Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Coaching Lessons: "Is Any Job Better Than No Job?"

Last week I wrote a somewhat alarmist post called: "The Mind of Young America." Link here.

In it I examined three pieces of data. First, compared to previous generations young Americans today are suffering an empathy deficit. Second, in a time of 20% youth unemployment, 40% of young people have turned down a job offer. Third, young people seem to have learned in college that they should only work for 40 hours a week. They have no sense of the old work ethic.

If you should ever happen to be called upon to advise a young person who is trying to choose between a suboptimal job offer and continued unemployment, you are likely to hear the following query: "Is any job better than no job?"

As it happens, that is the title of a discussion on the New York Times site where a number of interesting experts offer different responses to the question. Link here.

The different points of view are all interesting and enlightening. They show the different approaches you might take to the question. And thus constitute a comprehensive analysis.

For the record I found the advice of Hara Estroff Marano, an author and editor at large at Psychology Today, to be most consonant with my own point of view.

Of course, the question itself is loaded. No one really believes that you should take just any job. And no one really believes the opposite: that you should hold out for the perfect job.

If you read all of the comments you will, hopefully, come away with a sense that you can make your best decision when you learn how to balance the advantages and disadvantages of any specific job, based on your abilities, your interests, and the state of the job market.

Young people who think that their quest for self-actualization allows them to ignore the realities of the job market are most likely to pay very dearly for their narcissism.

In the end, there are so many advantages to getting and holding down a job, that you need a very, very good reason to continue to be unemployed.

As Marano points out, getting a job counts as a success; it allows you to compete in the open marketplace; it gives you the chance to develop a good work ethic; and it opens further opportunities to advancement. In other words, a job will push you to develop your good character. You cannot develop your character and your game day skills by sitting on the sidelines.

This is more true when you start seeing job listings that read: "the unemployed will not be considered." Link here. It's a lot easier to get a job when you have a job.

Keep in mind that a teenage Colin Powell's first job was sweeping the floors of a factory in the Bronx.

Some might consider such work beneath their dignity or their credentials. It may well be. Powell did not see it that way. He told himself that he was going to show them that he could be better at sweeping floors than anyone else. He decided to use the job to show his diligence, his efficiency, his dedication to his work, and his good character.

After a while, his boss noticed and started wondering how such a good employee could be merely assigned to sweeping floors.

Had Powell acted as though he were too good for the job, he most likely would not have been promoted.

All managers agree that a good attitude cannot be taught, and that an employee who brings one to the job will have a much brighter future than an employee who is perfectly self-involved.

Some commentators on the Times site suggested that in a slow job market it might be a good idea to do advanced study to upgrade your credentials. In some cases this is an excellent suggestion; in others, not so good.

Here the calculations are difficult and complex. If you are planning to sit out the recession in grad school, this does not feel like such a great idea. If you can find a program that will prepare you for a good job in a growing field, that seems like a better idea.

Keep in mind that a young person starting out in grad school must weigh the cost of his future education against the future value of his degree.

A few years back many young people decided that going to law school was a great idea. They were willing to incur somewhere close to $200,000 in debt because they knew that their future salaries as first year associates would be sufficient to pay off their loans and to allow them to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.

In the time that it took these young people to complete law school the legal profession has undergone something of a sea change. Because of the recession it has been forced to retrench. Fewer and fewer high-paying associate jobs are available. The low paying jobs that are somewhat available do not pay well enough to allow the young lawyers to pay off their loans.

A few years ago it seemed like a great opportunity. Now, not so much.

It is very difficult to make a decision based on a projection of what the future will look like four years out. Most often when we do so we assume that the future will look just like the present, only more so.

In the current economic environment that approach is looking less and less useful.

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