Career Interrupted? A Note to Gen Y on Surviving the Job Market

It's a tough job market out there — probably one you never thought you would encounter in your lifetime. Recruiting is down, job offers are down -- this is the new reality and you have to deal with it. 

Multiple job offers are probably a thing of the past, at least for the meantime.  Even internships are becoming fewer and fewer. If you currently have a job, you may have started to wonder for how long. Not what you expected, right?

So do you feel as if you can't move forward? Are you trapped between your college life and your potential work life? We have some ideas about what you can do now. Much of this is just common sense, but it also demands that you bring the strengths and skills that you do have (even if that is not a wealth of job experience) to the table.

Some of what you can do may come naturally for you as a Gen Yer, and some of the ideas may be harder for you to apply. Stay focused and try a couple of the ideas outlined here. Let us know what works and what doesn't — that way we can pass on your experiences to others.

If you already have a job: Remember that anyone in this climate could be the next person to go. I was laid off of my job in my 20's and it really took me by surprise. Even if you are a star, have great training, and have formed alliances at work — you could be one step away from a job search. I made a one critical mistake that I will discuss first.
 

1. Make your commitment to the organization well known.  This includes your boss and, if possible, other individuals who make the decisions. If you are viewed as someone who is just hanging around until your real life begins (my boss thought that I wanted to write my dissertation more than I wanted to work — which wasn't true), you may be considered a possibility for a job cut, even if you are a high potential employee. The awful thing about it is they'll make the decision with no guilt, because they think it is what you want.

Gen Y has the reputation for enjoying and embracing job hopping — make sure everyone knows that you are loyal and are there to stay, and not just until the next better thing comes along. Communicate this clearly and whenever it seems appropriate. This may seem counterintuitive compared to what you have heard from your parents and friends over the years, but you have show your trust in the organization if you want to be perceived as a keeper.

2. Be ready to justify why you are needed.  You may have to sing for your supper -- just a little -- to keep your job. Everyone has to at one time or another in his career, and for you as a Gen Yer it may be just a little sooner. Take a really hard look at your contribution compared to your colleagues. Don't throw anyone else under the bus, but be ready to defend your work and improve the bottom line. If you are not positively affecting the bottom line, or aren't sure if you are, strategize about ways to do so.

3. Volunteer for tough, unpopular, or boring  (yes, we said it!) assignments, even if this means logging in some long hours. Showing that you don't mind putting forth extra effort may help you stand out in a decision-maker's mind if staffing cuts do occur. If it is an assignment that elicits groans and eye rolling at a staff meeting, you've hit pay dirt. Think of some out-of-the-box ideas and move forward -- something Gen Yers are great at.

4. Offer to teach a valuable skill to other employees. This is your chance to show off. Volunteer to teach other employees how to use their computers more efficiently. Show them how you get through 100 e-mails a day without breaking a sweat. Give them some tips on how you multi-task (because there's nobody better at multi-tasking than Gen Y). Use the trend of "reverse mentoring" to your advantage. If you are in a marketing or sales environment, teach more established employees how to use social networking sites to boost their productivity and contact lists.

 

If you have not found a job: you will be competing for jobs against people with far more years of experience, even at the entry level. All the rules have changed. Don't give the HR department or a recruiter a reason to eliminate you. Here are some strategies to try:

1. Focus your job search on organizations that understand and value Gen Y employees. Experience.com recently published their picks for the Top 20 best places for recent graduates to work, based on their recruiting and retention practices.  Their top picks focus on companies ranging from Hospitality to Consulting to Energy — while you are there, check out the job postings and tips on resumes.

2. Brand yourself.  Know who you are as a future employee and stick with that message. Think of an "elevator pitch" — a few sentences that define you as a potential contributor. In a nutshell, if you don't know what you have to offer, we guarantee that organizations won't know where you fit in either. Don't give them a chance to wonder, and make sure your resume reflects your "brand."

3. Get some real life experience. Why not use what you already know now, while gaining an entry on your resume. Try donating your skills to a small business. Help them out at no charge and you may help yourself as well. You never know, the owner may recommend you to another business, and so on.

If you can handle it financially, search for an unpaid internship. Internship services (at little or no charge) are a real plus for organizations that are already to struggling to keep up with fewer employees. There are companies who can help you secure an internship by packaging resumes and cover letters. A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the pros and cons. Treat your internship as an extended job interview, because if you stand out, you'll be an insider they'll want to consider when a spot opens up.

4. Use your social networking skills to your advantage. If there is one skill that could really pay off now, it's your social networking skills, both electronic and otherwise. Recruiting research shows many jobs are filled with people who were recommended internally. Organizations, like people, like to limit their risk. The trick is getting those contacts in the first place.

Join and attend meetings of professional groups that are applicable to your field. Many may offer a discount for students. Be sure to dress appropriately and have your "elevator pitch" ready — you never know who will show up.

Use websites such as LinkedIn to meet professionals in the industry of your choice. Ask for introductions — and later on, ask to "job shadow" or have an informational interview once you have made a contact.  The worst they can say is no. Arrive armed with a new perspective for solving problems in their industry — one of Gen Y's best skills.

5. Be an entrepreneur.  If you think you have a marketable skill (for example, you are a wiz at setting up home work stations for telecommuting employees, etc.) group together with other students and consult. Gen Yers are brave with technology. If you can think of a service or product that is useful to organizations, and they don't have to make a long-term commitment or pay you benefits, you may have a key opportunity that will help you weather the current economic storm. Do some basic online research to help you get a feel for this type of work.

6. Keep educating yourself. Take courses in areas that will make you more marketable. If you want to get some quick facts about hot career areas in the coming years, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. You'll find information about jobs, training, and pay.

In the meantime, keep your part-time employment and talk to a career coach to help you identify courses that will round out your skill set. Cut costs where you can, and buy yourself some time to stay afloat until the job market improves.

Above all, please comment and let us know how you are doing, what's working for you, and what isn't.