The Ketchup Generation: Entry-Level Jobs Really are There for You, Even During a Recession; Here's the Secret

12/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I want full credit for this ketchup thing. Let me explain. What's the ketchup generation?

If you're older, think of your kids. If you're under 30, think of your friends. If you're a girl, think of your boyfriend. You must have noticed that there's something about the under-30 set, especially guys.

The editor of my book, Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins), is a 28-year-old, not-quite-Ivy League grad (though he should be) who defines the under-30 generation not as Generation X or Y but as the "New Millennium Generation." In fact, he described my book as the "new millennium" version of Sun Tzu's Art of War. I call this group simply THE KETCHUP GENERATION (a Viscusi-ism I'm about to trademark).

Everyone I know under 30 loves ketchup. I mean, on everything. When I grew up, it was just for french fries, hamburgers, and hot dogs. And they don't even care if it's Heinz, as I do (being a New York snob, if it's not Heinz, it's not ketchup) - they just want ketchup. (I would have voted for Mrs. Kerry... had SHE been running.) Regionally, you are welcome to replace the word "ketchup" with "ranch dressing" if you're on the West Coast and with "Tabasco" if you're down south. It's a generational thing. Ketchup is the new Hellmann's, like 70 is the new 60.

I'm hoping my phrase catches on. I'd like to hear Andy Rooney on "60 Minutes" grumbling one day about Viscusi's Ketchup Generation. I want the Viscusi Ketchup Generation to replace Generation Y. I want lots of feedback on this essay, especially if you're a ketchup fan.

Don't you hate when Wendy's or McDonald's makes you pump the ketchup into those tiny little cups as opposed to grabbing a handful of the packets? What am I doing? Working here all of a sudden? Do I get a discount for doing my own ketchup pumping? Ugh.

Anyway, getting back to my Ketchup Generation theory, I'm worried about the "Ketchup Kids" using this "recession" for their excuse for not finding real jobs today. What's worse, I'm worried that they will use their fear that they can't find jobs and the 6.5% unemployment rate as an EXCUSE to not even look. The Ketchup Generation is using the media hype around the economy as an excuse for not finding work.

Hey, Ketchup dudes and dudettes, the jobs are there! You need to go find them. Don't use the economy and media hype as excuses to go get an MBA or law degree. Who are you kidding? It's just a cop-out. (Those degrees are great, but just wait until you've been in the work force to decide how great they are for your career.) Other Ketchup Kids will decide to "take a year off" (whatever that means) under the false premise that their chances of finding that first job are zero.

Listen, there's nothing wrong with these alternatives. But if the Ketchup Kids are using "the economy" as a reason to not look for a job, they're wrong. And we - the media - are sending the wrong message, which is the most upsetting thing of all.

Although the unemployment rate is the highest it's been in eight years, it is still relatively low by international standards. The knee-jerk reaction of employers to what they hear and read is to fire SENIOR workers in order to save the company all that salary money. Employers still have jobs they need to fill. Entry-level employees or interns represent an inexpensive way to fill those jobs. Simply put, entry-level workers are "cheap labor." Go Ketchup!

So in actuality, a recession is a great opportunity for these Ketchup Generation workers to find jobs. Even better, when you find that entry-level job, you may find you have more responsibility than you otherwise would because employers, trying to stretch their budgets, are giving Generation Ketchup the tasks that the senior workers - who were recently fired - once had. Those Generation Hellmann's. Entry-level Ketchup Kids often luck out and get more responsibility then they imagined. As a result, they learn more and at a faster pace. So it's actually a better time for the Ketchup Generation than they may think.

A few tips to think about:

1) High unemployment does not necessarily affect entry-level jobs or internships. You need to understand the context of what you are reading in the economic history.

2) Remember, "chemistry" is the key to getting that entry-level job or internship, not experience. Employers do not expect first-time workers to have "experience," but they want to like you and relate to you. Chemistry is more important than your GPA. Remember you are not applying to graduate school; you are applying for a job!

3) Look the part. The means dress appropriately for the job you are applying for - it is part of what creates that "chemistry" along with a firm handshake (what I call a Viagra handshake in my book, Bulletproof Your Job), attention to detail, and doing your homework on the company to which you are applying.

4) Ask for the job. Yes, ask. A little humility goes a long way. Employers tell me they pass on candidates who don't seem interested in the job, passive, or "qualified but arrogant."

The job market for entry-level jobs is better than you think. So let's go back to figuring out how to get ketchup back in the packets, away from the pump. Yes, even your boss - someone a bit older, like me - loves ketchup.

Stephen Viscusi is the author of Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins). He can be reached at Please visit his website at