Strategies for Young Workers in Hard Times

Friday’s monthly report on unemployment [PDF] — or employment, depending on how rose-colored your glasses are — show that the economy added 290,000 non-farm jobs last month. But the news is not as rosy for the young. Employment for that cohort has stayed low as we head into summer and prime internship season.

CNNmoney.com called it a “summer job drought for youth.” Businessweek said the college job market is cutthroat. And The Wall Street Journal has reported that grads face a grim outlook.

These publications and others are talking about jobs for young people overall. If misery loves company, young journalists have plenty.

The first step in job-hunting during this recession is to recognize that the lousy job market is not confined to you or to journalism. It cuts across many industries. That means that while a career switch might not be a career fix, it is smart to keep options open.

The next step is to accept that finding a job will take longer and that you might have to settle. That is a harsh break that could have long-term compensation consequences.

One strategy is to fight off discouragement and keep trying to land a top-shelf job as, presumably, some competitors drop away.

In the past month, I have seen a couple of 2010 journalism graduates land jobs at major metros and know a 2009 graduate who was happy to land a newspaper job at just under $30,000. There are lots of individual stories and exceptions in any pile of statistics.

Another strategy is to get busy and fill in some income gaps by working in the part-time or freelance markets, which are growing. A recovering economy typically perks up in the temporary sector first, and we have seen at-home work increasing for several years now. In journalism, this all spells freelance.

With the Web having made it easier than ever to start your own business, we see people, in effect, hiring themselves. Several of the success seekers we have profiled in this column have taken to the Web to forge new career paths and build or keep momentum. Several groups — Poynter, the Knight Digital Media Center and the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism — are teaching journalists to be entrepreneurial.

A few people are looking at this weak year as a chance to accomplish some things they know they might never get to once they are working and established. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, reported last fall that unemployed workers of all ages were flocking to hike the Appalachian Trail to fill their time and fulfill a dream.

Another 2009 graduate I know who landed a good job writing about entertainment and culture knew he was lucky to have it, but was a little wistful because it cost him the opportunity to have a post-graduation trip through Europe.

Coming Wednesday: Join me and Poynter’s Colleen Eddy at 1 p.m. ET for a live chat about how to network at journalism conferences

Question about your career or job? E-mail Joe for an answer.

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