University of Utah alumnus finds path to desired career proves difficult

Chris Jex supporting the Utes at the 2010 Maaco Bowl in Las Vegas, Nev.

Story and photo by JACOB W. MAXWELL

Chris Jex, 28, a 2011 graduate of the University of Utah, has had difficulty transitioning from student into his desired career path.

One week before he graduated in August, he was hired by Fanzz online apparel stores, Larry H. Miller Corporation’s online sports apparel and merchandise retail company.

“Working in online and new media marketing is something I enjoy,” Jex said.

But it isn’t his dream job.

For Jex, his formative years were spent mastering the guitar, online gaming and skipping school. In 2001, he decided to pursue higher education. He received his GED diploma later that year, and started at Salt Lake Community College in 2002. He graduated in 2006 with his associate degree in general studies.

He entered the University of Utah in 2007 knowing that he wanted to major in political science.

In the summer before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in both political science and economics, Jex decided he would start working toward his career path and forego graduate school for the time being.

Unemployed and with graduation approaching, Jex began to feel the burden of repaying his student loan debt, affording his living expenses and finding a well-paying job during this recession. This forced Jex to put his career plans to work in finance or the public sector on hold, and look for a job he knew that he could get quickly.

He had worked for five years for Mrs. Fields, an online retailer for baked goods. When he saw a job listing for the Larry H. Miller Corp. that was relevant to his prior work experience, Jex jumped at the opportunity to apply.

He adds descriptive captions to online items such as jerseys, hats and key chains for the website. He was quickly promoted after only a few weeks on the job to run an online marketing team.

Jex said his promotion came with only a slight increase in pay and the responsibility of managing a team of five people in which he is still paid hourly.

Many graduates, like Jex, hope those four years of schooling and thousands of dollars will reap them the financial rewards of a well-paying job in the field that they had studied.

A study of 571 men and women who graduated between 2006 and 2010 from four-year colleges found that 53 percent were employed full-time, 14 percent were still looking for full-time employment and almost half were working in jobs that don’t require a degree.

The report, published in May 2011, measured how prepared college graduates were to enter the job market. Graduates also were asked how much of their education was financed. Researchers at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University concluded that this generation exhibits a “diminished expectation of financial success.”

Dana Sowby, associate director for the Career Services at the U, said that “a degree doesn’t get you a job. It’s a foundation you base your career on.”

For example, Sowby feels that Jex’s education provided him with that foundation by teaching him critical thinking skills.

Sowby is a firm believer that there are plenty of jobs out there waiting for U students to fill. Over the past 20 years, she has made sure that U students who seek the center’s help are prepared to enter the workforce.

The center helps students and alumni choose a career path, write resumes and find internships. The staff also hold mock interviews to help individuals prepare for a real-life situation.

Sowby recommends that current students take advantage of internships to explore career options and determine whether they are on the right course. “Take internships during school. Internships are critical, but not required,” she said.

The Rutgers report found that students who took advantage of internships during school saw a median income of $34,680, which was $6,680 more than those who chose to not participate in them.

“Internships give students a chance to implement their knowledge, gain real-world experience, network and add to a resume,” Sowby said.

Jex never took an internship while in school.

He is still strongly considering graduate school to further his education and hasn’t yet taken advantage of the Career Services to help jump-start his career path.

But Sowby suggested that Jex find relevant work experience first. “Not finding a job isn’t the right reason to enter graduate school,” she said.

She said both political science and economics are great majors. However, she feels that having a degree alone isn’t enough.

“You need to take it a step further and apply your knowledge,” Sowby said.

Jex feels that there already have been many opportunities to apply his university training with his current job at Fanzz. He is grateful to the Larry H. Miller Corp. for employment in this rough economy, even though it’s not his dream job.

So what’s next for Jex?

“My long-term goals are to have the flexibility and options to pursue an eventful and fulfilling career in an increasingly diverse job market,” Jex said.