We sat down with Lindsey Pollak, career expert and author, to get her most coveted advice on finding a job, keeping a job and protecting your future. She was gracious enough to share tips, strategies and even her favorite websites that every Generation Yer should have at the top of their lists.
My number one piece of advice is to take action. The biggest mistake that Gen Yers make is being passive about their careers and life choices or believing that they can just think really hard and figure everything out. The reality is that you have to try things — internships, career paths, work situations, etc. — in order to decide what you like and what path you'd like to follow.
Be proactive, educate yourself about the overall marketplace and experiment a lot to determine what career and personal choices will be the best fit for you. And please don't worry about making mistakes. They are a hugely important part of the process!
It is still a very challenging job market for Gen Yers right now, particularly for recent grads who have the additional stress of paying back student loans. My best advice for surviving and thriving in a bad economy is to take the best job you can find — even if it's not your dream job — so that you can earn income and begin to gain financial independence and real work experience.
If you can't find full-time employment in your ideal career field right now, it might be necessary to pursue your dream career on the side. This might mean waiting tables or working retail and then pursuing an unpaid internship, taking on some virtual consulting or freelance work (find gigs at Elance or Urban Interns) or starting your own small business as well. I know that this is time- and energy-consuming, but I think it's important to keep pursuing your ideal path so you don't get too far off track. The silver lining of graduating into a difficult job market is that you will learn resilience and adaptability — traits that will serve you well for the rest of your career.
Make sure you understand all of the benefits your employer offers beyond your salary that can help you protect your finances and lifestyle now and into the future. This includes such essentials as health insurance, 401(k) plans, life insurance and disability insurance. Disability insurance, which many Gen Yers don't totally understand, is particularly important. Your ability to work is your greatest asset at the beginning of your career. This insurance only costs less than $1 per day and can protect your income if you are unable to work. The Hartford's 2012 Benefits for Tomorrow Study showed that if a millennial were unable to work (due to an injury or illness) for more than six weeks, he or she would likely dip into savings (33 percent), ask friends and family for a loan or move back in with his or her parents (22 percent). Those are setbacks that most millennials can't afford, but a large number of millennials aren't opting-in to these benefits.
I strongly recommend that Gen Yers start building their professional networks — mentors and other professional connections are your greatest resource. These are the people who will support you throughout your career — who you know is still a crucial element of success. I recommend that young people join professional associations in their industry, get involved in volunteer or philanthropic organizations (a great fit for the millennial generation, which is known for giving back) and become active on professional social networks.
First and foremost, visit your college career center! (You can even access their services for free if you've already graduated.) According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, students from the class of 2010 who visited their college career centers had a median salary $5,700 higher than those who did not.
There are also many great websites and books that can help graduating students navigate the college-to-career transition. For websites, I'd recommend checking out Brazen Careerist, Quint Careers, Vault and Student Branding Blog. Some great books include Life After College, They Don't Teach Corporate in College and, of course, I'd love to recommend my book, Getting From College to Career: Your Essential Guide to Succeeding in the Real World. My book includes all of the advice — 90 tips in total — that I wish I'd known when I was first starting out.
I spend a lot of time helping college students and recent grads find jobs. What excited me about working with The Hartford on their My Tomorrow campaign was the focus on helping millennials succeed once they have those jobs. Particularly in today's difficult economic environment, it's so important for young people to start off on strong financial footing and protect their future financial security. The Hartford's research shows that many millennials don't understand employee benefits like insurance and are not signing up for this protection at work. Together we've launched an educational website that provides a Real World Roadmap to offer advice on "real world" decisions, such as careers, finances and benefits. The goal of the roadmap is to help empower millennials to take control of their futures by planning ahead.
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