Will Buck, 25, thought that he would be a good candidate for a large multinational corporation looking for a young, smart Asia specialist.
Buck graduated with a master's degree in Asian Studies from the prestigious George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs and spent a year in Shanghai, teaching in English and developing a fluency in Chinese. In October, Buck returned to New York City to be with his girlfriend and to launch his career. But his search happened to coincide with the worst recession in decades. Buck has had just a handful of interviews. The only work he's gotten has come from a temp agency.
"I'm reading job alerts," Buck said. "Every position comes back: senior manager or senior this or that. People are looking more toward people with more experience. It seems that the only jobs I can get…are ones I'm grossly overqualified for. There's no middle ground."
The job market is particularly bad for young people because companies, which now have their pick of candidates, are favoring experience. Companies say they plan to hire 22% fewer graduates from the Class of 2009 than they did from the Class of 2008, according to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges & Employers. Only about 20% of 2009 graduates who applied for jobs have gotten one. (By comparison, 51% of college students had a job by the time they graduated in 2007, the group said.) In some cases, employers are able to fill entry level jobs with experienced people.
Highly Mobile Workforce
But the Gen-Y job seekers come with significant advantages for companies. Many are single and can work long hours. They're comfortable with technology. They work cheap. They're mobile, both geographically and in terms of career. They can more easily pick up and move across the country for the right job. And they're more willing to switch careers and start over at a lower salary to adapt to new economic realities.
BusinessWeek.com worked with Seattle-based PayScale.com to come up with the best state for twentysomething employees in 30 different industries, including hotels, airlines, banking, engineering, and Web publishing. The choices were based on two factors: the salary and the share of employees in their 20s in those fields (It's important to have experienced mentors at a company, but having other young co-workers makes for better after-work parties).
You'd expect New York and San Francisco to come out on top for many professions because salaries in these cities are unusually high—and they did. But the list was surprisingly varied, in part because we factored in the share of young people in a given industry. Utah came out on top for bank employees. Virginia was the best state for young people in the computer and electronic product manufacturing industry. And Nevada was best for hospital workers.
Tamara Draut, author of Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead, said many companies are taking on interns to do the work that entry-level employees might have done a few years ago. The good news is that talented young people who might have gone into investment banking a few years ago are instead considering careers in government or the nonprofit sector, said Draut, who is vice-president of policy and programs for Demos, a New York think tank. "A lot of young people are feeling they have the freedom to look into jobs that do good."
For some twentysomethings, the weak job market has provided an incentive to strike out on their own and start a business. Opening a business online is particularly appealing, because this generation is comfortable with technology and Web sites are cheap to build.
Chris Hutchins, who got laid off from a consulting job in December, has launched San Francisco-based LaidOffCamp.com, a site with a job board and other employment resources and a forum for people to organize ad hoc job hunting workshops around the country. Hutchins, 24, hasn't made money with the site, but it has helped him land consulting gigs. He said young people aren't necessarily jumping into jobs because they need a salary. It has become acceptable to move in with mom and dad, especially for those who want to save money to start a business, he said. "It has almost become normal," he said.
Amy Lewis, director of talent acquisition community for the Human Capital Institute, a Washington-based think tank and professional association, said companies are making a mistake by passing on young candidates who can offer fresh, creative perspectives. It's important to train young people now, so they'll be ready to take higher-level jobs when the market improves, she said. "There will be a leadership gap. There aren't enough people in Generation X to step into the leadership roles that will be vacated by the boomers."
Buck, the Asia specialist, is weighing his options. He's considering business school and would love to land a job in the alternative energy industry, which he thinks will do well in the long term. "People coming out of school in this five-year window are kind of getting the short end of the stick," he said. "But I think every generation will have some industry that booms. For us, I think it will be alternative energy."
Click here to see the best job markets for recent college grads.
Gopal writes about real estate for BusinessWeek in New York.