Job Security is Not Guaranteed but Your Skills Are
Last week I served as a panelist for a Forte Foundation event, a non-profit organization that promotes and supports women who wish to pursue a Masters in Business Administration degree. There were many young women in attendance, most a few years out of college, all bright and motivated, but struggling to figure out the right career paths for themselves. Their question for me: out of the many graduate degree options, would an MBA give them the greatest degree of career stability, and return on investment? As someone who has been where they’re going (I received my MBA in 2007), they were hoping I might be able to provide them with some insight.
As I pondered the question, I realized that this is the generation that has been burned the most by our sputtering economy. They grew up being told that as long as they had a college degree, the world was their oyster, and that a multitude of rewarding, challenging, and well-paying jobs awaited them- except it didn’t happen. Entry level jobs are scarce these days, and we’ve all heard stories of new college grads moving back home with their parents to help cover their expenses, and yes, their enormous new student loan debt. And now the women in the audience were hoping that a graduate degree would finally help them achieve the goals that their college degree did not.
On the one hand, they are correct- an MBA is an excellent choice for a graduate degree, one that I feel has given me the business expertise, flexibility, and career options that I never would have otherwise received. However, no degree is fail-safe anymore (with the exception of perhaps a few IT fields), and none guarantee that you will always be able to find the work that you desire. So if a graduate degree is no greater guarantee of employment than a bachelor’s degree, what on earth should a young professional aspire to do?
I feel that the goal for a professional of any age today is two-fold: take the initiative to develop your talents and interests into as many hard skills as you can, and to find other means of making money that have nothing to do with your day job. Developing hard skills outside of whatever you majored in or are currently employed doing means that you will not only be able to think more critically or “outside the box” when it comes to problem solving, but you will also be attractive to employers because they can kill two birds with one stone: an English major with some computer programming skills, for example, or a History major who has detailed knowledge of social media marketing. There are tons of free and inexpensive classes and webinars on the internet that can teach you the basics of just about anything, from website design, to project management, to bettering your Excel skills. Also take advantage of any hard skill training (i.e. a skill you could include on a resume) that your current job offers, and quickly, as many companies are cutting training opportunities as a cost saving measure.
Secondly, it is crucial to find ways to make money outside of your day job. This is critical to protecting yourself in the new economy, as you can supplement your current salary, but also stay financially solvent if you are unexpectedly let go (and allow you to keep paying Sallie Mae on time — she is not to be messed with). Not sure what you could do on the side? Think about what you already enjoy doing in your free time, such as exercising, crafting, or even keeping up with Facebook or Twitter. Now think about how you could make money from these activities. Perhaps that means getting certified as a personal trainer, selling your homemade greeting cards on Etsy, or learning the ins and outs of social media marketing so that you can run a Twitter or Facebook campaign for local small businesses who may not be able to afford the services of a larger firm. The sky is really the limit here; we all have talents and gifts that others don’t, and thus can use in the (paid) service of others.
At Life Plateaus, our goal is to help you create your own path forward, where you will learn to utilize your unique attributes, not only to help you keep your financial coffers full, but to keep your emotional coffers full as well, by doing the things that you love to do. As scary as it is to survive in our brave new world, it also opens unlimited possibilities to us as well. Take advantage of them, and you’ll always land on your feet.
Bethany Gardner is a co-facilitator of Life Plateau Workshops, fun, interactive seminars that help attendees create a more fulfilling life. For more information on attending one of her events, visit lifeplateaus.com, or follow her on Twitter @still_bethany.