They've been called Millennials, Echo Boomers, and the Trophy Generation—people born after 1980 who entered the workforce with a profound sense of confidence and, some critics charge, entitlement. Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a veteran recruiter who has worked for Citigroup and consulted for companies such as Walt-Disney, co-founded a coaching firm for Gen Y workers in 2007. She spoke with Staff Editor Aili McConnon about the challenges they now face as they go through their first major recession.
What's your advice for Gen Ys looking for work right now?
It is very hard for students now but there are still pockets within industries that are hiring. Most students aren't aggressive enough. They rely on career services or troll Monster.com, where one posting draws hundreds of applicants. If you can't get a paid internship, start a tutoring business or baby-sitting business, or consider auditing classes or shadowing someone in an industry that interests you.
Now is the time to expand your network. Go through your résumé line by line. Think not just of family and professional contacts, but also connect with high school and college friends, people at community organizations, churches, sports clubs, and ethinic-affinity groups. Tell all of them you're available and looking for work. This is the time for a guerrilla job search.
What types of companies are still hiring?
Even in banking and consulting, companies are still hiring. But now is not the time for a traditional job search. Look for small and midsize companies that don't historically go on campus because they don't have the bandwidth to recruit. You should approach them and come up with roles and projects you could help with.
It no longer works to say: "Hey, I'm young, a quick-learner, and a self-starter." You're now competing with a much bigger pool of applicants. Even for entry-level retail or administrative jobs, retirees are coming back into the market. You have to prove to an employer that you are low risk. Show how course work, a club project, or volunteer experience is a proxy for the work you can do. If you want to work in retail, you need to show you have the ability to deal with difficult consumers. Find something in your experience where you have had to manage difficult personalities.
What should parents of Gen Ys do to help?
First, parents should Google their kids and look at their children's Facebook and LinkedIn pages. If your kid doesn't want to show you, that's a problem because recruiters will Google them, too. It's really hard to have an airtight Facebook page, even if with all the privacy settings are on, because pictures of your child could get tagged on other people's sites.
The biggest thing parents can do to help their kids is to deal with the money issue. When it's not clear who's paying for what, it's very difficult to plan the job search. Parents and their children need to sit down and talk. Are the kids allowed to move back home? Will the parents contribute to living expenses? For how long? That conversation helps students make an intelligent decision about where they work and whether they will take temporary jobs while they chase their dream job. When I got out of college, I targeted banking and consulting. Why? Because I wanted to live in New York City and my mom was a single parent who couldn't pay for me to have an apartment.
What are the biggest mistakes parents make when trying to help out their Gen Y kids?
Parents should open up their Rolodexes to their children and help make the introductions. That said, it is up to the kid to do the follow-up and write the thank you letters. As a recruiter I've seen parents go on behalf of their kids to job fairs, accompany their kids to job interviews, or even call companies to advocate on their children's behalf for jobs. That's never any good. I know of one company that extended an offer but then rescinded it because they couldn't deal with the helicopter parent. The kid didn't want to, or couldn't, manage the situation. There has to be a certain amount of let-go.