Brian Dab and Amanda Rivera are only two years apart in their respective college graduations.
Their attitudes about finding a job after college, on the other hand, are decidedly separate.
“I did an internship at a public relations firm last year, and I really learned a lot,” said Dab, 21, who will graduate this spring from George Washington University with a political science degree. “I feel I’m in a really strong position to get a job in a communications position.”
Rivera, 24, can’t share that sunny outlook. A 2013 graduate of Sacred Heart University with a master’s in communication, she repeatedly applied for entry-level marketing positions, “but didn’t hear back from anyone.” The closest she came was a second round interview for an entry-level job that went to a candidate with five years’ experience.
“How are people in my generation supposed to get work experience if we aren't given a chance to?” she said.
Welcome to the millennial generation’s murky employment universe. Although the job picture for college graduates in their 20s is expected to improve this year, millennials continue to face a rash of challenges in landing a solid job — from the crush of current competition to overcoming the repeated rejection when seeking work during the recession.
But there are strategies to improve employment prospects for those just entering the job market from graduation or for those who have been searching for years to find meaningful, rewarding work.
The biggest slice
Pew Research defines a millennial as someone born after 1980. That’s a big group but, whatever their specific demographics, millennials are pouring into the workforce. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports they’re poised to become the largest demographic in the workforce in 2015. Millennials are projected to account for three-quarters of all workers by 2030.
But more recently, millennials accounted for 40 percent of all unemployed workers as recently as last year, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Many of those were unlucky enough to enter the job market in the depths of a recession several years back, which puts them at a disadvantage on several fronts.
“Older millennials really suffered disproportionately from a very bad job market,” said Donald Grimes of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy. “Employers may go directly to fresh faces because they’ll wonder why an older applicant hasn’t been able to find some kind of job.”
Older millennials struggling to find work can also fall behind in lifetime earnings. Under- or outright unemployment can translate to as much as 9 percent less earned annually, according to David Niu, president of TinyPulse, a Seattle employee retention and satisfaction research concern. That can undermine future salary levels, not to mention impacting long-term goals such as saving for retirement.
“When you start a career in a recession, it can take you an awfully long time to catch up,” said Niu.
Another potential issue is the mindset many millennials bring to the workforce — characteristics some employers may view with some misgivings. Top among those concerns is a perceived lack of loyalty.
A recent study by Elance-oDesk and Millennial Branding found 79 percent of millennials would consider quitting a “regular” job and working for themselves in the future. Some 50 percent of employed millennials said they planned to look for a new job in 2015, according to WorldatWork, a nonprofit human resources association.
“They’re a socially conscious generation that wants meaningful work,” said Megan Gerhardt of the Farmer School of Business at Miami University. “But they’re different. They don’t necessarily view authority and work the way prior generations did.”
Job hunting strategies
Despite a competitive job market and preconceived worries about their attitudes, there are strategies millennials can employ to improve their employment prospects.
A good starting place is addressing many employers’ primary concern.
“The biggest concern employers have is whether or not you’re going to stay,” says Gerhardt. “That makes it important to keep asking yourself 'Can I build a career here?’ And, if there’s a match, be sure to communicate that to the employer.”
The same goes for organizational values. A study by Instructure, a Salt Lake City employee training software developer, reported millennials often fall short of essential qualities for entry-level workplace success. To that effect, 70 percent of company managers value teamwork but reported less than one in five entry-level employees were skilled in collaborating with others.
To stand out, say experts, millennials — particularly those straight out of school — should market themselves as employees comfortable with buying into a company’s philosophy.
“Many companies like the idea of getting fresh new faces they can mold,” said John Challenger, CEO of the Chicago-based consulting concern Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Millennials with a few post-college years under their belts also have the opportunity to refresh their appeal to employers — provided they’re willing to hit the books again.
“Going back to graduate school raises your overall employee and earnings profile,” said Grimes. “That, and you’re back in the pool of recent graduates.”
If landing a conventional job seems unlikely for the moment — or years of searching has only brought frustration — consider other alternatives. Look into interning or volunteering at a relevant professional association. But make it more than just an excuse to get out of the house.
“Don’t just intern for interning’s sake,” said Niu. “See if there’s a pathway there that can lead to measurable results.”
Lastly, don’t be shy about getting in on the self-employment trend. That’s what Rivera did with Inspire Me Communications, a public relations and marketing agency she founded while continuing to look for full-time work.
Inspire Me Communications is still going. The job hunt has been shelved.
“I love marketing and helping businesses grow, and at the time it didn't make sense for me to have to wait until someone gave me permission to do it. So, if no one was going to hire me, I was going to hire myself,” she said. “Eventually it got to a point where I had to choose. Either spend my time applying to jobs and not hearing back, or take that time and apply it toward growing my business. So I chose the second one.”