Even before the pandemic, the business world was aflutter about the rise of the gig economy. Now side hustles and working remotely have become the norm. But what hasn’t changed is the stress and anxiety that comes with entering the workforce.
Gen Z grads might not be looking for advice from side-parting, skinny jeans-wearing 30-somethings. But they’ve weathered booms and busts of the labor market, job hopped around multiple companies and some of us have even struck out on our own to build successful careers.
Gen Z, here are questions I wish I had asked.
Should I find a job or make my own?
One of the first things to consider when strategizing your career is whether to pursue the traditionally employed route or try to become your own boss. A 2020 survey by Girls With Impact found that 53% of Gen Z expects to run their own companies. There are, however, many advantages to traditional employment early in your career.
Working full-time for an employer in the U.S. often comes with health insurance, an employer-matched 401(k) and perhaps even life and disability insurance. A regular paycheck can also make student loan payments feel less daunting and help you sleep easier at night. As far as your career goes, working for a company can teach you managerial skills, how to communicate with coworkers and clients and how to identify and improve your own weak spots.
Those who were entrepreneurial in college may be keen to become their own boss. But to start something entirely from scratch without at least some cash flow often requires a gargantuan effort and deep-pocketed, generous parents. Having an income while testing your business ideas is a shrewd move. Just make sure your employer can’t claim ownership over your intellectual property if you build a business on the side. Also, don’t do outside work on company computers.
What fields should I consider?
College degrees with the highest return on investment include those in nursing, telecommunications and engineering, according to a study from ThirdWay. Meanwhile, career guide website Indeed.com champions pilots, engineers, marketing managers and financial managers as strong contenders for best ROI on a bachelor’s degree. STEM and healthcare jobs also dominate the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ fastest-growing occupations — including information security analysts, data scientists and home health and personal care aides.
But this shouldn’t be discouraging for graduates who didn’t pursue these fields.
Early in your career, keep an open mind about the scope of jobs you consider. One may not necessarily align with your major perfectly or be a role you originally envisioned — but a paycheck is a paycheck and it’s easier to land a job when you already have one.
Pay attention to companies within sectors that are growing quickly and hiring and that need employees with your skills. Tech firms, for example, still need communications and marketing people. No matter your degree, brush up on interview skills, especially since the class of 2022 is also competing against the classes of 2021 and 2020.
How do I decide if a job offer is right?
When evaluating the merits of a job, your considerations and your predecessors’ may differ widely. Younger workers are more likely to job hop at least a few times. (Studies by payroll provider ADP have shown that switching jobs is a far better way to increase salary than negotiating your way up at one employer for your entire career.)
Still, consider benefits on top of salary. What is the employer match on a 401(k) and when does it vest? In other words, when can you leave the job and take the money your employer contributed with you? Do you have access to purchase company stock (ESPP) or receive shares in company stock as compensation? How robust is the health insurance and does it include vision and dental? Is there insurance coverage? How many paid vacation days do you receive (and how easily can you take them)?
Most companies allow you to work remotely now, but will it stay that way? What about working remotely in other states or overseas? What does parental leave policy include? Benefits can tell you a lot about the overall corporate culture.
Those eyeing entrepreneurship or freelancing must know the tradeoffs. Yes, it’s lovely to have autonomy and dictate your own schedule. It’s less so to pay self-employment taxes atop regular income tax, or to set aside money for retirement and navigate health insurance solo.
Should I prioritize a job I can stay in for a while?
Your elders might advise you to think about the longevity of a job or career. Loyalty to a company is a relic of the past. And unfortunately, history is no predictor of how job markets will change. Entire industries were shuttered for months due to the pandemic.
Instead of thinking about the long-term potential of a single job, consider the level of stability you need and how to learn skills that will be broadly applicable. My first year out of college, I was hyping up audiences for The Late Show with David Letterman, working as a barista and babysitting. None of those launched my career, but all three taught me lessons I still use.
Can I negotiate a first job offer?
Yes, especially if you have multiple offers. There is no rule of thumb about how much to ask, but it’s reasonable to believe your employer has at least a few thousand dollars more than offered. So ask for between 3% to 5% above what’s put in front of you.
The way to do this? Thank them for the offer and state, “I would like a salary of $X.” Then be quiet! Silence is a powerful negotiation tactic. Should the employer say it isn’t doable and stands firm at the original offer, but you still want the job, then you can thank them for considering and say you’d like to accept.
How do I make the most of my first job?
The early months at almost any role can be exciting. Seize this energy to learn as much as you can about your and others’ roles, your manager and organization and the inner workings of office politics. Focus on asking questions and developing contacts who could become a mentor or sponsor — i.e., someone who’d go to bat for you for things like promotions and raises.
As the initial excitement wanes, consider the career you hope to have, but stay open to unexpected opportunities. Maybe you change companies or dive into self-employment in the future. Perhaps you focus on rising up the ranks, or on setting healthy boundaries and pushing back when appropriate.
None of these options are incorrect and all of them might unfold over the course of your career(s). Your trajectory needn’t be linear.
Erin Lowry is the author of “Broke Millennial,” “Broke Millennial Takes On Investing” and “Broke Millennial Talks Money: Stories, Scripts and Advice to Navigate Awkward Financial Conversations.”