I graduated from college in March 1983. The unemployment rate was 9.6%, about what it is now, but the other economic indicators were much worse, not that I was paying attention to such things in those days. I moved from Minnesota to South Florida and found work as a waitress and then a secretary. South Florida was a fun place to live. I went to the clubs, hung out at the beach and had a great time. But GTL is a lifestyle and not a way to make a living. I looked for a professional position but had no connections or contacts. I had a college degree, but could not find a job that made any use of it.
I decided to join the Navy, mostly because they valued me and my degree. They also had a need. This was the era of the 600-ship Navy and they needed manpower to run the ships and staff the back-office operations. Applicants with a college degree were sent to Officer Candidate School. If you had a degree in business or economics and had done well, you qualified for the Naval Supply Corps. At Naval Supply Corps school, they taught you how to run the ships’ food service, retail, supply chain and disbursement operations. While there, I was selected for service in the Naval Reactors program. Military service was a good starting point for me and I learned many valuable skills during my six years in the Navy.
Millennials are also likely to be looking for work in a bad economy. The Great Recession has hit them particularly hard. From a supply chain perspective, the job market is a “LIFO” operation: recent college graduates are the “last-in-first-out.” Entry-level management training jobs are hard to find. Employers don’t want to train you, only to lose you two years later. They want to hire someone who knows how to do the job from day one.
Here are some things I learned about navigating a bad economy:
Stay close to home. Home can be where you went to college or where you grew up. For me, it was both. I should have stayed in Minneapolis when I graduated. I had contacts and a place to live. Yes, you can start from scratch someplace new, but you are only making it harder for yourself.
You guys invented social networking, so use it. Anyone who has ever looked for a job knows the value of a good network. Don’t be shy about letting your friends know that you are looking for a job. It helps if you know what you want to do.
Let Mom and Dad help. Use your parents’ networks too, and your sister’s, brother’s, grandfather’s, aunt’s, uncle’s, and anyone else who will help. They want you to succeed, and are your biggest fans (really). They can help, particularly if you are looking for a job near where they live. If they get you an interview, follow their advice about what to wear and show up fifteen minutes early.
Save money by living at home. This was not something I would have done, but Millennials as a general rule have a better rapport with their parents. You tell them more about what is going on in your life so you have less to hide from them than we did from our parents. If you are worried about losing your new-found adulthood, then treat your parents like roommates. Help them with the household chores and offer to pay them rent.
Take advantage of your college’s career services office. You (or your parents) are paying for them and they are there to help you. Apply for an internship, paid or unpaid. Sign up for on-campus interviews, if there are any. Use the alumni network.
Consider government service. Millennials are not signing up for military service. Only 2% of Millennial men are veterans at ages 18 to 28, as compared to 6% for Gen Xers and 13% of Boomers at this age. This is understandable. When I joined the Navy, the nation was not involved in two wars and had been at peace for ten years. Government jobs will be hard to get in the near future due to shrinking budgets, but there are other types of government service. Consider Teach for America, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or similar programs.
Stay in school. If you did not get your high school diploma, get your GED. If you stopped after high school, go to college. If you just graduated from college, consider a graduate degree. As many of you are learning, college is a great place to wait out the bad economy. There are ways to pay for school, and even ways to work off your student loans, like the public service loan forgiveness program.
2 thoughts on “Career Advice for Twenty-Somethings (Part Three): Navigating a Bad Economy”
Good advice. I would also add be persistent in pursuit of your goal (that is, if you have one). Things were pretty bad when I got out of school in December ’79 – gas crisis 2 had just erupted. The only reporting job I was offered paid $160 a week out of which I would have had to pay for my own gas. So I turned it down. Maybe a mistake.
But I ended up learning a lot about the dead end of many blue collar jobs and that made me hungrier. And I learned about playing any angle I could to get a byline and leverage that (I was dead set against selling out and going back for what I considered a “busywork” bachelor’s degree). I kind of ended up doing things bass-ackwards…got national feature bylines before a steady gig at a weekly, but hey, it was all a learning experience. And with the help of a lot of forebearance from my folks, I was able to take my own route into the media industry, even though the odds were not great, given my stubbornness in rejecting the sheepskin on principle.
My wife followed a far more traditional route and has always had good luck. Her mantra is timing, followed by contacts, followed by what you know…
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