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On (Not) Working for the Man

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College graduates who can’t find the right jobs are increasingly starting their own businesses, or supplementing low-paid or unsatisfying work with freelance gigs that engage their passions. They’re part of an army of entrepreneurs empowered by cheap startup costs and the conveniences of the gig economy.

New Jersey resident Juan Asitimbay started an online marketing company after failing to break into banking.

Juan Asitimbay started an online marketing company, after failing to break into banking. Photo by Kennia Vasquez
Juan Asitimbay started an online marketing company, after failing to break into banking. Photo by Kennia Vasquez

“I always dreamt of working for a banking corporation,” said Asitimbay, 27, who earned a degree in business management from Berkeley College, a for-profit school with campuses in New York and New Jersey. “I wanted to have my own office with a perfect view of Manhattan’s skyline. But that wasn’t possible.”

He applied to many paying internships, to no avail. He was offered one 30-hour per week, three-month unpaid internship he felt obliged to decline.

As he was graduating, he also became a father. That only added financial pressure.

“I had to take care of my son’s mother and provide [for] all of my son’s needs, such as baby formula, clothes and diapers,” he said.

“I also had to pay rent, and a $50,000 college debt. Gaining experience from an unpaid internship was not my priority. I wanted to get experience, and earn a salary as well.”

The constant rejection led Asitimbay to start his own business, plus the extra financial pressure of fatherhood, led him to start his own business.

“Students see that some small businesses can become multi-million corporations. It is a culture that the millennial generation is exposed to, and they want to become part of the culture.” —  Rutgers University business professor Jeffrey A. Robinson 

In 2015, he opened an online MCA Classic Shop, a business that provides marketing tools, such as website templates, flyers and business card designs.

“I do not regret my decision,” he said.

A colleague with an online design business taught him how to design a website, and to make templates. It took round-the-clock preparation, he recalled.

“I barely slept when I started my online logo and design business,” he said. “I worked on it for three months. The hardest part of a business is the initial stage. After that stage is accomplished, the rest is easy.”

He earns about $1,300 per month, but notes that his income can vary dramatically.

“I can get three sales or none for a day,” he said.  He relies heavily on social media for advertising.

Asitimbay also has a second job, working full time for a construction union.

“My job is to clean up the mess that construction workers make when finishing a project,” he said. “I get medical, dental benefits and a pension as well. My job does not require a bachelor’s degree, which makes me question the importance of graduating from college. I work six days a week, and earn about $80,000 per year.”

An Army of Underemployed College Graduates

More than one in three college graduates are underemployed, if defined as holding jobs that do not require a college degree, according to New York Federal Reserve data. Underemployment is even higher among recent graduates: some 44% of U.S. college graduates aged 22-27 work in jobs that do not require a college degree.

After graduating with an associates’ degree in business from Union County College, New Jersey resident Larissa Martinez realized that she didn’t want to work in traditional business at all.

She’d grown up helping out at her dad’s grocery store. She’d learned to keep the books, to maintain inventory and to serve customers. But, she eventually realized, she didn’t want to live her life in a store.

Instead, she turned a passion for doing makeup into a small business.

“I started off doing makeup for prom events,” Martinez recounted. Now she has a part-time business making up clients for weddings, showers, pageants and professional photo shoots. She charges about $75 per session.

Larissa Martinez turned a passion for doing makeup into a small business, preparing clients for proms and parties. Photo by Kennia Vasquez
Larissa Martinez turned a passion for doing makeup into a small business, preparing clients for proms and parties. Photo by Kennia Vasquez

Like Asitimbay, Martinez relies heavily on social media for advertising, posting her work on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

“A lot of time goes into advertising,” she said, noting that a 10-minute video can take six to eight hours to film, edit and narrate.

“You can’t just have few pictures or videos on your social media accounts,” she said. “You need to post several pictures or videos of your work per week. Your clients need to know that your craft is constantly evolving. It is not as easy as people assume. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur and have a successful business. You need to put a lot of effort and show your dedication through your craft.”

About 44% of college graduates in their twenties are underemployed: working at jobs that don’t require a college degree.   

Becoming an entrepreneur allowed Martinez to decide how many hours she wanted to work, and gave her time to figure out what type of permanent career she really wanted to pursue.

Now she is studying education full time at Kean University. She plans to continue her makeup business part time.

“I want to expand my makeup business by combining my pageant experience,” she said. “I want to teach girls how to perfect their makeup look and coach them for pageants as well.”

“I Am My Own Boss”

Benjamin Perez, a business major at New York City’ LaGuardia Community College, works as a freelance DJ, playing music at bars, parties and college events.

“I do not consider myself a professional DJ, but I know that my listeners notice the passion I have for this craft,” he said. “I am an entrepreneur, because my craft is allowing me to make a profit without depending on the orders of a boss. I am my own boss.”

Perez doesn’t own expensive equipment or music applications.

“The apps do not determine the performance of a DJ,” he argues. “A good DJ can do a great job using free music apps to mix.”

For now, this is a part-time project. In a typical night, he might make $120.

College student Benjamin Perez is also a freelance DJ. Photo by Kennia Vasquez Photo by Kennia Vasquez
College student Benjamin Perez is also a freelance DJ. Photo by Kennia Vasquez

“Advertising is everything,” he said, echoing Martinez. “It is easier for people to advertise their business nowadays, due to the evolution of technology. Social media is important to me. It helps me inform my family, friends and followers about my performances. The more people [who] attend the bars where I’m DJing, the more profit I earn.”

His parents, who own a furniture business, encouraged him to major in business administration, and inspired his entrepreneurial bent.

“They started making futon mattresses, and now they manufacture orthopedic mattresses,” he said. “Little by little, they started to focus on furniture. I helped them with sales.”

As many as two thirds of Rutgers students who minor in entrepreneurship are majoring in subjects other than business, according to Jeffrey A. Robinson, a Rutgers associate professor who is assistant director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development.

“It makes sense, because many students who are in college right now do not want to work for somebody else,” Robinson said. “They’ve seen what the Internet and small businesses can do. They see that some small businesses can become multi-million corporations. It is a culture that the millennial generation is exposed to, and [they] want to become part of the culture.”

About Post Author

About the Author

Kennia Vasquez

Professor: Mary D'Ambrosio
Class: Writing about Social Issues

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