usual questions that young people hear regarding lack of experience, grade-point-average. I expected those.
What I didn’t expect were the snarky comments about the amount to time I was in school. like, “I see you were on the six-year plan,” or “You partied a lot, huh?”
Sometimes, I might be able to get a word in about the amount of hours I worked, and that I paid for my own education. Responses were along the lines, of “Oh, I see…”
One man actually claimed he “didn’t have time to work during college.“
I’ve seen statistics measuring college-graduation rates (among athletes, or among income groups…) that don’t included students who graduated after six years. I don’t know when it started, but it is still a thing. A cutoff at six years is, of course, arbitrary. I suspect it was a decision of convenience as a means to limit the amount of followups the researchers would have to do.
I understand the motivation behind that. Though the cutoff would miss tracking a lot of college graduates who faced financial strife, medical issues, or family crises. Or the people that partied a lot.
When I was planning a move to Tallahassee (don’t ask, OK?), I traveled there for interviews about once a week. I don’t remember the exact comment, but on one trip a hiring manager belittled me about the “six years.”
It made me feel pretty small (perhaps that is why the term is “belittled”).
When I made these trips , I usually headed downtown, or to an office park, to look for job leads. Often, if the business seemed intriguing, I would drop off a résumé. Occasionally that resulted in an on-the-spot interview.
However, this time I left the interview feeling dejected, and started my 2 1/2 hour drive home. During the trip, I thought much about the events of my life, after high school, through my graduation from college.
I returned to Tallahassee the next week for an interview following day. On the drive up, I had another 2 1/2 hours to reflect on previous “six-year plan”comments and I how I’d react the next time the subject came up.
I got my chance the next the day, when the owner of a company where I interviewed asked “Why did it take you so long to get through school?”
After a week’s reflection, I had a lot to say. Though I had some pent-up energy from previous experiences and wondered if I’d be able to stop saying it.
And there were things I wanted to say that were among those topics (such as health issues) “They” say you shouldn’t bring up in interviews.
I figured this man was already predisposed against a “six-year guy,” so I figured I didn’t have much to lose, thus disregarded what “they” say.
“The six-year plan, was not the plan….” I paused and did a flyover in my mind:
- As one of six kids of a retired enlisted man, who had just finished nursing school and a full-time mom, money was tight.
- Decision to take two classes at junior college, while working full time at a bank.
- The second-semester headaches, diagnosis, surgery, months of recovery, the lingering problems with vision, mobility and losing my summer semester spot at the state university where’d I’d been accepted. Money was substantially tighter.
- Walking in the Florida heat the two miles from my family home to the retail centers to apply for jobs. And feeling inferior by the recently shaved head, and bloated face and waistline, from prescribed steroids, and reduced activity.
- Returning to work at the bank full time, while taking a full-time load at the local jr. college.
- Getting accepted again at a state university, earning an honors scholarship.
- Working full time to meet my expenses.
- The junior year injury playing basketball requiring emergency surgery. Money was tighter still.
- The same type of injury at work, surgery and my father’s illness and leaving school that semester to help my mother care for him. Money: still more tightening
- The cumulative loss of work due to illness and injury, recovery, causing financial strife and inability to meet tuition for two semester, leading me to work more hours, until I could return to school part-time. Again, the finances tightened.
I throttled the answer a bit, “I worked full time throughout most of my studies…..thousands upon thousands of dirty dishes…… critical illness…injuries…..4 surgeries….family matters requiring my attention…lost work….”
He asked questions about those six years. My responses generated some more questions, several of them are illegal today (I don’t know if they were then). I answered the questions, in some cases, with specifics, because I didn’t care what “They” say I should do.
I concluded with “..I still graduated in ONLY six years.”
He responded “You should be proud of yourself for that accomplishment.”
I was, beginning that very moment.