The Great Recession changed the landscape of the labor, financial and housing markets, and Gen Y is learning that it’s no longer their parents’ job market.
The idea of graduating from school, immediately entering the working world and sticking with one position until retirement with a pension is long gone, and grads are struggling to adapt with the times.
Saddled with student loan debt and a sluggish job market, grads are putting major life milestones on hold. According to the Pew Research Center, 31% have postponed either getting married or having a baby and 24% have moved back in with their parents after being on their own.
The study also shows that 49% of all 18- to 34-year-olds have taken a job they didn’t want just to pay the bills. What’s more, 24% report taking an unpaid job to gain work experience.
“Recent graduates have learned much to their horror that they might be the first generation of American college students to spend five or six years following graduation without a job that can be described as a part of their career,” says Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of education policy at McGraw-Hill Education.
“They’re worried that they waited too long to decide, that they have too few choices now in order to do that and a lot of them are confused about where to start.”
As the idea of the traditional career path has changed, graduates also have developed high expectations of a prospective position, says Shama Kabani, CEO of the Marketing Zen Group.
“If you ask them what their ideal job is and what they want from their career, they will list 10 to 15 things that they’re hoping their ideal job provides them, but how many of those graduates think about what are they bringing to the table?” she says. “Until you start asking that question about what do companies need and what is it that I can do to help them, that’s when you start moving forward.”
Accepting a Job Just for the Paycheck
Increasingly, grads have been taking jobs right out of school that are not necessarily their dream position but help them live on their own and handle student loan payments and post-collegiate expenses, says Yael Sivi, psychotherapist and executive coach at Collaborative Coaching. Having this approach could have long-lasting effects on a career.
“An analogy with career development is I’ve been walking up the ladder but I never stopped to think about the house that my ladder is leaning up against--is this the house that I actually want to be climbing?” she says. “There’s still time, but I think there is increasing pressure to say at least my next job has to be more aligned with what I really want.”
While finding the ideal job right out of school may seem farfetched, it’s important for grads to stay on track with their ultimate goals, what direction they are heading and how can they best prepare for that, says Livingston.
“You can both get a job that’s going to help you pay the bills and begin to shape a career that’s going to give you the options of the life and lifestyle that you want--it’s not an either or and you can do both. The important point is to plan and to start planning now.”
Don’t be a ‘Job Jumper’
The idea that grads will devote themselves to one job for their entire time in the workforce isn’t realistic, especially since companies and industries themselves are evolving consistently, says Livingston.
“The only constant will be change and the focus should be on enhancing your skills and thinking out new and different functions to succeed,” he says.
While it’s acceptable for grads to want to explore different positions and companies, Kabani cautions against creating the reputation of being a “job jumper” and switching every three months when other opportunities arise.
“It’s better to wait and find what you’re looking for and not just that, but where can you provide them with value because that means your chances of being retained there are longer,” she says. “Stop thinking about how can I get a job but how can I get a job that I am respected there, retained there and able to grow there.”
Evolve With the Times
In order to keep up with industry changes and build a career, experts stress that grads should always be looking for ways to build on their value to employers.
“You always have to be learning new things, building your personal brand,” says Kabani. “Make sure that people are seeing what you’re able to accomplish and tell that narrative of your career, so if you ever do need to switch, you already have a strong basis in order to do that.”
Rather than trying to plan out a lifetime’s worth of career plans and paths at this stage, Livingston recommends focusing on five years at a time.
“The beautiful thing about this economy is that you can be certain that there will be options open five years from now that don’t exist today,” he says. “Within these next five years, how do I as an individual be responsible for my career, how do I enhance my personal brand in such a way that the economy keeps offering me new and better options?”