For young adults looking to land a full-time job in the current feeble labor market, it might make sense to accept any job offer—no matter what.
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Long hours, high stress and low salaries are common for this age group working entry-level jobs to climb the corporate ladder, but the current economic environment might have employers pushing this idea to an extreme.
A recent New York Times article quoted a hiring manager claiming companies are looking for a “22-22-22”: a 22-year-old willing to work 22 hours a day for $22,000 a year.
According to the Labor Department, in the fourth quarter of 2012, workers nationally between 20 and 24-years-old brought home a weekly average of $476 a week or $24,752 a year. During the same time period in 2000, that same national age group made on average, $393 a week or $20,436 per year.
The idea of workers having to “pay their dues” is common in several industries, but that doesn’t make it right to underpay them, says Polly Wright, a senior consultant at HR Consults.
“We all have to prove ourselves in some way in the workplace, no matter what age we are,” Wright says. “But people need to have a balance between proving themselves and being taken advantage of. There have to be other ways to break into that industry.”
To avoid being taken advantage and stifling their career growth, experts recommend young workers set career goals with deadlines and if they aren’t being met, it’s time to move on.
“If you’re making a wage that you can sustain yourself on, where you aren’t losing money, it can work,” Wright says. “You aren’t going to make millions of dollars on your first job, and you will probably have to eat mac and cheese for a few years. But in two years, if your employer isn’t giving you developmental opportunities, you should start asking for it or looking elsewhere.”
Developmental opportunities may be worth taking on in place of money in the short run, says Peter Bacevice, senior strategy consultant at AECOM Strategy Plus. He advises young workers find mentors that are willing to guide their career and navigate the workplace environment, but warns everyone needs an “off ramp.”
“If you are making $22,000 a year in New York City, you aren’t going to last very long. Financially, something has to give. If you aren’t given an off ramp, to see where this will take you in your career, or you don’t have people taking the time to show you why this is important, you may be wasting your talent.”
High-stress, low-collaboration environments don’t leave much room for creative growth either, he adds.
“These young people working in isolation under this intense pressure are suffocating their creative abilities and compromising the reasons why they sought a ‘creative’ job in the first place,” he says.
Bacevice, who also lectures at Parsons, the New School for Design, suggests not only seeking out mentors, but also paying it forward to others when possible. He says a "see one, do one, teach one" cycle builds competencies in creative teams.
“If you burn out your young talent and only make them do scut work without giving them time in their day to reflect and put everything in context - you can expect a higher churn rate, higher levels of training/re-training, and a lack of fresh perspectives," Bacevice says.
Millennials are also often criticized for their work ethic—either for their sense of entitlement, or stunted growth and reliance on their parent’s checkbooks for too long. Given those criticisms, the tight job market and many employers’ stereotypes, Wright says it’s possible young workers may have to suck it up and take the 22-22-22 deal.
But it might not be in their best interest.
“This generation is really hurting themselves by taking these 22-22-22 jobs,” she says. “And the employer mindset says exactly that, ‘if you don’t want to do it then someone else will.’ If people get together and start saying ‘no, we will not take this,’ it will help the generation as a whole.”