According to the New York Times, some college graduates are holding out for the perfect job - turning down job offers despite the current economy to wait for something better (In recession, optimistic college graduates turn down jobs, July 24, 2009). Many college grads have long faced that dilemma when they are offered entry-level jobs that support more senior staff - for instance, business analysts in consulting crunch numbers for associates - while they know they could contribute much more if the company let them.
Some people turn down offers with no backup plan in the hope that something better will come about. The gamble can pay off: someone I know refused to work for a company that planned to pay him as if he only had a Master's degree when he was about to graduate with a doctorate, and ultimately found a much more lucrative job, in a research group with only PhDs, at an internationally-known firm. But he was a soon-to-be doctor, not a twenty-two-year-old with a Bachelor degree.
College grads sometimes have to put up with not-so-interesting tasks in order to move up the ladder, simply because they start at the bottom. This is the main reason why I often advise students to stay in school for a Master's degree. If a manager wants to give one of the young hires more responsibilities, and has the choice between someone with a BS and someone with a MS, everything else being equal (length of time in the workforce etc), I do believe he'll go for the person with the advanced training. One way around that for BS holders - and possibly the only way - is to work for the company they interned with in the summer between their junior and senior years, because the people there will already be aware of the students' potential.
On the other hand, studies indicate that entering the workforce at a time of economic crisis can have a lasting impact on graduates' earnings power, and not in a good way (see this old post of mine for more details). So it is hard to blame recent graduates for their reluctance to accept offers that are not quite right on their standards. For instance, the NYT mentions a U.Wisconsin graduate who "turned down one $23,000-a-year offer to become a research assistant at a magazine because she did not want to move to Chicago and another because she did not want to work nights." Instead, she moved back with her parents and is waiting tables. Living in Chicago on $23,000 a year would give pause to a lot of people. Working nights is not easy. I don't blame the girl for not being ready for that. Waiting tables is not a viable long-term solution, though.
Harder to understand is the reaction of a finance major from Syracuse University who "rejected a $50,000-a-year job as head of technology for a consulting company because he did not get a good vibe from his potential bosses." Did the student feel the company's executives were being dishonest, or exploiting their employees? If so, I commend him. But maybe they simply were not willing to give him as many responsibilities as he wanted - instead of accepting the offer, he decided "to get two technology companies of his own off the ground".
There are many stories of young entrepreneurs who made it big without waiting for their elders to give them the nod (Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Sergey Brin come to mind). But how many more leaders slowly rose through the ranks, while maybe never achieving fame?
The NYT points out that "college career advisers are noticing that many recent graduates do not seem to comprehend the challenging economic world they have just entered." An interviewee wonders what is going to happen when October comes around: what will former students do when they still don't have jobs while the next wave of soon-to-be graduates starts interviewing?
Some students find themselves accepting low offers when they will be able to live with their parents - a graduate from the University of Arkansas "is moving home to Houston to take a $30,000-a-year job [...], the only offer he received in seven months of searching." He recognizes this is not what he had initially in mind - he says he had to "rearrange the game plan."
It is difficult for counselors to give any advice, because students are facing an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions in recent memory. Nobody has any prior experience of similar conditions. I think that students should give themselves a timeframe to search for a job they really like, and a deadline after which they will take the best job they can find, even if it does not exactly match their interests. Abiding by a deadline determined in advance also removes the stigma of being a quitter. This way students will not feel they gave up on their dreams too early, but will remain realistic about their options.