Last week, I tweeted about a letter to the editor that has been getting a lot of attention. Published in a major Canadian newspaper, the 29 year-old author laments the lack of job hunting success that he and his Millennial peers are facing. He describes his own job search process and eventually ends on a note of disgruntled resignation. The steps he outlined read less like a systematic approach to finding work and more like the stages of mourning for the future he expected to have and thought he deserved, which, in these recessionary times, is an all too common mindset among twentysomethings searching for work and the meaning in it.
In fact, if you’re young and unemployed or know someone who is, you’ll probably identify with one of the following stages of job hunting grief:
In this stage, you admit to yourself that finding a job is going to be more difficult than you thought. You contemplate the almost 50 percent unemployed/underemployed stat facing new college grads. You read about median starting salaries, industries in decline and the best and worst cities in which to find work.
You went to a good school. You got great grades. You did the internships. And you still don’t have a job. You have student loan debt. You can’t afford to live on your own. You don’t know when or if you’ll be able to afford to get married, start a family, or buy a house. You won’t be able to retire until you’re 75. And forget about Social Security. You feel cheated.
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Embrace the rules
In this stage, you take every bit of knowledge you ever learned about job hunting and throw it at the wall to see what sticks, just as our friend from the Globe and Mail did. You customize hundreds of resumes and cover letters. You hire a career coach. You immerse yourself in social media. You go to career fairs. You pester successful mid-career professionals for informational interviews. You trawl job boards and Craigslist. You attend alumni events your school puts on. You feel foolish, but you get business cards printed and distribute them to everyone and anyone you think might be able to help.
All of your effort is seemingly for naught. You aren’t any closer to having a career. You contemplate going to law school or taking a trade. You ponder what you did wrong and when to a degree that borders on obsessive. You wish you could have been born five years earlier or five years later. You try to wrap your brain around the fact that by the time youth unemployment declines, you will no longer be considered a youth. You wonder if you’re actually unemployable and whether it’s possible you can go the rest of your life without being loved hired again.
Recalibrate and act accordingly
You start to accept that your life isn’t going to look how you thought it would (at least not right now), but you also realize that all of your peers are in the same boat. You begin to accept that, for better or worse, the old rules and rewards system is falling apart and the simple equation of exchanging your time and skills for a fixed salary and defined benefits over a 30-year period no longer adds up. This is a scary thought, but also a liberating one.
You see your friends starting businesses and you question why you ever believed entrepreneurship was the domain of only a rarefied few. You let it sink in that your new task is building and funding a life and lifestyle, not managing a linear career. You start to think about what it will take to flourish in the gig economy and what it will take for you to become one of those people who flourishes. You realize that you didn’t learn this kind of thing in school and that you’re going to have to teach yourself.
And, eventually, you come to accept that.
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