Oct 2, 2012

Embracing A Squiggly Career: Career Advice for Recent Graduates

Today’s article is a little different from my usual branding and selling topics. Over the past few months I’ve been asked to speak to groups of young professionals on how to find a job. This post is the culmination some of my thoughts and advice I’ve been sharing. What’s your take?

In the 80’s our parents learned there’s no such thing as a job for life. In 2012 graduates are discovering there may not be a job for everyone.

According to a study commissioned by the Associated Press in April of this year, 53.6% of graduates under 25 years old are unemployed or underemployed. More than half of recent grads are not achieving their career objectives. And the problem is only compounding. Not only are recent grads competing for work with older skilled workers, they’re competing with graduates from the classes of 2010 and 2011.

The rules are changing. The career advice that worked a decade ago is not applicable for the classes of 2010, 2011, 2012 or even 2013. Writing a polished resume, and posting your resume on every job board that you can find is not a sure fire way to find your next job. It’s time for a new playbook.

Break your career into 6 month increments

Employers are not desperate to hire young people. Between 2000 and 2011 the inflation adjusted wage of college grads declined by 5.4%. This is marginally better than high school graduates, whose wage declined by 11.1% over the same period. The supply of talent is greater than demand, which has created an employer’s market. Employers can not only be picky about who they hire, they can easily replace and displace people for cheaper resources.

In an employer’s market, focus on the here and now. What value can you deliver to a company over the next six months? The challenge is to demonstrate results quickly to separate your capabilities from the herd. If you’re in sales, you have to generate revenue in the next six months. If you’re in design or operations, you have to pump out high quality work efficiently.

Employers aren’t going to hold your hand and help you become successful. They’re expecting you to be successful on your own merit and capabilities. If you can’t do it, they know there’s someone else in this job market who can.

Your measuring stick is to always ask, “What can I do to deliver value right now?” And the best way to find a job is to sell employers on how you will deliver on that promise.

Act like an entrepreneur

In an employer’s market, act like an entrepreneur. Acting like an entrepreneur is the only sure fire way to stay employed in a down job market. You can’t rely on the system to deliver you a job. You have to create your own job.

Entrepreneurs create wealth and success by finding unique ways to serve others. They look for opportunities, take risks and create jobs where none existed before. This pursuit provides entrepreneurs a job in any economy.

Start acting like an entrepreneur by thinking of yourself as a consultant. Instead of looking for a job, look for opportunities to sell your expertise and capabilities. Think of each job opportunity as a contract with clear deliverables and expectations. And each interview is a sales call to understand your client, their needs and how you might be able to assist them.

When you focus on what you can deliver, you will approach the job market like an entrepreneur.

Continually reinvest and reinvent

Ten or twenty years ago careers were fairly predictable. If you put in your time you could be rewarded with titles, higher salaries and prestige. Not anymore. Industries are in a state of flux, and career paths are no longer predictable.

Success is not linear. Expect your career path to be squiggly with lots of changes and transitions. Embrace the squiggly by investing in yourself and acting like an entrepreneur. Look for opportunities to deliver value, and carve out your own path. When you stop relying on the system you will find your career prospects are plentiful and exciting.

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