The economic recovery—if it's really happening, which we doubt at times—has been a slow-moving process. In Canada, youth unemployment figures, at 15 per cent, still double the figures of the rest of the population. There's been a slew of media-types suggesting that generation Y is being saddled with crushing, and inescapable, debt. And worse still: Today, the Globe and Mail reported that, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international organization aimed at stimulating economic growth, the economic downturn may leave deep, and long-term, scars on Millenials worldwide.
Like what? For one, the report says the amount of youth who've faced periods of long-term unemployment has doubled—since 2008, it's such dry spells have occurred to 4 per cent of young workers. And that, argues the Globe, can result in a cycle of unemployment, lower lifelong earning potential and—most terrifyingly—a youth unemployment rate that may not bounce back, even should the economy regain its strength. (Yet another reason for recent grads, as Jobpostings.ca blogger Kiera Obbard writes, to resist complacency.)
Sucks, right? But not to worry; we're here to help. Here, writer Emily Minthorn details your options if you're unemployed. Good luck on the job hunt, friends. -Mark Teo
It is a truth universally acknowledged that unemployment — especially of the long-term, no end in sight, move back in with mom and dad variety — sucks. "You know what's worse?" asks Dana Bryce, a 21-year old with a history degree from a school she prefers to keep to herself: "Still being unemployed six months after you've graduated, when your whole life you've been told that having your degree will mean having a job no matter what. That sucks."
Bryce is just one of a worldwide chorus of new grads singing the no-job blues. Global youth unemployment has hovered at historic highs since the economic collapse of 2008, and jobless rates among 20-somethings are stuck firm at twice those of older demographics. That's some dark stuff, especially when you consider the disturbing and very real links between depression and joblessness.
Things might not look too gloomy
But let's not be too quick to throw a pity party for ourselves, class of 2011. Sure the market is tough, but upper year students getting ready to graduate are in a uniquely decent position to take this bull by the horns, says Sonny Wong, a career counsellor at Ryerson University in Toronto.
"Student time is prime time," he explains. "Everyone will give students a chance to build their skills. Even if that means re-evaluating and choosing to do a four year degree in five years — if that gives you time to work, do it." If you're still in school, or even just getting ready to leave, you're already poised to take advantage of opportunities that full-time working adults can't — think unpaid internships, volunteering, or even exchange and work-study programs through your school.
"I don't know why students are in such a rush to get out when they are often just not prepared," Wong adds. For him, career planning starts at year one of your post-secondary journey. "At first year, if you have an idea of the sector you'd like to work in, find a summer job in that sector," he advises, clarifying that while you probably won't snag the job title of your dreams right away — or even for a long time — any industry experience at all is extremely valuable.
Entitlement can mean bad things
But after two, four, or more years of school, sticking around for a victory lap is probably the last thing you want to do. And it's difficult not to slip into feelings of resentment about those freshly minted credentials now going to waste in a drawer somewhere while you schlep around at the bottom of the career totem pole. "Many new grads, especially from the very practical programs, feel that if they have their degree, they should just get a job," says Wong. But it's exactly that sense of entitlementthat leads to depression, anxiety, and long nights spent awake in the dark wondering whether you wasted your youth on your education.
"Your education is never a waste," reassures Wong. "But if you can't remember why you wanted to get it in the first place, it's time to talk to someone." We'll trust that you were smart and visited your campus career centre early and often while you were at school. And even if you're graduating this spring, Wong says that most schools' career centres are at their grads' disposal for up to a year after you've gotten your degree or diploma.
Look for guidance outside your campus community
If that bird has flown and you're no longer eligible for on-campus assistance, you can likely still find professional guidance in your community. "There are employment resource centres right across Canada," offers Tim Blake, a coordinator and community liaison at one such place, the Cave Employment Resource Centre in Burnaby, BC.
On campus or off, centres like these will help you with every- thing job-search related, getting back to basics with work- shops on writing your cover letter, crafting the perfect resume, and practicing your interview skills. They can also help with the more abstract aspects of your career dilemma, adds Blake. "A lot of times, people who are unemployed need career inspiration," he explains, suggesting young job-seekers find a case worker to help them start off strong. "A case manager can address specific concerns on a person to person basis. They're also familiar with industry trends and who's hiring. It's their job to know.
New grads: A reality check
Even after visiting with the professionals, all that white space on your resume may freak you out. But Wong explains that employers aren't as worried about your lack of experience as you think they are. "New grads are not competing in the same market or for the same jobs as someone with experience," he says. That's encouraging news, right?
It's also a reality check. Though there are certainly fewer jobs for a growing number of highly educated people in this economy, there are a lot of steps between leaving school and entering the corner office — steps that new grads seem determined to skip over. Many of us are way too quick to forget that, in terms of seniority, experience, salary, and so on, we are firmly at the bottom rung of the career ladder, and your first job just isn't going to come with a benefits package and a company car. "That $60,000 job is not for you, no — but it never was," Wong sums up. In other words, while there are some exceptional cases — investment banking and finance, or tech bubbles, for example — where new grads have made it big straight out of school, most of the time a young job seek- er will always start on the low end of their industry's salary range. Self-evident? Perhaps, but it bears repeating.
"This is the reality of our economy, and this is the reality of the roller-coaster of unemployment," Blake agrees. "Things go up, things go down. The situation always changes, and we need to change with it. And instead of focusing on the negative, we can choose to be proactive."
The importance of a support system
But the doubt and depression that stem from unemployment aren't logical animals, and sometimes there's nothing anyone can tell you, no matter how true, that will make it easier to keep forging on. In this case, Blake stresses the importance of both a personal and professional support structure: a cast of family, friends, and colleagues that will help keep you applying to jobs, rather than throwing in the towel. Persistence, he says, is a hugely important part of a successful job hunt. "If you stop looking, of course you'll fall into a rut. It all comes down to knowing you can't stop," Blake emphasizes. "No matter what happens, keep moving forward. Be the Terminator."
Like any big project, landing your first real job is best accomplished by setting small, realistic, measurable goals that break the beast up into manageable pieces. "Have daily targets," Blake says. "Promise yourself that on a given day, you will send out ten new cover letters, or follow up with five leads, or re-contact your hit list of employers." That way, he says, you will have accomplished something every day, even if you don't get a job for weeks or months at a time.
Understand the journey to employment will take time
Wong stresses that looking for a job is a full-time job. "If you want to find meaningful work, it takes six to eight months to find it," he says. And that doesn't mean spending all day every day sending virtual resumes into online databases, never to be seen again. "You have to get out there and make your own luck," says Wong. "If you're sitting at home on the couch feeling sad, opportunities will not just come knocking. The internet will not introduce you to a real place, or show employers how charming you are." And that means the N word. Yep: networking.
"There's an opportunity to network in almost any situation," Blake advises. Consider it reverse-engineered nepotism: since your future boss is way more likely to hire someone they already know, make sure you know all kinds of people in your sector. Even spending an empty afternoon refreshing your Facebook newsfeed could be fruitful if done properly, Blake says, pointing out social media's expanding role in the modern job search. "LinkedIn is an excellent resource, if you use it well," he adds. "It gives you access to business professionals. And certainly check out LinkedIn's 'Groups' feature. Look for organizations and associations that are related to the type of career you're interested in." And don't forget the real world, Neo: you can and should join clubs and groups offline too, priming you to meet the movers and shakers of your sector face to face.
Networking doesn't have to be stressful
But at this stage in your career — or lack thereof — what exactly can networking possibly entail? And if you've been out of school and work for a long time, how do you even begin? "Just go out and enjoy the things that you do," says Wong simply. "Get to know the people around you. Smile! The idea is to be uncomfortable with the unknowns, the who-knows aspect of the job search, and to keep exploring. Refine your idea of the term 'networking'." But beware of seeming needy, he warns. "If you're just there because you want something, a job or whatever, people can smell that a mile away." You need to bring something to the table, he stresses — "it is so important to understand you need to give to get."
Dana Bryce knows all this in theory, but it's getting harder and harder to apply it to herself and her own job search. "I actually don't know what to do any more. And I'm going to have to start paying back my student loans next month," she says ominously.
Wong has some tough love for Bryce and others like her. "There are always survival jobs available, and just because you went and got a degree doesn't mean you're above them," he says. "But you can walk in to a call centre or a retail position and work a night shift, and leave the day to go on interviews, to volunteer, to do whatever it is you need to do to get out there." Because getting out there, agrees Blake, is the key to finding that hidden job market made up of all the people you interact with every day.
For now, Bryce remains in a bit of a rut, but she's trying to see it another way. "Yes, I'm over-educated and unemployed. But that does kind of mean I can do whatever, and not have it impact my non-existent career." For her, that means looking at returning to school and enrolling in a practical program at a college, or possibly working overseas "just to get some travel in, you know? I mean, if I did have a career, I wouldn't have the luxury of being able to consider going somewhere totally new for a few months and just figuring it out."
Visualize your success
Wong recalls his days as a new grad at the bumpy start of his own career path. "I graduated into a recession as well," he offers. "I was always able to find a job, but none of them were jobs I wanted to keep. Then I realized: I was doing it wrong." He maintains that a willingness to explore his options, his goals, and ultimately his self was crucial to finding meaningful work. "We have to explore the self before we can self-market," he explains. "Narrow down your career identity."
He shares a helpful exercise he often practices with the career-less students who come in to his office looking for guidance. Picture yourself at your dream job. What are you wearing? Where are you? Up to this point, most people have a very clear image of themselves. "Then I ask them, 'What are you actually working on? What are you doing?'" Asked to picture themselves at work, working, almost everyone hesitates.
And if you don't know either, well, it's time to get out there and find out.