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‘Dig This Gig’: A New Orleans graduate looks at the job landscape for Millenials

Laura Dodd, a 1999 Ben Franklin grad who went on to get a political science degree at Washington University, landed a dream job right out of college: She went to work as a production assistant for the TV series  JAG and, later, a spinoff, NCIS.

But like so many of her generation, she discovered that the lure and the reality can be two very different things.

“In moviemaking, very few people get to make creative decisions,” Dodd explained over coffee at CC’s the other day. “A lot of what I did was logistical, and I didn’t really find it intellectually stimulating.”

She’s not alone. More and more, members of Dodd’s generation – the so-called Millennials – are finding that they are more interested in what they do than what they make. Well, as interested, anyway.

“There is nothing more demoralizing than being in a job you despise,” Dodd said. “I speak from experience. It seeps into every corner of your life. And no one wants to be around someone who hates their job.”

But just how does a young person, fresh out of college, often with little experience and few contacts, decide what life path will make him or her happy?

Dodd decided to investigate. The result is Dig This Gig, a compilation of compelling and articulate interviews with 32 young people about their jobs.

“The idea was to chronicle what their 8-hour shift was like, how they spent their days,” Dodd said.  “These were candid, twentysomething-to-twentysomething conversations, over coffee. The project was intended to start conversations about what jobs are out there and what they’re like.”

That conversation is an ongoing one, Dodd says, for her generation. “Go to a coffee shop or a bar and listen to people – all they talk about is work.”

And, these days, they really want to like that work. A generation or so ago, college grads were flocking to Wall Street. Now, they are applying to Teach for America and the Peace Corps.

“There’s a real angst to do something that counts,” Dodd said.

New Orleans has benefitted from the angst, with an influx of young professionals who are changing the local landscape, from urban planning to creating start-ups.

“There’s a swell of energy here, and it’s contagious,” said Dodd. “There’s an intoxicating buzz about being part of something like that. It’s cool to be needed and appreciated.”

Finding the right job is, of course, a job in itself.

“A common thread links all these stories: It is hard,” Dodd writes in her introduction. “Just as quickly, however, another common thread emerges: It is all worth it.”

Dig This Gig doesn’t purport to offer career advice. “I don’t tell people to wear a suit or pull their hair into a ponytail for an interview. I wrote this because I was there, and everyone was talking about this.”

The book is divided into categories, with sections on jobs in various sectors, such as the green industry, the outdoors, health care, the entertainment industry or service jobs.

To add more seasoned perspectives, Dig This Gig also contains interviews with eight mentors, seasoned professionals in their spheres, from former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather to Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute. They weigh in with advice and notes on things they’d do differently if they could.

One inspiration for her book, Dodd says, was Studs Terkel’s 1972 book “Working,” in which he recorded the voices of an array of Americans on the job. While Terkel focused on a broad spectrum of the working populace, however, Dodd in this first volume concentrated on college graduates.

“This book is about folks who have graduated from good schools and have opportunity ahead,” she said. “Our parents have broken their backs to give us all amazing educations.”

So is there something, well, self-indulgent about people with education and means who want it all?

“It’s a good question,” Dodds said. “I hear the word entitlement a lot. But this is about assertive opportunity; we’re going to make changes in whatever industries we choose. We’re applying skills for the greater good.

“If that’s entitlement, we’ll take it.”


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