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A Millennial’s Guide to Getting Ahead in Today’s Job Market

What's Next Millennial Skills Gap.jpgUnemployment and underemployment among college graduates have been rising steadily since about 2001. The cost for a college education is certainly rising quickly, but is the quality of the education rising just as fast? Before I go on, please know that while this article paints a bleak picture at the beginning, you will finish reading with an uplifted mindset as well as tips to help you stay ahead of the curve in your job hunting.

U.S. Millennials — those born between the late 80’s and early 2000’s — have an average median household income of $40,581. Taking inflation into account, this means that Millennials earn 20 percent less than the Baby Boomer generation did at the same stage of life, despite being better educated, per an analysis of the Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group Young Invincibles. This begs the question: is a college education enough to get ahead in today’s society?

Solely based on these stats, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that life today is more difficult than it was for Baby Boomers, but is it really? To get a better understanding of this all I interviewed my marketing professor from the University of Oregon, my boss Michael Becker, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of mCordis and The Connected Marketer Institute, and fellow millennial, Erin Duff, from Atlanta, Georgia.

I began my research by interviewing my former marketing Professor at the University of Oregon, Conor Henderson. When confronted with the stats that I presented above, Conor agreed that it is indeed difficult to find a great job out of college. That said, difficult, as opposed to what? Conor was quick to point out that the job market was worse in 2008. So, perspective is critical when comparing between generations as each decade has its ups and downs. 

Millennials vs. Baby Boomers
He then addressed the broader question, “Is life today more difficult than it was for Baby Boomers?” The economic stats paint that picture. Education certainly costs more than it used to, among other necessary living costs. He stated health care as an example.

“Health care costs are rising, so even if salary is flat, salary plus benefits is increasing, but just because the benefits cost more, that doesn’t mean taking advantage of it (doctor office visit, prescription drugs) provides us more value,” he said.

Furthermore, he added that on top of rising health care costs, job competition is as prevalent as ever. As I’ve mentioned in my previous article, not only is there competition from other working humans, Artificial Intelligence is a game changer. “Artificial intelligence applications and tech/web based efficiency gains may make it so our skill set becomes obsolete”, Conor exclaimed. “If you cannot adjust, will you be left behind? This question breeds anxiety ... and lots more consequences.” 

Despite the higher costs and steep competition, there is an upside. Conor reminded me of a tip that I often refer to in my series of articles for CMO.com and that is to take a step back and look at the broader picture. Sure, health care is expensive and job opportunity and stability are not as great as we’d like, but in just the past 50 years we’ve progressed exponentially in other areas. “Opportunity and life is way better than it used to be for underrepresented or vulnerable populations in business. What was it like to be gay, or a woman, or black, or all three in 1990? Now you can be a VC,” Conor added.

Life expectancy has gone up, extreme poverty has gone down, our access to education despite the increasing costs of college is the best it has ever been, and more people have access to the Internet than ever before. So, is life worse than it was as a Baby Boomer?

   

1900

1980

2012

HEALTH

1. Life Expectancy1

32

63

70

2. Infant Mortality2

19.5%

7.64%

3.69%

ECONOMICS

3. Per Person Income3

$2000

$5911

$10,070

4. % In Extreme Poverty4

68.7%

42.6%

16.9%

EDUCATION

5. Literacy Rate5

42%

70%

84%

6. Internet Access6

0%

0%

34%

ENVIRONMENT

7. C02 Parts Per Million7

295

334

396

8. Surface Temp vs. Baseline (C°)8

-0.14°

+0.23°

+0.57°

 Source: http://startupguide.com/world/the-world-is-actually-getting-better/

Next I spoke with Michael Becker, a Gen Xer, on the topic. He was quick to point out that there was much more stability and certainty after graduation for Baby Boomers than there is today. Back then, the job you got after graduation was, more often than not, the job you would leave for retirement. “What’s been lost between now and then is trust. There is no more safety net, i.e. job security, healthcare, social security, etc. Whether, that truly existed or not, there was a general sense that there was a safety net. Today, that safety net is gone.” He added that “the middle class is disappearing. The economic centrifuge is pulling everyone from the middle class to opposite poles, you’re either “relatively” rich, or you’re poor. There is little opportunity to find stability in the middle”.

The fact of the matter is that the nature of work is changing. The proliferation of connected devices certainly has something to do with it. Michael pointed out that, from a marketing standpoint, “despite having more connected devices than ever before, it has become increasingly difficult to connect with others.”

Indeed, information is easier to access than ever before from our connected devices. Since we are able search the Internet whenever we want by just pulling out our phones, we have become much more selective as to when we choose to be receptive to marketing and advertising. On the other hand, information and free education, is also easily accessible.

On that note this brings me to my third and final interview with fellow Millennial and friend, Erin Duff, Marketing and PR Manager at stable|kernel. Erin graduated from Auburn University in 2015, and has since landed in a marketing role for a mobile app development company. 

Her first step toward finding a job where she’d be happy, was first assessing her priorities in job qualities. Rather than being strictly attached to a job related to public relations (her major), Erin knew that she wanted a job that would provide her coaching to truly help her improve as a professional and further diversify her skill set. “I wanted a job where the leadership truly had my best interests at heart, and for me that meant helping me grow professionally and personally. After applying for internships at multiple marketing agencies and PR firms, it was stable|kernel’s marketing role that really seemed like the best fit.” 

Next I asked Erin what was it that helped her stand out from other applicants and made her a desirable employee. “I was really lucky to have graduated college with a wide variety of skills and experience. I learned how to use Adobe Dreamweaver to create and design a website for my senior project; I gained leadership, public relations and marketing experience through organizations on campus and several internships, and I was also familiar with Adobe InDesign and Photoshop through my work with school yearbook both in college and high school. I think diversifying yourself with several experiences shows your ability to jump in and handle a variety of projects.” 

Advice for College Graduates
While it certainly varies depending by industry, I think that most college recruiters know that the employees they hire aren’t going to know how to do every task that the job entails fresh out of college. Moreover, they’re just looking to see if you have an ambitious attitude and the ability to learn. That said, broadening your skill set with a variety of tactical skills like Photoshop, knowing how to read HTML, or writing posts for LinkedIn, will certainly separate you from the rest of the marketing applicant herd.

Despite the growing rates of college prices, there is a plethora of affordable options to build on your education and enhance your resume. Whether it’s one of the tens of thousands of supplemental online college courses, or CodeAcademy, Udemy, or LinkedIn’s recent acquisition of Lynda.com, improving your skill set is by no means impossible.

Regardless of whether you think life today is worse than life as a Baby Boomer, it’s the world we live in so it’s best to make the most of it. In the words of Erin Duff, “my biggest advice is to chase whatever you’re passionate about and get real-life experience. It really doesn’t matter what that may be whether that is through on-campus organizations or with an internship, but putting yourself out there and growing your network is the most valuable thing you can do.”

Max Thorpe
Max Thorpe I'm Millennial Max. I love Chipotle Mexican Grill, Snapchat is my favorite social media app, I am an avid Netflix watcher, I don't watch much TV, and I was born in the early ’90s. I work as marketing manager for mCordis by day, and now have my own column with CMO.com, Adobe's thought-leadership platform for all things marketing. I write about how marketing is evolving, technology is advancing, and consumer behavior is changing--all through the eyes of a Millennial. Keep an eye out for my monthly column, (the first Thursday of every month) suggested topics and themes would be welcome. mCordis is a global leader in helping companies, government agencies, NGOs, and other organizations understand mobile trends, build their mobile strategy, and develop value through and with mobile-enhanced marketing, customer service, and engagement. At mCordis, we help companies put mobile at the heart of their marketing.

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