As we celebrate Labor Day, I feel fortunate to be one of those employed in a full-time job with health benefits and a retirement plan — something that many Americans don’t have.
I’m especially thinking of recent college graduates who had the aspirations that most graduates have of joining the work force in their chosen field. Many of those recent grads are working part-time and in jobs that aren’t related to their college education.
The New York Times says these college grads are part of Generation Limbo — “Generation Limbo: Waiting It Out.“
The article starts with the story of Jennifer Kelly, who was a 2009 graduate of the University of Florida. Kelly represents the storyline of the story — college grads who are underemployed and developing a life outlook in response to their employment status.
Kelly was a UF advertising major. She may have been a student in the auditorium writing course I teach, Writing for Mass Communication, that is required for advertising, journalism and public relations majors.
Kelly has a professional job (part-time secretary at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville), and she’s got a positive outlook about her situation, saying that by working part-time she can have more flexibility to write and cook. But she and the other college grads profiled in the story are struggling with finding jobs in their chosen fields.
As the NY Times article discusses, this is a very challenging job market. My own experience with undergraduate and graduate students who have graduated in the last two years echoes what the NY Times story found. Many of the grads who are desperately job hunting now would have been hired if they had been on the job market just four or five years ago.
A focus of my time at the 2011 BlogHer Convention last month in San Diego was talking about the job market with the photographers, videographers, exhibit hall workers and bloggers attending the convention. The convention was a great opportunity for me to find out more about the current job market in communications — especially for those in their 20s and 30s — so that I could share my observations with my students.
Several of those I talked with at BlogHer, including three of my former students (what a surprise to see them at BlogHer!), were in full-time jobs doing just the kind of work they had hoped to. Most of those were working in public relations, and they said that their divisions/departments had been downsized and that they had more duties now than they did a year ago.
But the majority of people working the convention (versus those paying to attend the convention) were freelancers who had been hired by a company to work the convention. A photographer I talked with said that he had been caught in the downsizing initiatives of two different newspapers. He now is freelancing. He was at BlogHer working for Hershey’s, but most of his work was for news organizations, such as the Associated Press.
Several of the 20-something bloggers I talked with were journalism majors who hadn’t been able to land a job in journalism when they graduated. Most were blogging as a way to keep writing and earn some income, such as by receiving products from blogging endorsements or through revenue from being an affiliate for an organization like Amazon.
Based on the interviews with those members of Generation Limbo in the NY Times story and my own conversations at BlogHer with folks in the under-35 age group, here are eight tips:
1. While waiting for the job that you really want, take another job or freelance.
Those interviewed for the NY Times story had jobs, primarily part-time jobs. But those jobs provided some income (many had student loans they were paying off) and also helped with their outlook. In the communications field, freelancers play a key role in most organizations.
2. Make positive use of the time if you aren’t in a 40-hours-a-week job.
The NY Times article made the point that many of those in Generation Limbo are using the time that they aren’t in full-time jobs to explore other interests — music, art, writing or travel. From what some of those interviewed for the NY Times story said, they may be developing some life balance skills that will be helpful for when they do have a full-time job.
3. Use volunteer opportunities or your own ventures, such as blogging, to help you connect with the field you are trying to be employed in.
You may be employed in a field that you aren’t planning on as a career, but you can be volunteering related to your career goals. For those hoping to be employed in the communications field, helping with an organization’s event (such as the March of Dimes Walk for Babies) or editing your church’s newsletter can lead to materials to include in your portfolio and also can lead to useful contacts.
4. Establish a level of independent living.
One of the people in the NY Times story moved into more active job hunting only after his parents started charging him $500 a month for rent after he had been living with them for several months. Family and friends will be supportive — but up to a point. As a student or grad with only a part-time job, defer those major purchases. College students should avoid building up credit card debt.
5. Develop and practice technology skills.
The BlogHer Convention had a major emphasis on technology, of course. But more and more businesses of any kind require technology skills. Learning technology skills and being able to include that in your resume can be very helpful. One of my former students who has been working in public relations for seven years pointed out how important it is to stay up-to-date with technology, which often means learning it on your own. Among the new media applications she has had to learn are Facebook, foursquare, blogging, Twitter and Google Docs.
6. Determine what job-related activities your college or university provides and if you, as a grad, can participate.
Most colleges and universities have career counseling centers that host internship fairs, offer resume critiques, and provide a databank of employers. Those services are designed for current students, but many universities allow recent grads to participate.
7. Always have business cards for planned and unexpected networking opportunities.
I’ve talked with students who think they need to wait to get business cards until they have a job to list on the card. Having business cards can be a key part of helping your get a job. Most of the business cards I collected at BlogHer included the person’s name, email, cell phone, blog and/or website, and a list of skills — but few included a business’s name.
8. Network, network, network.
Update your online profile, such as LinkedIn. Let your friends, relatives, former teachers and former employers know that you are looking for a job. That kind of networking often leads to hearing about jobs.