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Faceoff: Lack of opportunity, not entitlement, that hurts Gen-Y

My colleague Tammy Miller recently referenced a blog post from The New York Times Economix blog showcasing the alarmingly high rate of unemployment among young workers around the world. To no fault of her own (she can't help that she is an almost 40 something), Tammy commented about this generation's need for instant gratification and their sense of entitlement as potential reasons for the high rate of unemployment among this age group, particularly among those who are college grads.

While she raises some excellent points, and I generally agree with everything she says, I can't help but think that many of these young workers and recent grads are trying their hardest in an uncertain market and are simply challenged by the sheer number of people looking for work and the limited number of jobs available.

Admittedly, I'm a bit of a softy when it comes to this issue. I don't know if it's because I'm a near 30 something still trying to hang onto her 20s, or if it's because it seems like yesterday that I was in this same situation and just empathize with these young workers. As I wrote back in January, I entered the workforce right after 9/11. Up to that point, I thought I had it made. The stories of people getting signing bonuses with big companies before they even graduating, and coming out of school earning close to six figures were endless. As far as I was concerned, all I had to do was show up to the on-campus job fairs, hand over my resume, and walk out with a check and a job.

Flash forward a few months, and people that were lucky enough to have had early job offers had them rescinded, and for those of us who didn't have offers, we didn't even have prospects. I got a check alright -- a big fat REALITY CHECK. I can't even begin to tell you how many jobs I applied to and never heard a peep from anyone. The same was true for many of my classmates. We were all competing for jobs that basically didn't exist, and competing against those who graduated ahead of us that now found themselves back on the market due to layoffs.

I eventually got a big break and was hired by the company where I interned. And by big break, I do not mean big salary (which was essentially equivalent to some of the signing bonuses I had heard about). My point is that while I bet there are a number of young workers who have too great a sense of entitlement to lower their job expectations, based on my own experiences, I think being jobless for a significant amount of time while you're young definitely humbles you.

I also think that today's young and unemployed have it far worse than any of us currently in the workforce given the breadth and depth of this recession and the potential long-term negative effects this recession could bring (i.e. higher unemployment rates throughout their careers, lower salaries, etc.).

With unemployment among all age groups still high, record durations of unemployment, and the fact that many companies are still reluctant to commit to hiring full-time employees, competition in the job market is fierce. Many experienced, unemployed workers are forced to reevaluate their careers and take drastic pay cuts (in some cases, no pay) for positions that were previously considered entry level. So where does that leave inexperienced workers?

I think Tammy definitely has some good advice for this generation of workers, but for those of you that have passed the self-entitlement phase and are just having a tough time of it, here are a few parting thoughts:

    • Always look for ways to build experience. Relevant work experience doesn't have to come in the form of a paid job. Volunteer opportunities can be excellent skill builders and provide an avenue for gaining experience related to your major or field of interest. Leverage your networks, your parents' networks and your social networks to see who might be interested in having you volunteer your time for their organization.

    • Keep your options open. I'm sure many of you are applying to everything under the sun, but expanding your horizons to fields outside of your major or in different geographies could open doors.

    • Target your search efforts. If you are applying to everything under the sun, make sure you are making each application targeted to the position at hand. If your objective is to obtain a position in marketing, and you are applying to an entry-level finance position, I think it is safe to say you won't get the job. Pull from your own school or applicable work experiences to tailor your cover letters and resumes to the specific position you are targeting.

Lastly, as Tammy mentioned, do not get discouraged. Much easier said than done, but eventually your hard work throughout this process will pay off and be a valuable lesson learned to help you in your career. 

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This post was written by Anna McMenamin, former Client Solutions Manager at Yoh.   Learn more about Anna.

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