“In his remarks at last year’s commencement, in May, The New York Times reported, University of Connecticut President Michael Hogan addressed the phenomenon of students’ turning down jobs, with no alternatives, because they didn’t feel the jobs were good enough. “My first word of advice is this,” he told the graduates. “Say yes. In fact, say yes as often as you can. Saying yes begins things. Saying yes is how things grow. Saying yes leads to new experiences, and new experiences will lead to knowledge and wisdom. Yes is for young people, and an attitude of yes is how you will be able to go forward in these uncertain times.”

Don Peck recounts this in a recent article in The Atlantic in which he describes the possible long-term effects on American culture of a sustained stretch of high unemployment. One effect is the attitude change required of people with very high employment expectations—or a strong sense of entitlement. If you are highly self-confident, it is easy to say “no” to opportunities as they come along. But I think conditions are far different today than just a few years ago, and likely to remain so for years. Under these circumstances, “yes” should become a stronger part of the career vocabulary.

Exhibit A is this graph from Calculated Risk, a finance blog. Looking at all of the post-World War II recessions, the job losses in the recent recession are the worst. Judging from the slow rate of economic growth and the huge overhang of outstanding debt in the U.S., it seems likely that the growth of employment for the next few years will be slow and high unemployment will linger.

Plainly, this is an extraordinary moment in global economic history. It requires much more flexibility about career goals and job placement than would have prevailed, say, three years ago. Above all, it requires a greater capacity to say “yes” to opportunity.

President Hogan’s message brought to mind the memory of an MBA student who had declined a job offer from the leading management consulting firm in the world. ((To preserve confidences, I have disguised the example. Nevertheless, the description reflects the essentials of the case.)) Mind you, this is the kind of offer that legions of MBAs would crave. Was the student afraid of the long hours and travel? No. Was there an issue with the location, say, on account of a spouse or partner who couldn’t re-locate? No, the company had graciously offered to locate him where he wanted to live. Was there a problem of culture or personalities? No, the people at the consulting firm seemed very nice. Was the financial package adequate? Yes, in fact, generous. By this point, the suspense was getting the better of me. So what was the problem?

The student was holding out for an offer in a field that hires few MBAs straight out of school and at a level of seniority consistent with several more years of work experience than the student could claim. He felt that adhering to the path toward his ideals was the courageous course.

It’s not easy to render a Dean speechless. He was courageous, perhaps; but focused to the point of self-absorption. My mind braced itself against the vision, expectations, and audacity of the student, all of them impermeable to the realities of the job market. Did the student remember Shakespeare’s words that discretion is the better part of valor? I thought of the interview slot that this student had taken despite his intentions to head into an entirely different field—what did this imply about the student’s integrity and regard for his peers? I thought of the hours he had spent in career counseling at the school: what had he learned? I reflected on the consulting firm itself: in the pursuit of the brightest, most interesting and charming hires, had they not asked sensible questions or heard the evidence that screamed the student’s disinterest?

Soon enough, I found my voice and conveyed all this to the student. And in my best coaching tones, I told him that he simply needed more seasoning before he could hope to gain the position of his dreams. With the miracle of modern medical advancements, he could look forward to a career of perhaps 50 years. He needed to pace himself and build toward his dream. From this standpoint, the consulting job would be excellent preparation.

His reply, in so many words, was “no.”

As this jobless recovery grinds on, job-seekers will need to find good words as opportunities appear: “yes,” or “let’s see how we can make this work,” or “let me consider how this offer can build toward outcomes we both want,” or “this has promising possibilities.” President Hogan was spot on: saying ‘yes’ does begin things. It is as unrealistic to expect to see the path forward with much clarity as it is to get the job of your dreams without seasoning, preparation, and a decent employment environment. Saying ‘yes’ buys you an option on the future: a chance to take a look around; a chance to learn by doing something new; a chance to launch your career. As we know, options are more valuable in times of heightened uncertainty, times like the present.

I applaud great determination and high goals. I hope that the day of abundant employment opportunities returns soon. But until then, the Darwinian grind of the job market will require more of seekers than the single-minded pursuit of a dream with the expectation of quick results.