You don’t need to look far to know that millennials are having a tough time in the job market right now. But as the economy begins to show signs of life, and industries begin to recover and new fields open up, millennials also have a lot of opportunities.
As a generation, we have a few advantages. There are digital resources at our disposal other generations didn’t have or don't know how to use as well (even Gen X, who are equally tech savvy).
Because we are entrepreneurial, companies like Upstart provide millennials with a "human-capital contract," allowing them to borrow and repay as a percentage of their income to fund a business venture, invest in education, or other pursuits that require initial capital that’s a rarity in youth.
Because we are facing lower starting salaries or unpaid internships at the outset of our career, millennials are open to cobbling together income from a variety of other sources, freelancing our way to prosperity by doing everything from renting out our homes to helping people with their to-do lists.
LinkedIn and social networks have provided greater opportunities for millennials to build their brand and get in front of hiring managers, and 98% of recruiters are using social media — which we are particularly adept at utilizing — for hiring.
That said, there are downsides. Microfinancing with a company like Upstart still means taking on debt based on projected income. Gig-income underlines that we’re often not paid enough to cover basic needs early in our careers. LinkedIn still limits interacting to people you already know.
Yet there is opportunity to leverage yourself in today's plugged-in economy. Here are five ways to use our generational tendencies to your career advantage:
1. Be entrepreneurial.
Consider the advice of website Under30CEO, and channel all the entrepreneurial spirit of our generation into your current company. Behaving like an entrepreneur within a traditional organization allows you to ask and answer an important career-growth question: what is the biggest problem facing the organization and how can I fix it?
If you can answer that, you are valuable internally and marketable externally. Double whammy.
Entrepreneurship drives innovation, addresses unique needs, and, most importantly, allows you to stretch your professional wings. However, proceed with some caution. Google altered its 20% program (where employees could spend 20% of their time on side projects) by refocusing that internal innovation onto projects that better aligned with the long-term goals. John Kotter at Forbes would remind you, "urgency without alignment is wasted energy."
2. Collect transferable skills
Identifying and thoroughly evaluating your skills for competitiveness is increasingly important in this job market. The upside of living in an economy where you have to have several jobs on the side to supplement your income is that you can build a transferable skill set. The rise of the skill-based resume is no accident; it’s a response to recruiters receiving traditional resumes where the experience listed doesn’t highlight the skills for a particular job. For millennials with a job or two on the side, highlighting skills, not necessarily only titles, isn’t a new concept.
And you know that you can turn your skills from your job into something marketable on the side, right? You can even leverage that skill-set into career advancement, if you identify the overlapping skills.
To get there, consider your key-value proposition. What is it about you that you bring to every endeavor and that you love about everything you do? Focus on what is most marketable or most in-demand for greater success. Can you identify market trends from selling products on Etsy or manage contract negotiations from E-Lance? Well, hey there, transferable skill-set!
3. Don't just do your current job — do your next job, too.
I had a professor in college who told me if I did everything he asked, I would get a C. If I offered more than he asked, I could get a B. And if I revealed a perspective he had never heard before, then I'd earn an A.
Millennials are scrappy, and we're used to having to hustle. With a lot of competition in the job market, we can sometimes forget that internal options are an attractive alternative to looking for work beyond where we already are. Performing the functions of your job description well is only part of what you need to do to be considered for advancement.
Just as you should dress for the job you want, do the job you want. Volunteer on new projects that strategically place you in a position to develop the skills you need for the next leap. Make sure you tell your supervisor you’re interested in advancement so they can offer you opportunities and advocate on your behalf. Update your Linkedin profile accordingly by leveraging the "projects" section or adding the experience to your resume.
4. Consider the “why,” not just the “how.”
In our careers, we’re often told how to do certain tasks, whether that’s how we use certain computer programs to how to follow the internal company’s style guide for memos and emails. Millennials like to ask why, and that’s good. Invested inquiry allows for greater perspective in all careers, like the car mechanic continuing his education by wanting to know more about the root causes of car problems and not just how to fix the physical broken part in front of him.
This isn't the same as challenging your supervisor. Make sure you ask your supervisors how your assignment fits into the organization’s strategy to gain insight into where your skills are valuable and how they can be valuable in the future. Think like a CEO, even if you're the admin. Someone will be the CEO someday — why not you?
5. Don’t find a mentor – find several.
It’s hard to find a traditional mentor these days, but it isn’t so hard to figure out who in your network may be helpful for advice or feedback based on their own expertise.
Develop a personal board of directors to go to with career questions, suggests the Harvard Business Review. I had a chat with my own boss about this approach and she pointed out that even her parents have proven to be helpful with certain career questions.
There’s no need to limit yourself. Claire M. Zovko shares via the site Generation W that your stable of mentors should include an experienced mentor, a professional mentor (within your industry), an entrepreneurial mentor, a male mentor (alternatively I’m sure a female mentor for men can offer advice), and a peer mentor — all to provide you with different perspectives.
Diversify your mentors and allow them to provide you with information and an introduction to an expanded network of professionals. (Though, you shouldn’t expect them to provide you with a job. Their role is more fundamental than that, and constantly asking them to forward your resume will do more harm than good.)
Photo credit: Julian Modugno.