Hey, new grads, I've got some great news: We were just kidding - you're NOT about to graduate into the worst global recession ever! Things are picking up, especially here in Canada, where our sturdy economic indicators have earned us kudos from around the world.
Notwithstanding the fact that over the past two years we've crushed your dreams by not only referring constantly to the recession, but also obsessively harping on how we, your elders (forget about you), were going to survive it, let's talk practical advice about how to arm yourself psychologically and emotionally as you head out into this wild world of work.
Most of the advice you are going to get from people is completely contradictory and therefore crazy-making ("Don't be afraid to take a risk … but accept the first safe job that comes your way"), so I will try to keep it simple and straightforward. I will also try very hard to avoid telling you to just "follow your passion" (though that remains good advice for the long term). Most grads would tell you wistfully that you are lucky if you know what your passion is.
Last fall, I wrote a column asking whether the baby boomers had spawned the "failure generation" - a cohort of kids who are now facing a bleak landscape of few job opportunities and not much chance of emulating their parents' success . An enormously successful businessman wrote to tell me I was "unfortunately dead on." He went on to say that today's kids, including his own, "just aren't getting the opportunities" to succeed that the previous generation did. So he offered up advice directed more to parents than to grads: "Call in every chit you have to get your kid into the system."
Okay, that's a start.
But a grad I know who landed a good job last year despite the recession says that while, yes, it may be all about connections, it isn't necessarily those of your parents that will ultimately help you. His parents didn't have a clue about his chosen field - sustainability - let alone know anyone in it. "This isn't about nepotism," he told me, "it's about the process of making contacts on your own - going to guest lectures, volunteering and following up with interesting people for a quick coffee."
Then, once he got his job - at the university where he studied - he made sure to demonstrate what every employer really wants: an abundance of enthusiasm and good cheer. On the job, he said, he soon learned that "real-life working issues are rarely black and white, and what matters is how you navigate through the grey."
Another grad, who got a job this year after a month or two of interning, said "the scary thing is always waiting, waiting for interviews, waiting for calls, checking your e-mails."
But you only need one solid offer to start your real working life, and for her that offer eventually came. Her internship led to contract paid work at another company, and finally to a full-time job. She learned you could despair that nothing is ever going to happen and then, suddenly, it does.
Attitude is important, and Toronto-area career counsellors Elaine Sigurdson and Kaitlin Eckler, who will be offering job-search seminars to grads and students seeking summer work next month, advise this generation that "young people today have a reputation for being 'entitled'."
Their tips to job hunters include making sure, during interviews, to cite several situations that show a "willingness to pitch in."
Also, bug everyone you know for advice. I hear from grads in journalism from time to time, and I'm always impressed by those who politely ask for advice from someone they barely know. The best ones acknowledge you might be too busy to help them, but nonetheless succinctly ask their questions. When I respond, they follow it up immediately with a profuse thank you. (It's amazing that no matter how busy you are, you notice when you don't get thanked.)
And grads should remember that, whether it's a cold call or an e-mail, almost anyone will give a twentysomething a few minutes of their time. As a friend who often gives advice to grads says, "I tell my own son that when you're in your 20s you can ask anyone anything and they will answer. Not so much if you're 30. So he's got the better part of a decade to find out what he needs to know."
In a way, the recession - I mean the former recession - has levelled the emotional playing field for grads and seasoned workers, because everyone has anxieties about the future and where they will be a year from now.
But the successful grads just keep at it; they never stop applying. They reason - and it's absolutely true - that someone's got to get that job. Along the way, they may have to redefine for themselves what success looks like, but there's nothing wrong with that.
Life, more than ever, is about constantly reinventing yourself. That's why the typical question, "What do you do?" has become, "What are you doing now?"
And the answer you give to that may well get you a job.