(Bloomberg Opinion) — Today’s young adults are graduating into an uncertain job market, as the pandemic has shuttered entire industries, raised the U.S. unemployment rate to roughly 10% and left a big question mark over when we’ll work in offices with colleagues again.
Many of these grads were probably ready to seek “career jobs” — those that align with an area of expertise and offer security, growth and the almighty benefits package of health insurance, a retirement plan and paid vacation days. Most likely weren’t dreaming about piecing together an income from multiple jobs with no benefits and that don’t require a degree. But the current economic climate might make this reality more likely.
When I graduated nearly a decade ago, the Great Recession was technically over, but the job market wasn’t exactly booming. I had a hard time landing a “career job.” It didn’t help that I was seeking employment in journalism and theatre — two industries that in good times can offer few steady jobs and be notoriously low-paying.
I ended up securing a job as a page for “The Late Show with David Letterman.” It felt tangentially related to both my career aspirations, but it was a part-time role with odd hours and I needed to find other work to supplement my income. I applied for just about every service-industry job I could find, and I ultimately became employed by a well-known mermaid-logoed coffee chain. Truthfully, I went into this job just to pay my bills and not really considering that it might actually help me professionally. But it was there that I learned a lot of the “soft skills” that still serve me in my career today.
Non-career jobs still have plenty to teach you.
Upon graduating with a college degree, perhaps with debt, it’s common to adopt a mindset that a particular type of job is beneath you. It’s not. A paycheck is a paycheck, and especially during difficult times, you should consider all your options within the realm of what is legal and what aligns with your values.
You should also consider the “soft skills” that you can learn from taking on a non-career job. Customer service, multi-tasking, learning how to handle demanding people, de-escalating stressful situations, handling a lackluster manager or learning from a great boss — these are all skills that will be useful in your career long-term.
There is also always a chance that a non-career job will lead to unexpected places.
Of course, in a post-pandemic world, you might not have access to the food service or hospitality industries, which employed many people after the last recession. But there are booming businesses right now like delivery services, enterprise software and health care services. Before you get discouraged that your expertise isn’t necessarily in some of those fields, keep in mind that they often need sales managers, copywriters, support staff and customer-service representatives.
Should you take a part-time job or hold out for a full-time offer?
When I was faced with an uncertain job market, I went the part-time job route, because that’s what was being offered. It allowed me to leave my parents’ home and move to New York City — so at least part of my post-graduation dream came true. Now I have a career that’s more aligned with what I wanted back in 2011, but it didn’t come easily. I worked three part-time jobs before accepting a full-time job that wasn’t what I wanted to do professionally, but hey, it offered benefits. A few years later, I was able to move into a more challenging, interesting full-time role. Notably, I worked side hustles the entire time and eventually reached a position to take the risk of self-employment.
Not to be “that millennial” but you could always keep job-hunting while working the part-time job and move once you get a full-time offer later on. At least you’re learning some skills and making some money in the interim.
Is it worth it to take a pay cut?
One of the most demoralizing parts of dealing with an unstable job market is feeling devalued. It could happen because it’s hard to get a new job or because the offers you’re receiving require you accept less money that you thought you’d be earning. It’s an ego blow for sure, but if you are offered a full-time job, especially one with benefits, then it’s probably better than the alternative of staying unemployed.
You may be concerned about the long-term ramifications of taking a pay cut, especially when it comes to future salaries. A 2010 research paper found that those who graduated into a worse economy earned less money even decades later compared with those who graduated into a healthy economy. (Notably, this study only included white, male college graduates.) But, in good news, other research has shown that recession graduates may be happier overall with their jobs and less likely to engage in unethical behavior than those who graduate into a booming economy.
Is the “gig economy” worth it?
Should you be reluctant to take a non-career job, then explore whether there are opportunities in the gig economy to earn income in work that’s related to your field. Leverage your skills (or develop new ones) for work that can easily be done remotely, such as graphic design or copywriting. You can apply to remotely tutor or even provide in-person childcare if you feel it’s a safe option. Check out sites like Just Answer that hire experts to answer people’s questions on a variety of topics. The internet is your best friend when initially sourcing gig-economy jobs, and you should also reach out to people you know who have managed to gain clients. Just be wary of ending up in a multi-level-marketing scheme, which often recruit heavily during recessions.
The downsides of the gig economy are lack of benefits — no employer-subsidized health-care or retirement plans — and handling your own taxes, including paying quarterly estimated taxes. It can take months or even years to build up a steady income from gig work, so those are plans best laid while also bringing in a steady paycheck — even if it comes from a job you didn’t exactly envision when you accepted your diploma.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Erin Lowry is the author of “Broke Millennial,” “Broke Millennial Takes On Investing” and the forthcoming “Broke Millennial Talks Money: Stories, Scripts and Advice to Navigate Awkward Financial Conversations.”
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