Millennials: Possibly Our Greatest Hope

Jobs are hard for Millennials to find. The more specific the search, the harder it is to find something.

If you’re a Millennial, maybe you have a degree. Maybe you have several degrees. Maybe you thought that after working for a few years that you might qualify for something you really wanted to do. But now you can’t even find openings for those jobs – let alone actually GET the job. Your parents have high expectations. You believe you’ve done what it takes, and you’re embarrassed to report your lack of progress.

Take it easy on yourself… times have changed. The old paradigms need time to change with them. Expectations about what is the “correct” way to do things will eventually evolve as they always have, but for right now, you’re kinda stuck. You’ll need to deal with the expectations from family and friends, but you’ll also have to blaze a new path. There IS another way. There always is. Let’s get on the positive side of this discussion.

People have long subscribed to a romantic notion that we all need to go to school, get a good job, work hard, and all will be well. Yeah, well… not so much. Change is happening. Fortunately, you’re well suited to adapt. You’re smart. You’re technologically social. Time is on your side. It may be time for your to give up the expected, prescribed, or traditional path and find your own.

In case you doubt that things are changing that much, consider that only a generation or two earlier, people believed that loyalty to a single company would be rewarded with a handsome pension after retirement. We all know where most of those pensions have gone. They’re nearly extinct. People have worked many years in the same place and found themselves laid off as they neared the finish line. No time left to prepare for what will become a miserable retirement – if they can retire at all. They bet on an old system and lost; but if you’re smart, you won’t.

The old ways still work, but not so much anymore. They’re going away. Even 401K’s, a $4 Trillion, 1980 invention that lost 20% of their value in 2007, are now being tapped a few percentage points at a time by a government that is deficit spending it’s way into bankruptcy. Soon retirement may be handled with little help from entitlements or plans like the 401K.

Some people get fixated on getting a job so they can make money, drive a nice car, sport a nice title to their friends and family, and build a retirement. I believe too many people have fixated on these things to the detriment of depth, breadth, and experience. Fortunately, there is lot’s of opportunity to build the depth, breadth and experience part of your portfolio while you position yourself for that ideal job down the road.

I love jobs – all kids of jobs. I think employment is one of the best training grounds in the country. I my opinion, a job is a growth opportunity that pays money. I’ve had a lot of them: I took over a paper route when I was 9 years old. I’ve been a waiter in a restaurant, a meat cutter, a deli guy, a Lane 9000 Telex operator, a computer systems manager, a fireman, an EMT, a pool guy, an electronics parts assembler, a Navy / Marine Corps medic, a student mentor, a door-to-door salesman, the diaper guy at Toys R Us, a retail guy at Service Merchandise, a debt collector at a bank, a cook at IHOP, a manager at an IHOP, a True Value Hardware salesman, an EVOC instructor, a truck packer, an ACLS instructor, and EMT instructor, a federal Project Manager, A Program Manager, a Chief Information Officer, A Director for Transformation planning, congressional liaison, and customer service, a blogger… the list goes on.

Every job we get provides an opportunity to deepen our experience and insight into the way the world works. It can also get you closer to that ideal mix of things you love. See Highest and Best Use… You. Approach the jobs market from the perspective of increasing your exposure and deepening your experience and you’ll find that no job is too trivial to consider. I learned more from doing door-to-door sales than I’ve learned in any of my marketing or psychology courses.

Think about the ecosystem in which your ideal job exists. If, for example, you want to be responsible for healthcare policy, you don’t have to run straight at the Hill and try to get a job with Congressional staff working on policy. You might instead get a job working at a hospital, at an insurance company, or in a doctor’s office – where healthcare policy has the greatest impact. I’d argue that by working in the ecosystem for a while, you’ll be infinitely more valuable than if you landed a job on the Hill right out of college. You’d bring perspective and wisdom rarely found in enclaves of office weenies who have done nothing but write policy based on theory.

Use each job as a learning experience. When I ran EMS on the street, I used to burn copies of the run reports I would make during my shift. I had built up a library of medical text books on my own at home. I’d take those run reports home with me and look up everything I could – from physical assessment techniques to drugs administered, to medications my patients took. I cross referenced what I found in those books with what I found in real life. I’d use my access to real-live medical professionals to test assumptions, correct mistakes, and gain extra insights. I was good at what I did. My patients and co-workers knew it, and was recruited from there.

When I taught EMT’s, EVOC and ACLS providers, I had a depth of knowledge and experience that was rarely found in instructors. I turned out some pretty good graduates and was recruited from that position as well.

After that, I managed concierge at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. I was also responsible for contract support in patient admin, officer pay programs, network administration, Information Security, and help desk. I took the opportunity to learn that business and the people working in that business (including the people who cleaned the plants in the office). I was recruited from there.

As the Medical Logistics CIO for Navy Medicine, I got to know the information technology side of medicine. I learned that every hospital had about 45 IT systems at work at any given time. I understood where and how communication breakdowns were occurring. I got the pulse of the politics and the money flow. I came to understand contract / civil service issues, cooperation (or not) between the services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force), and how investment decisions were really made. I made lot’s of contacts, gave lot’s of value to the people around me, and I was recruited from there.

Later, as the Chief for Defense Business Transformation for the Military Healthcare System, I knew – all the way through the system, to the street level – the effect that my decisions and the decisions of people around me were having. I knew why the suit and tie wearing senior people weren’t communicating with hospital level providers. I struggled to bring street-level and mid-level insight into the decision making process. And I saw a lot of people who had no idea what I was talking about. They hadn’t done their time in the field.

Be better than we were. You have an opportunity, maybe not by choice, to turn yourself into a force to be reckoned with. If you can keep your long range goal in mind and explore the ecosystem you’re most interested in, you will have a chance to move the fields of “empty suits with degrees” out of the way and get something real accomplished. Today, you have a chance to play many positions on the field. If you keep your eye on the game and not on any individual position, if you go above and beyond to make each job a relevant learning experience – you will rise to become the best of the best. Depth, experience, wisdom will be yours to tap when you do find yourself in that ideal position.

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Peter Sperry

The younger generation is always, by definition, our best hope for the future. Your advice on jobs and careers is spot on. I would also encourage Millennials or any other generation to avoid being defined by their work. We have at least out grown the stage where work was so all defining it became a persons name (smith, baker, carpenter, tailor etc). But we boomers still ask “what do you do” as an early question and respond by describing our work. Young people need to ask “what makes you happy” and respond by describing their hobbies.

David Dejewski

Lindsey – lol… then I won’t reveal that this URL was the title of my draft post – or that I had planned to change it before I posted this. Thanks for you comment. 🙂

Peter – Good pull. We DO ask “what do you do?” a lot, don’t we? This has been bothering me lately too. I don’t always like being dragged into a conversation about work right away. I like “What makes you happy?” a lot better. More balance.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Also, to respond to Peter…not sure I would use the word “happy” as much as something more akin to “satisfied” or “congruent with your values.”

Janet Spencer

I’m glad to see advice for Millenials that SHOULD have been given to me as a Gen Xer. David, your work-life experiences have been as varied in breadth and depth as mine; it certainly hasn’t been climbing the hierarchical ladder of mailroom clerk-to-CEO. During the course of those experiences, you gathered a wealth of skills that make it easier to continually reinvent, refine and reposition yourself as the job market shifts. That resilience is perhaps the best career insurance policy any of us could hope to develop.

John Biechman

Comments regarding retirement are correct and significant. We probably should develop a national, portable retirement system. Thank you for not suggesting that Social Security is in trouble – it doesn’t have to be and the issues it faces can be easily overcome. For Millenials and Gen Xers to insure that Social Security is available to them, continued support for the program is essential.

Erica Butler

This is great advice for anyone. I’m totally behind this approach to development, and I wish more people involved in hiring were as well.

Scott Thomas

great post, I’m thankful that I learned this early in my college education, “We’re not preparing you just for your first job, but also for your second, third and fourth job…”

The great thing about Government is that there are so many different kinds of jobs. If you want to do something, you can do it as a public servant.

Kaye Carney

Wonderful advice and I will place good faith in “The Next Great Generation” as quoted in a newly published book written by Naval Academy Millenials who graduated in 2002, right after 9/11. Their experience and professionalism will benefit our country!

David Dejewski

Andy – Thanks! If every Millennial in America tried to read this, I’m afraid GovLoop would have a server problem. lol

Janet – Resilience and career insurance… I like both of those angles. And I agree. A career does not have to be in any sort of straight line – as long as it works for you.

John – I have developed my own portable retirement system. Anyone can create their own retirement system that pays better than any government program without the need for any entitlement. These methods are just not taught in school. I now own an investment company. That’s not by accident.

Erica – There are folks out there like Kathleen Smith who specialize in helping people take their myriad of experiences and stitch them together so they look appealing to prospective employers. A good mentor can do the same thing. If you have employed this approach and would like to bring your life experiences together, help is available.

Scott – I like the serial concept. Many people have used government jobs like stepping stones to broaden their experience. The PFM program is a good example.

Kaye – I haven’t read that book, but I did go look it up. For anyone interested in reading it, here’s a link to Millennials Rising, the Next Great Generation. Thanks for sharing!

Diane Lucas

One problem I found during my Govt career is that you are stovepiped into a job series – if you are an 1102 (contract specialist) above a training grade, you cannot move into another series because you don’t have the experience at the lower grade in the different series. The idea that you are “teachable” and can make decisions is trumped by The System that keeps you in a single track. I broke out, going to a non specific series (suoply systems analyst) but it is very difficult.