Ramen To Riches: Finding A Job In Your 20s
November 28, 2012 12:59 p.m.
Lauren Tanny, co-author, From Ramen To Riches: Finding a Job In Your 20s.
Related Story: From Ramen To Riches: Finding A Job In Your 20s
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. This season is the first in several years that retailers say they are hiring a substantial number of temporary holiday workers. That's good news and bad news for young people looking for work. The holiday paycheck of course is good news, but the fact that many young graduates are still floundering around looking to land a first job is not so good. Earlier this year, a pew research center report found that only 54% of young adults ages 18-24 are working. That's the lowest level since 1948. A San Diego couple is out with a new book aimed at helping these young people start a career that is rewarding. The book, from ramen to riches, finding a job in your 20s. Lauren Tanney, welcome to the show.
TANNEY: Thank you, Maureen. Happy to be here.
CAVANAUGH: The unemployment rate in San Diego is 8.6%, that means employers can still have their pick of applicants. Does that help or hurt younger workers?
TANNEY: It is a challenging environment for all workers who are looking for jobs. I think younger folks need to work harder at distinguishing themselves in the job searc h search market. It seems that because they have done all their research papers on the Internet and they're so used to using that for all information, the assumption is I can find a job on the Internet. Well, you and 500 other people are doing the exact same thing. And so an employer who puts a job on one of the online job sites gets flooded with resumes. Well, if you have very little experience, it's going to be hard for you to measure up. And that's why in the book we really talk about the power of networking and informational interviews.
CAVANAUGH: Some younger workers just apply for any kind of job. Keeping with the old adage just to get their foot in the power. Is that the kind of approach that you recommend in this tight job market?
TANNEY: We actually don't recommend that. Now, I get the need to eat.
[ LAUGHTER ]
TANNEY: So I understand that at times you can be desperate. But you really need to look at what am I passionate about, what are my skills, how are they going to match with the workforce, and how am I going to contribute? I'm okay with taking a job that's maybe not your ideal job if it's in a company that you really believe in or an industry that you really want to move up in. But people who are just randomly saying I'll be a barista at Starbucks because that's the only job I can get, okay, that's fine, but keep job searching for a job that's going to lead you to a career.
CAVANAUGH: In your book, you and your husband talk about your own personal journeys in the job market. What about your past experience gives you an insight into the plight of young people who are looking for the right job?
TANNEY: Well, I am somebody who by choice has had seven radically different careers. I am always seeking to be closer and closer to my passion, and I'm not somebody who woke up at age 5 and wanted to be a doctor and knew that's what I wanted to do. So I can really relate to kids and young people who are saying I don't know what I want to do. And what I've learned in my process is it is a process. It's all about continually refining what you want, learning who you are, getting closer to what your passions are, and being adamant about I'm not going to settle for less. Because you're going to do the best in something that you're passionate about.
CAVANAUGH: Well, the idea that you should follow your passion or what you love, it sounds a little hippie dippy.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CAVANAUGH: For postrecession job seeker, I'm just wondering can this be a principal approach to actually looking for a job?
TANNEY: I actually think it can. Because when you are doing something that you like and you care about, you're better at it. So it's not just, hey, let's all find something we like, and if it's basket weaving, we can still make money. It's, okay, of the things that I love to do, which of those can I translate into meaningful work?
CAVANAUGH: Okay. And shouldn't you have been starting to think about that when you were going to college or when you were finishing up your education in one way or another? Is this something that just occurs to people when they start to look for a job?
TANNEY: Well, I would think that everybody is thinking from about age 15 on, what do I want to do with my life. I think our first book from ramen to riches, building wealth in your '20s, my husband really wanted to tack the fact that who teaches us how to manage your money and balance a checkbook and invest? It's one of those black holes. And similarly, we really feel like job-search skills are kind of a black hole. I love college career services offices, but that's a handful of people there for thousands of students! So where do people learn actually how to search for a job? It's kind of funny. In managing our money and in finding a job, two of the most important things for success in this country, people are supposed to just pick it up through osmosis.
CAVANAUGH: You started to talk about how young people seem to feel that they're going to be able to use the Internet in order to find that first job or a good job. And you don't seem like you're a big fan of that method. Tell me again why is that?
TANNEY: Well, I'm definitely not because you're basically going against every other job searcher who's out there. The good news about the Internet and online job postings are great. You can find them, they're easily accessible. That's the bad news too. Everybody and his brother and sister are applying for the same jobs. I work with a lot of senior executives, and they are actually not posting jobs on some of the bigger online job sites anymore because they're, like, we get so flooded with resumes we can't even handle the response. And of those responses there's only a handful that are qualified anyway. So they're saying that's not even a good place to go.
CAVANAUGH: So what should a young person looking for that first good job do instead of going on the Internet?
TANNEY: Really, it's all about networking and informational interviewing. They need to meet up with the people that they know already, I'm talking friends but also parent, and this is when your parents' friends actually come in useful finally!
[ LAUGHTER ]
TANNEY: People hire people who are recommended and who they trust. Hiring is a risk. So if you think of it in the employer's head, what can you do to reduce that risk? And especially reduce the risk of hiring an entry level person. So a recommendation from someone who knows you, who has grown up with you, who knows your parents carries a lot of weight. This person will show up for work. This person won't flake.
CAVANAUGH: You talk a lot about people wanting to really trust young people to show up for work. Is that a big problem?
TANNEY: I have no idea what the prevalence of that is. But I can tell you that people who are in senior-level positions do say that to me a lot. And I think their perception is different things drive young people today than what drove them. And there's a part that they just don't understand. In my experience, young people are very happy to work hard. But they may not do it 9:00 to 5:00. They may be on their PDA at 10:00 PM and be doing productive work. And I think employers do look through their own generational lens sometimes.
CAVANAUGH: You also talk about somebody being able to fit not only the job requirements but fit into the culture of the job that they're going into. How do you know that that's going to be a good fit for you?
TANNEY: First I encourage people to do their own self-assessment, figure out what their own values are, what their passions are, what their skills are, what their experience is. And then using their own insight as well as other people's, kind of map those to some potential careers and jobs and industries. And once you've gone along there, then you can also based on those values talk to people in your network who know a lot of companies, you know, like your parents' attorney is a great example of someone who would know a ton of people who you could then say, if my value is about sustainability and giving back to the world, what companies in this town really do that?
CAVANAUGH: Right. So you define the companies that you want to have something to do with, then you talk about an informational interview. I thought that was fascinating.
TANNEY: Well, an informational interview is exactly what it sounds like. It is your way to get information from somebody about the job, about the industry, about a company. But you are not, repeat not, asking for a job. You are gathering information. Now, eventually you hope that those series of informational interviews will lead you to a job. And then you will go to these job interviews being more prepared and more knowledgeable about the space.
CAVANAUGH: So how do you go about getting one? Do you just call somebody else and say I would like to find out about your company. Can I come in and talk to you about it?
TANNEY: You could be that bold.
[ LAUGHTER ]
TANNEY: But I recommend generally going through somebody you know and saying to them I'm looking at PR jobs, who do you know that might be good to talk to so I can learn more for my search? It's not talk to about a job. It's I want to gather the information. If you get in front of enough people and the right people, the job will appear.
CAVANAUGH: Let me move from that to the actual job interview. You have a job interview and you come out of it and you say -- you either say you know, I think I did okay. I feel good about it or you have the overwhelming feeling that this job interview was an absolute disaster. And I'm wondering if you have any examples of situations like that that you maybe talked young people through or given them advice about afterwards.
TANNEY: Okay. First I'll start with a really bad interview mistake I made.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, great.
[ LAUGHTER ]
TANNEY: I was talking to a very intense serial enterprise type guy about his latest business. And we were out at a sushi restaurant, and I happened to take a bite that had way more wasabi in it than I thought, and all of a sudden, my eyes were about to water, and maybe even my run nose, so I reach into my purse and pull out my Kleenex pact without looking. Lo and behold, it was a sanitary napkin pact.
CAVANAUGH: That's a bad interview.
[ LAUGHTER ]
TANNEY: And I didn't even know what I did until his eyes turned like saucers and I went down and, oops, and changed, and got my Kleenex. But I really blew it because I should have just laughed. I should have just said, I can't believe I did that! Another guy was interviewing for a job with a large company, and his own work experience was being a busboy. And the interviewer said what was the worst thing that ever happened to you, and he said, well, I actually dropped an entire load of dishes on somebody's lap. And the interviewer's like, oh, no! What'd you do? And he said I hate to admit it, but I went in the back and hid.
[ LAUGHTER ]
TANNEY: And she liked that answer. She was refreshed by his honesty. And in contrast to mine where I was trying to pretend that didn't happen and holding down the giggles for the rest of the interview, he pull today off really well.
CAVANAUGH: What do you advise in your book from ramen to riches about the discouragement that descends on young people when you go out into the world and you're very, very eager and you start to contact people, and then you start to pile up the rejections? You begin to realize that finding a job is going to be hard work.
TANNEY: It is hard work. I have a whole chapter from ramen to riches on sustaining your search, and a lot of that is about how to keep your spirits up. But the quick pieces of advice are hang out with other job searchers that you've prescreened that are upbeat and positive and fun and willing to share leads to each other and really are going to support you. I think it's better to hang out with job searchers than your employed friends, because at some point your friends don't want to talk about being unemployed. So that's a great support network. The other thing is, if you're home alone responding to Internet ads and not hearing anything back, you're doing yourself a disservice. You got to get out in the world. You got to be doing those informational interviews, doing productive research before those interviews, and you got to set milestones for yourself so that you have intermediate steps that you can say, okay, if I quiet three informational interferes set up by noon today, I'm going to go to a movie this afternoon. You can't job search 40 hours a week. You'd end up exhausted.
TANNEY: Emotionally and physically.
CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, there's a lot of pressure on young people to find that first job, to land something. Pressure from your parent, sometimes from your spouse, a boyfriend or girlfriend. Should you take that job? Should you just take it to let people know that you are employable and then continue your search?
TANNEY: I think it's very hard because you're feeling so much internal pressure already that the parent at voices and other people in your life sort of saying how's the search going or why didn't you take that one can be very overwhelming. My advice is threefold. One is to acknowledge their concern. I really appreciate that you're concerned about me. Second, I want to let you know an overview of what my plan is, and included in that you might describe why a certain job wasn't appropriate to choose. And then the third thing is, hey, here's how you can help me.
[ LAUGHTER ]
TANNEY: So if they're not willing to be part of the solution, they'll ask you a lot less about your search in the future.
CAVANAUGH: And how can the parents and friends of a young job seeker help out?
TANNEY: It's really the networking. It's the making introductions. Yeah, you should meet my lawyer. You should meet my banker. You should meet job who's been a sales person for this big company who's called on most of the companies in the area over the last 40 years. Of so a lot of times parents are saying, well, I know none of my friends have a job for you, but that's too linear. How do you know that you will somebody else that can move my son or daughter forward in their search? You're not looking for an end point immediately.
CAVANAUGH: It's like a I real-life Facebook.
TANNEY: It is! Absolutely.
CAVANAUGH: I want to sort of round out this discussion with the idea that if a young person does get a first job that's not going to really lead them very far in life, but they just, as you say, would like to eat, what are some tips for continuing the job search while you're working?
TANNEY: Well, a lot of times when you do take that job that's len less than perfect, a lot of times it isn't full-time. And so by definition you do have some time. Even fits full-time, you are going to be meeting people in the course of your work. The Starbucks example is a great one. How many people come into the average Starbucks that are in all different roles? And so you're not going to bug people about it, but as you build friendships and rapport with people, you're going to let them know what you really want for a job. Most people are very happy to help other people, especially if they have a clearly defined enough goal that there's actually something to hang onto and something they think of when the person says oh, yeah, I'd love to get into a search engine optimization company, do you know any? That's a lot easier than if somebody says I want to find a job with a good company.
CAVANAUGH: Right. I understand. So your takeaway access is even though you can go to school online, find your friends online, you have to get out of the house to find a job.
TANNEY: Yes, yes. Very, very much so.