5 Ways Young People Can Bounce Back From Economic Setbacks

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It’s hard to become the leaders of tomorrow without jobs today. The International Labor Organization estimates that around the world, there are nearly 75 million unemployed youth — a new “Lost Generation,” in the words of panelists discussing the problem at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week. Nobel-winning economist Peter Diamond, Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh, and other panelists talked about the mismatch between our education system and the job market, as well as potential solutions such as corporate incentives for hiring young people and a youth stimulus package. As for the millions who are young, unemployed, and frustrated, they want less talk, more action, and most importantly, more results.

While the U.S. is hardly the worst country when it comes to youth unemployment, there is no denying we have problems. Approximately 18% of young people are out of work in the U.S. Two-thirds of young Americans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of youth employment, reports Generation Opportunity, a non-profit that educates young people on the challenges facing America. Youth unemployment affects not just those out of work, but Americans of all ages, and the economy as a whole. The White House Council for Community Solutions estimates that each unemployed youth costs society $37,000 each year.

If you’re young and worried about your future, the last thing you should do is sit back and wait for others in Washington, D.C., or Davos to sort things out. Here are five pieces of advice to be proactive and maximize opportunities now and down the line, no matter what economic setbacks you face today.

1. Create multiple income streams. With all the layoffs taking place and the fact that many companies aren’t even hiring, it’s imperative that you have a backup plan. One way to offset months of joblessness is to create additional revenue streams. By finding freelance work using sites like elance.com, you can manage multiple side projects and capitalize on your technical abilities.

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2. Approach your job search as you would a new client. Most job seekers submit standard resume templates and regurgitate old cover letters— and it’s highly ineffective. If you want to prove your value to a company, demonstrate your knowledge of their business needs and then build your resume and cover letter to reflect how you can support them. By displaying the return on investment they’ll get from hiring you, you will have a major advantage over other applicants, especially if your value is greater than the cost of hiring you. Also, figure out what distinguishes you from others applying for the same jobs. As The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote in a recent op-ed column about stubborn unemployment in the U.S., “average is over.”

3. Have a positive attitude and be confident in yourself. Out of 20,000 new hires surveyed for the book Hiring for Attitude, 46% of them failed within 18 months, and of those, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons. There are millions of other job candidates in the same boat as you. With a positive attitude, it’s far easier to attract new opportunities, ace an interview, and last at a company longer than six months. People want to hire and work with those who are optimistic, likable, and eager.

4. Become a lifelong student. To survive and thrive in this economy, you have to constantly stay relevant. As business author Harvey Mackay puts it: “You don’t go to school once for a lifetime, you’re in school all of your life.” Learn as much as you can about your field, your industry and the world by subscribing to blogs and major news websites. Spend some time at the Khan Academy’s website, where you can learn anything from hedge funds to economics to statistics. You can also search for free online tutorials using Google, and find lectures from popular teachers at MIT and Stanford on YouTube.

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5. Find mentors and start building relationships with them. According to the 2011 Global CEO Survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 98% of millennials see having a mentor as necessary to their career development. Yet a lot of young people I speak with are afraid to tap into the people around them for answers, connections and resources. Aside from the people who you are already associated with, get in the habit of using social networking sites to reach out to respected industry leaders, experts, and authors. Don’t immediately ask them to help you get a job. Instead, figure out ways to support them in their goals. Do free work for them, or promote them on your blog or social networks in exchange for their mentorship. Even if some of your messages are ignored, you are bound to receive at least one positive return email — and one is all it takes to move in the right direction.

Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a full-service personal branding agency. He speaks on the topic of personal branding, social media and Gen Y workforce management for companies such as Google, Time Warner, Symantec, CitiGroup and IBM. Subscribe to his updates at Facebook.com/DanSchawbel.