“When I was your age, I had to physically mail a printed resume to a potential employer, pound the pavement to find a job, and walked to work uphill, both ways.”
People always like to talk about how much easier life is for the newest generation. But when it comes to the job market, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In the spring, more than 3.3 million high school graduates and 3.7 million college graduates are potentially going to throw their hats into the job market. But it’s not just job scarcity and increasing competition that should worry them. This generation, more than any that has come before it, faces the threat of technology continually changing the landscape and decreasing the value of their job skills. People used to be able to learn one skill that would give them job security for the rest of their career. Now they’re lucky if the skills they learned aren’t obsolete by the time they have graduation-day dinner with their parents.
So Boomers and Gen X-ers, go watch a YouTube video or something. This next part is just for the Millennials. Here are four tips, according to Michael Price, author ofWhat Next: The Millennials’ Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the Real World, to help guide you as you enter the workforce.
1. Build your brand.
Once upon a time, fedoras were standard business attire, no one worked past 5 p.m., and resumes defined your entire professional career. No longer. To get ahead today, you need more than a good resume, and if you’re just graduating, chances are you don’t even have that. So building a personal brand is key.
Building a personal brand involves more than just removing incriminating Facebook pics from college frat parties. You have to blend your personal life with your professional life and live your career. For example, make sure a huge chunk of your tweets are articles or insights related to your field of interest. Follow and be followed by other industry experts. Post YouTube videos giving commentary on various things happening in your field. Start your own website or blog devoted to the latest industry work or news. Showcase a hobby that exhibits your job skills being used in non-professional ways, like your own art show, an Etsy page or an amateur stand-up comedy routine. Whatever you do to build your brand, just make sure it’s actually good. So when potential employers Google you (and they will), they’ll be sure to find something that sets you apart from the rest.
2. Work for free.
This is a hard pill for most students to swallow. You’re done being poor and are eager to start making some money. But nothing is more valuable to new grads than gaining experience, and nothing is worse than letting your career stagnate over months or years waiting for your dream job to pony up a salary. This is beyond the unpaid internship; it’s seeking out companies you actually want to work for and offering your services on projects you might actually have experience in. It is more likely that someone will take a chance on you sooner; you will start building a more solid resume; you will gain very valuable friendships and connections, and then earn a positive reputation. At the very least, it keeps you active and growing, so when that first real paid opportunity comes along, you’ll be more than ready.
3. Invest early.
Social Security is drying up, pensions don’t really exist anymore and your parents are cutting you off after graduation. Time to become a responsible human. Once you finally land that job, put a small percentage of every paycheck toward a retirement plan. Most companies offer 401(k) plans and even match a small percentage of your annual contributions, so that’s a great way to start. And thanks to the miracle of compounding interest, starting early dramatically increases the amount you’ll have come retirement. So don’t put it off. That’s what you’ll be living on when you’re too old to use whatever crazy technology we have by then. Waiting even just a few years could literally cost you millions in retirement savings.
4. Continue your education.
As you’re eagerly sprinting out of the classroom with a resolve to never take a final exam again, remember that your education is your most important weapon, and these days when a valuable skill today is obsolete tomorrow, you need to keep that weapon sharp. Yes, there’s grad school, but there are also cheaper and less time-consuming ways to continue your education while working on your career. Keep your eyes open for conferences, seminars and one-day intensive courses; many companies will even pay or reimburse you for these types of justifiably relevant opportunities, since improved job skills make you more valuable to them. There are also growing online options, such as Lynda.com, a $30/month service that lets you learn a wide variety of new skills in the comfort of your own home, on your schedule.
So, class of 2014, congrats and good luck. It takes a lot to survive in today’s continually changing world, but the perfect job is out there for you. Just make sure you’re willing to do what others aren’t, even if that means you have to walk uphill, both ways.
Brian Havig is a copywriter at gyro New York.
Follow Brian @brhavig