Examining Plan B Jobs

By Cyrus Oloumi

Have you ever stopped to think about what your Plan B might be? And no, I’m not talking about birth control. Plan B meaning your secondary profession or career, if not Plan A (duh). Perhaps you have multiple interests, some taking priority over others. Or maybe you haven’t even stopped to think of anything apart from that dream job you may be working towards. And if you haven’t even come close to realizing what your Plan A  is, relax and take a deep breath, cause you’re still in college and you still have time.

For most of us, this “Plan B” is likely an object of little interest. Why attend university, to study and train for a profession, only to consider the reality that you may not attain your job of choice and will need to fall back on work in a different field? This cautious thinking can be a little depressing. Yet although no one wants to think along such pessimistic lines, perhaps a back-up career should be considered with greater frequency.

In the New York Times article “Why Are Harvard Graduates in the Mailroom?”,   Adam Davidson, co-founder and host of NPR’s Planet Money, touches upon the subject of the American meritocratic capitalism. A meritocracy is an institution that metes out power and standing according to ability. Yet a meritocratic capitalism is in short, one that lavishes benefits upon those proven worthy, while challenging others to join its ranks (often through extremely low pay, over-working, or general misery).

As terrible as that may sound, many still accept such conditions, taking their sub-par wages with that figurative lottery ticket and the auspicious chance to be part of the successful clique. But in the past, even if such success was not attained, Americans were fortunate for the healthy job market with respectable salaries that often became someone’s “Plan B.” So even if you didn’t win the career jackpot, why worry?

Unfortunately, these days we may have to. In recent times, economists have fretted over the gradual decline of these “Plan B” jobs, as international job exportation and technology have begun to phase out many of the dependable backup careers here in the States. Many manufacturers have relocated many of their factories to developing countries for profitable reasons, and even your laptop’s tech support hotline may be located halfway across the world. And it isn’t only professions for unskilled workers and menial labor that have undergone downsizing. Graphic designers have watched their expertise art become commercially available to the common amateur through programs such as Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator. Accountants have seen a falling demand and clientele thanks to do-it-yourself tax-filing software like Quickken and TurboTax. In general, jobs are not quite aplenty as they used to be.

Which is why Adam Davidson suggests that newer generations be prepared to look across multiple fields in their search for jobs, keeping as many options as possible. To be frank, he’s right. But that doesn’t mean that one should throw themselves into every field possible. Specialization in a field is an extremely important asset not to be forgotten, and if making oneself available to a wide range of job markets means losing such expertise, then perhaps it isn’t such a good idea. Yet students should be aware of the varying careers they can apply their skills to, as well as strengthening others that pertain to their current studies.

As students, academic excellence is a necessary trait of success, but that does not mean that all useful skills are obtained in the classroom. This is exactly why exploring a side-interest and perhaps involvement in student life, leadership or a professional internship is never a bad idea (well perhaps depending on the type of “student life”). If there is one truth in college, it is that your degree does not always determine your job.


Cyrus Oloumi is a second-year undecided/undeclared major. He can be reached at coloumi@uci.edu.